It’s a massive six-story high dome as big as two football fields. It includes 4D rides and games like a state-of-the-art amusement park. And it features 3D animation, virtual reality, and hologram simulations, all within an actual storyline that lets you become part of the Marvel Comics world of superheroes and experience it directly — including seeing and interacting with some of those characters. It’s The Marvel Experience, a the traveling theme park created by the themed entertainment company Hero Ventures in partnership with Marvel Entertainment, and it’s coming your way this year.
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This morning, Hero Ventures officially unveiled the designs for this enormous traveling entertainment complex (see the image below!), and some more details about precisely what’s in store. If you take the Marvel superhero films, Universal or Disney theme parks with character-and-story-based rides, an advanced arcade, and a comic book convention, and then mix it all together with an actual story you participate in, then you begin to get the picture of what this could be like.
Hero Ventures was started by Rick Licht and Doug Schaer, both with extensive backgrounds in sports and entertainment investment, promotion, and businesses. The two founded Hero Ventures with the idea of creating a brand new approach to what they call themed entertainment experience.
Marvel seems pretty excited and confident in the concept. Sean Haran, Vice President of Business and Development at Marvel, said in a press release, “Hero Ventures is developing a themed entertainment concept that we expect will be a transformative, traveling destination that will deliver to fans and families an exciting, groundbreaking and unique experience.”
From the outside, the event is designed to resemble a S.H.I.E.L.D. Mobile Command Center, and it contains other connected domes that create a maze taking guests through the story step by step. Schaer, Hero Ventures’ Chief Operating Officer, provided these details: “The interior will feature an exaggerated comic-style utilizing projected high-tech imagery, amazing fabricated set pieces and virtual simulations to advance the story. Our guests will be interacting directly with multiple Marvel Super Heroes, as well as members of S.H.I.E.L.D., as they take their place in the Marvel Universe.”
It’s going to be touring North American cities in the U.S. and Canada, staying for a few weeks at each stop before moving on to a new city.
Licht told me, “Our economic model is very unique in that we are not using existing, traditional venues such as arenas and exhibition halls, rather we are creating non-traditional ones. We are more similar to Cirque du Soleil, though we do not have a tent – we have a mobile dome complex with solid flooring, heating & air conditioning, etc.” He continued, “The economic game changer for us came by designing our own custom built domes. Now we are be able to buy out a roughly 2 acre footprint, such as a parking lot, and are able to control all of the revenue streams including ticket sales, merchandise, food & beverage concessions, sponsorship, parking and more.”
With more than 80,000 square feet of space, The Marvel Experience is attempting something that fans have been waiting for for a long time — giving people the chance to experience being inside a comic book or superhero movie. If they pull it off and the effect is what they hope it will be, this could indeed launch an entirely new form of entertainment experience for audiences. Imagine Harry Potter fans, Star Wars fans, Star Trek fans, and DC Comics fans having similar opportunities to enter giant theme parks devoted to making them feel like they’re inside their favorite franchises. Fairs and amusement parks are already popular attractions, so injecting a major brand experience into the mix and adding so many additional elements — film, virtual reality, and an actual story to participate in with the fictional characters — could be a winning combination.
It seems investors agree, too. As Licht pointed out, “Being able to secure even one A+ investor is a tremendous challenge, as I’m sure the folks at Forbes know all too well. Having Michael Cohl, Steve Tisch, Stanley Gold, Roy P. Disney, WWE, Marciano Bros, Jere Harris, etc is beyond extraordinary.” He continued, “We expect The Marvel Experience to be transformative for the entertainment industry. The combination of our unique touring business model along with our creative elements, including our motion ride, next generation immersive elements, 3D movie shorts and so much more, all with the incredibly valuable Marvel superhero characters, has put us in a position to succeed on a grand scale. Or not. We know people on Wall Street and in the entertainment industry are watching – and we welcome it.”
The project carries a price tag of $30 million, but the investors seem confident about the outcome, having received quite a bang for their buck. Those production costs secured a design team that includes movie concept and special effects artist Aaron Sims, known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: First Class, The Terminator franchise, the Batman franchise, and the Tranformers franchise.
With those sorts of production values and such a large scale, this is an ambitious project. But to succeed, it will need mass appeal and a large audience — and that means affordability is key. Licht addressed this point, noting, “A ticket to Six Flags runs north of $60 and the big theme parks approach $100, while we will be in the $30 range with an all inclusive ticket to a one of a kind experience. And we’re coming to your city, thus eliminating travel expenses.”
The Marvel brand has already seen cinematic success beyond any expectations, with $5.657 billion in box office revenue from eight films in just six years. And they have a popular television series tied into the cinematic superhero universe as well. Then there are of course the millions of comics they sell featuring these superheroes.
Perhaps one of the clearest indicators of how successful Marvel has been at branding their films and winning audience buy-in for their brand, can be found in the box office performance of Thor. Thor has never been what you might call a household name, and certainly not a character on par with the A-list superheroes when it comes to name recognition among the mainstream non-comics-reading public. And yet, in only his second solo outing in Thor: The Dark World, the character performed at basically the same level ($630 million and counting, with Japan’s market still to come) as the Christopher Nolan-branded Superman film Man of Steel ($668 million).
Superman is probably the most widely recognizable superhero in the entire world, and Nolan is of course responsible for the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy that set a new standard for quality and box office performance for the superhero genre. So no matter how you slice it, it’s amazing that Thor is already able to stand alongside Superman at the box office.
I’ve written previously about why Marvel is defining the modern superhero film genre, and the performance of Thor: The Dark World helps drive those points home. To that, add the new deal Marvel inked with Netflix, for the development of four new live-action Marvel superhero shows set within the same universe as Marvel’s movies.
Now comes The Marvel Experience traveling theme park, to spread the Marvel brand further in a new and frankly unexpected direction. It seems obvious in hindsight, this notion of a superhero theme park, and the immersiveness of it all is fitting since of course Marvel is owned by Disney.
When I asked if there was a chance The Marvel Experience could become something more permanent within the Disney theme park world, Licht had this to say: “Nobody does theme parks better than Disney. They are the gold standard. My parents took me and my sister to Disney World when we were kids and to this day it is still the best trip I’ve ever taken. Disney set the table for me as that first taste of themed entertainment has always been top of mind in developing The Marvel Experience. Doing something bigger or more permanent with the Disney-Marvel family would be a dream come true, but we’ve got a ton of work to do before we get to even raise the subject. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. Once we build this magnificent beast and people see how truly special it is then we’ll be able take a step back, take a deep breath and address the other opportunities that are out there for us.”
Thinking about the possibilities I mentioned earlier, it seems obvious that another particular Disney-owned property could be ripe for development as a future Hero Ventures touring experience, if The Marvel Experience is a hit. Might we see a Star Wars traveling theme park sometime in the future? Too soon to tell, says Licht.
“As soon as our initial announcement went public this past August we received multiple inquiries from some very well known entities with intellectual property known the world over. To already be approached with opportunities to utilize our business model with other properties when we have yet to even launch is quite gratifying,” he revealed. “But I have to tell you – we are laser focused on Marvel and making The Marvel Experience as spectacular as possible. We are not pursuing anything else at this time. Even if we wanted to, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day as this has been all consuming. Just ask our wives and girlfriends. . .”
This being the first outing, it makes sense that Hero Ventures isn’t getting ahead of themselves. The success of The Marvel Experience will make or break the concept, and so it’s in their best interests to work hard to get it exactly right. If that happens, more will obviously follow.
“We always envisioned Hero Ventures as a company that is creating a new content distribution vehicle with next generation technologies and unique elements that will result in an experience that is not just memorable but unforgettable,” said Licht. “We could have started with any brand, and we are incredibly fortunate that our inaugural endeavor is focused on what we and many others consider to be the most valuable characters in the world – the Marvel superheroes.”
I’ll continue to cover The Marvel Experience as the project advances and finally kicks off its tour, so stay tuned, dear readers!
Meanwhile, what do you think of this first look at the superhero theme park? Do you plan to attend when it hits your town? Sound off in the comments below!