In 2008, only a few years ago, Marvel Entertainment was operating above a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Beverly Hills. Its CEO, Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, was fretting so much about profit potential for the soon-to-be-released Iron Man movie that he wanted to serve only potato chips at the premiere.
Then came one of the most spectacular eight-film runs in history, with a combined gross of $6.1 billion for Marvel Studios movies. But the 71-year-old Perlmutter hasn't mellowed. Under his tightfisted management, Marvel has become one of the most admired, envied and, in some quarters, resented entertainment companies. The 300-employee outfit has thrived despite insistence on ever-stricter creative controls and a reputation for extreme cheapness that strikes many accustomed to old-school industry dealings as disrespectful.