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July 09, 2018 at 11:40 AM EDT

Marvel has grossed nearly $7 billion at the domestic box office alone since launching its cinematic universe with 2008’s Iron Man, but there’s one specific thing in particular that the company pulled off that most impresses director James Wan.

I was chatting with the director of Furious 7 and the upcoming Aquaman when the subject of DC’s rival studio came up. Some context: Aquaman has long been considered one of the toughest characters to pull off cinematically after decades of being mocked in pop culture. So I pointed out to Wan that once Marvel made a talking raccoon in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy into a hit character (as in the Bradley Cooper-voiced Rocket), that getting audiences to take Aquaman seriously must have suddenly seemed far more doable for DC. Then the Australian director pointed out something rather interesting.

“I actually think the most incredible thing [Marvel] did is making Captain America and Thor accessible to the mainstream — especially outside of the United States,” Wan said. “The moment you can make a character called ‘Captain America’ work in Russia and China, then anything is possible.”

Indeed, it’s one thing to try and sell the stars-and-stripes-clad Captain America worldwide post-World War II after the comics became a hit and quite another to do it today. Yet Captain America: Civil War had one of the all-time biggest box office openings in China’s history. The films’ titles don’t always stay the same, however — like Captain America: The Winter Soldier was The First Avenger: The Other War in Russia.

Wan also pointed out that despite the rigors of creating his film within a larger cinematic universe, his DC and Warner Bros. bosses allowed him to make the film uniquely his own — something he required before agreeing to do the job.

“I told them that I understand and respect that Aquaman is part of a bigger universe but at the end of the day I have to tell the story I want to tell and want to develop the character because its such a big part of my life as the filmmaker behind it,” Wan says. “And that was something the studio was respectful about.”

For more on Aquaman, check out our exclusive gallery of new images from the film and follow @jameshibberd for ongoing DC Entertainment scoop.

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