The rise of the Russo brothers — from going into credit card debt for their first movie to directing ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

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Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Years ago, Joe and Anthony Russo (known as the Russo brothers), would have seemed like an unlikely duo to direct a “Captain America” movie, let alone the biggest superhero movie in history: “Avengers: Infinity War.”

But the duo did just that, and the crown jewel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to theaters on April 27.

The pair started their career on the film festival circuit, and struggled to finance their first independent, low-budget film, called “Pieces.” Swimming in debt, they were eventually called by filmmaker and producer Steven Soderbergh, who had seen “Pieces” at the Slamdance Film Festival and wanted to produce their next film.

From there, the brothers would mostly take on TV projects, primarily sitcoms such as “Arrested Development,” “Happy Endings,” and “Community.”

Now, the Russos are ready to deliver the most anticipated superhero film of all time – and certainly one of the most ambitious crossover events ever – which could very well smash box office records.

Needless to say, it’s an unusual career.

Here’s a closer look at the career of the Russo Brothers:


Joe (left) and Anthony (right) Russo grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Anthony was born in 1970 and Joe in 1971.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Joe (in front) has collected comic books since he was 10 years old. His favorite character was Spider-Man.

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Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

They were graduate students at Case Western Reserve University, a private university in Cleveland, when they started making their first film. Joe was a theatre student while Anthony was in the School of Law — their father was an attorney.

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Ian Gavan/Getty Images

That first feature was a small 1997 film called “Pieces” that they financed themselves and premiered at the low-budget, independent film festival Slamdance Film Festival.

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Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

The Russos told Deadline earlier this year that the film cost $30,000 to make – much more than they anticipated.


They told Deadline they were inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s low-budget movie “El Mariachi,” which they read was made for $7,000. Anthony said they didn’t pay off the credit card debt accumulated when making “Pieces” until a decade later.

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Columbia Pictures

The two went to UCLA to pursue degrees in film. Not only were they still in debt from “Pieces,” but Joe had just had his first of two daughters.

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Ian Gavan/Getty Images

A call from a notable filmmaker would give them hope, though.


Steven Soderbergh saw “Pieces” at Slamdance and called the brothers about producing their next film, which would result in the 2002 crime-comedy “Welcome to Collinwood,” starring George Clooney, William H. Macy, and Sam Rockwell.

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Warner Bros.

The Russos told Deadline that Soderbergh loved the movie and found it inspiring: “It was a very stylized movie and he loved the style. He said it was thoughtful and adventurous and that we were aggressive, ballsy, young, filmmakers.”

After writing three scripts, they finally submitted them to Soderbergh’s now-shut-down production company (that he formed with Clooney) Section Eight, which chose “Welcome to Collinwood.”


The Russos directed two episodes, including the pilot, of the short-lived FX series “Lucky” in 2003. The series ended after one season.

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FX

The Russos were executive producers on and directed multiple episodes of the comedy “Arrested Development” during its original three-season run on Fox from 2003 to 2005.

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Fox

They often directed their own episodes, except for the very first episode of the series, which they directed together and won an Emmy for.


The brothers’ next feature was the 2006 romantic comedy, “You, Me and Dupree,” starring Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, and Matt Dillon.

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Universal

The movie was critically panned, and has a 20% on review-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.


The Russos went on to direct and produce multiple TV shows, including ABC’s “Happy Endings” and NBC’s “Community.”

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NBC

Their work on “Community” caught the eye of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

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NBC

The Russos told The Los Angeles Times in a 2016 interview that they got a call from their agent one day that they were on the shortlist to direct “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the sequel to “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

“We had recently done these paintball episodes for ‘Community,’ Kevin loved them,” Joe told the Los Angeles Times. “He also looks for people who understand humor. It’s a combination. We were in the tonal zone for him with guys who have done a lot of comedy, and then all of a sudden he saw this paintball episode and went, ‘They also understand the action genre, maybe we should talk to them?'”


The duo ended up getting the job to direct Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” released in 2014, and injected it with political intrigue not seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at that point.

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Disney/Marvel

“The Winter Soldier” received positive reviews, and has 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.


They then directed the next “Captain America” film, 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which pitted Cap against Iron Man over the government registration of superhumans.

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Marvel Studios

“Civil War” received even more praise, and has 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.


The brothers are developing an FX crime drama called “The Mastermind” with “Fargo” and “Legion” creator Noah Hawley.

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Noah Hawley
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Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

The Russos will direct the series based on the true story of Paul Le Roux, a cartel boss-turned-informant for the DEA.


The success of their “Captain America” films landed the Russos their shot at the crown jewel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Avengers: Infinity War.” The film comes to theaters April 27, and is the biggest superhero movie ever made.

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Marvel

“Infinity War” and a fourth “Avengers” movie were filmed back-to-back by the Russos. It comes to theaters next year, but a title has yet to be revealed. It was originally called “Infinity War Part 2.”

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Disney

Not bad for a pair who came from TV sitcoms.

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