Marvel Signs Iron Maiden

Of the many knocks on superhero flicks, the biggest has been that they draw few big actors. No longer.

On Wednesday, Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) bulked up 2008's Iron Man by signing Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow to play Virginia "Pepper" Potts, personal assistant to and occasional love interest of Iron Man's alter ego, weapons maker Tony Stark, who will be played by Robert Downey, Jr. Terrence Howard, who has earned acclaim for roles in Crash and Hustle & Flow, will play Stark's best friend, Jim Rhodes.

Contrast that with last summer's Superman Returns, which grossed $200 million at the box office domestically for Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) . Sure, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is as good as it gets. But Brandon Routh wasn't exactly a household name before accepting the title role.

Besides, going the star-studded route has produced big returns for Marvel before. Take the Spidey franchise. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, thanks in part to top draws Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, have generated more than $1.6 billion in global box office receipts for Marvel and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) . This May, the franchise is back with Topher Grace as Venom and Thomas Haden Church as Sandman. A $200 million domestic box office seems a certainty.

Iron Man isn't likely to enjoy similar gains or attract the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But, by going for broke in casting, Marvel is likely to generate buzz that wouldn't otherwise be available for a comparatively unknown hero like ol' Shellhead.

Perhaps the best comparison is Fantastic Four. No doubt the quartet is one of Marvel's most storied franchises but they were relative unknowns compared to Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman. So what did Marvel do? Hire Jessica Alba. Mix in award-winner Michael Chiklis and up-and-comer Chris Evans to complement accomplished but unknown actor Ioan Gruffudd, and you've got a $150 million earner at the domestic box office.

Don't be surprised if, with Paltrow as iron maiden, Iron Man does that and a lot more.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers says Iron Man is one of his favorite Marvel characters. He hopes ol' Shellhead comes off well on celluloid. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is also ironclad.


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