Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL ) is easy to love. On the one hand, it's so gracefully simple to understand, and on the other, it's as complex as Tom Cruise's motivation to jump on couches during interview shows. Marvel, like its superheroes, has a dual nature -- and that's why I love it.
Let's start with the easy part: the awesome intellectual properties in Marvel's portfolio. With stalwarts like Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America among its five-thousand-plus characters, I'd say Marvel can hold its own amid major media rivals such as Disney (NYSE: DIS ) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) . In recent years, Marvel has licensed its characters to Hollywood for low-risk exposure to the movie business, an approach that has served the company well. As proof, look no further than the awesome successes of its movies. While lesser efforts like Elektra may have fizzled, the Spider-Man and X-Men series have supercharged Marvel's silver-screen cachet. Perhaps more importantly, they've also fueled the company's toy lines and helped to increase brand equity for its publishing division.
Now for the part of Marvel that isn't necessarily so straightforward. The money made by licensing characters to studios such as Sony (NYSE: SNE ) and News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) 20th Century Fox pales in comparison to the rewards available for making movies for yourself. That's just Marvel has decided to do, setting up its own credit facility for purposes of funding movie projects. This way, it gets to keep more of what its characters gross at the multiplex.
My Foolish colleague Tim Beyers produced an excellent and informative essay on how operating income and valuation may be affected, depending on these Marvel movies' box-office success. For instance, if the upcoming Iron Man only pulls in $100 million in theaters, it might not be a positive contributor to operating income. If it takes in $300 million, however, shareholders could be looking at more than $200 million in operating-income contribution. I find such potential exhilarating.
It's just so much fun following -- and owning -- Marvel. I think it has a bright future ahead of it. The company has taken on more risk with its new Hollywood ambitions, but come on now, isn't love the greatest risk of all? With Ghost Rider set to open in theaters this month, sequels to Spider-Man and Fantastic Four ready for the summer, and a fresh deal with Hasbro (NYSE: HAS ) for the company's merchandise line, I'd say Marvel is going to be very entertaining indeed. What's not to love about that?
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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and Marvel Entertainment. As of this writing, he was ranked 16,396 out of 22,022 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.