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Ghost Rider in the Box Office

Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) had a great holiday weekend. A film based on its Ghost Rider property opened at No. 1, and Fool co-founder David Gardner observed yesterday that shareholders couldn't have been more pleased by the market's reaction to the news.

Let's feast on the final numbers as reported by Ghost Rider, distributed by Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , pulled in $52 million at the domestic marketplace and had a per-theater average equal to $14,374 for the four-day timeframe. That was a fiery showing to be sure, considering that the movie had competition from Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Bridge to Terabithia and Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) Eddie Murphy comedy Norbit. Those projects came in at Nos. 2 and 3 for the weekend, respectively.

Marvel's stock closed up almost 5% yesterday on good volume. The market definitely liked the stats, and it saw fit to push the share price above $30. It's clear that many investors believed that the movie beat expectations and that it should set a nice tone for Marvel's upcoming summer of fun. Spider-Man 3 fever is waiting in the wings; the next outing is set to debut in May. That will be followed by the sequel to the Fantastic Four movie from News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) Fox studio, scheduled for June.

Hey, I'm not going to begrudge the action in the stock -- I am a shareholder, after all. But I have to be honest and say that I was hoping for a four-day gross north of $60 million. I admit, I'm always looking for bigger quantities of money and for better growth rates when it comes to Marvel projects, but you have to put this performance in context. Daredevil, which I think is a good standard to measure Ghost Rider against (as opposed to the very weak Elektra), grossed $45 million during its four-day weekend debut and had a per-theater average of $12,974. Daredevil's production budget was approximately $80 million, while Ghost Rider is believed to have cost about $110 million. I was really pulling for more bang for the buck in relation to the budget. Keep in mind, it's been four years between Daredevil and the current film, and, in my opinion at least, Nicolas Cage's burning specter seemed more accessible to a wider audience than the brooding, blind character portrayed by Ben Affleck.

That might not be such a popular take, especially to all the rabid Marvel fans/shareholders out there who are pretty stoked after this successful weekend. The theatrical performance nearly always ends up being the primary driver of ancillary revenue channels such as home video and merchandise. Because of this, I like to see openings as strong as possible. I want to see an uptrend in the debut weekend for Marvel properties over time.

It might sound weird to offer even slight criticism to a $50+ million opening, but considering that, as the general rule of thumb goes, a movie needs to earn more than double its total cost (budget and marketing) at the box office to break even since studios and theaters split the proceeds, and grosses tend to drop off every weekend for most films, I'm sure investors can understand where I'm coming from. Don't worry, though -- I still love Marvel, I appreciate Ghost Rider's box-office impact, and I'm eagerly anticipating not only the rest of its movie slate this year, but also its self-funded movie slate of the future. With great risk comes (maybe) great reward, and Marvel will definitely get riskier as time goes on when it puts capital on the line for celluloid production. But a few hits should definitely impact shareholder value. Let's hope the company can keep the budgets prudent and the creativity high.

More articles on the mighty Marvel:

David Gardner has recommended Marvel to subscribers of the Stock Advisor newsletter for more than 750% in gains. Disney is also a selection of the newsletter. To see what other great companies have been picked for the market-crushing newsletter, take a free 30-day trial to the service today.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and Marvel Entertainment. He doesn't really know what a "ghost rider" is, but he's glad one is hanging out at the multiplex. As of this writing, he was ranked 12,279 out of 23,064 investors in the Motley Fool CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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