Why This Hulk Will Smash

I'm going on the record again. First, I said that Iron Man would reach $300 million before exiting the U.S. box office. Today, I'm predicting that The Incredible Hulk will bring in at least $70 million domestically for Stock Advisor selection Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) during the film's opening weekend.

Here's why:

Metrics

Incredible Hulk

Hulk

Iron Man

Total rating

72%

61%

93%

Community rating

81%

45%

93%

Top critic rating

79%

53%

91%

Source: RottenTomatoes.com.

Notice the difference? The movie mavens at RottenTomaotes.com expect the "incredible" version to be a better popcorn flick than Ang Lee's 2003 failed celluloid experiment.

Also notice how top critics -- those whose job it is to recommend films -- like what they've seen. Critics like Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter, for example. Quoting from his recent review:

The production arm of Marvel Entertainment is two for two in 2008, hitting home runs with "Iron Man" and now "The Incredible Hulk." "Iron Man" has more wit and style, but "Hulk" is a neat thrill ride with an intelligent script by Zak Penn and smart, well-paced direction by the French director of "The Transporter" series, Louis Leterrier.

Two home runs in a row? That's Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) territory, Fool. No Pixar film has ever earned less than $150 million at the U.S. cinema.

Marvel can't exactly claim similar success. But cinematic series featuring Spider-Man and the X-Men have brought millions to producers Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) 20th Century Fox. Iron Man, meanwhile, is helping to fill the coffers for distributor Paramount Pictures and parent Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) in much the same way that Batman Begins boosted Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) .

You'll like Marvel when it's angry
Hits like these derive their momentum from fans -- comic book geeks like me who want to see the franchise succeed so that more of our favorite characters make it to the big screen.

Ask the good folks over at the "Marvel Movies!" Group on Facebook (registration required). Today, the members of that group are as excited as I've seen them since the first Iron Man previews showed up.

Here's how group founder Ed Mazmanian described the new Hulk film recently:

The acting is top notch all the way around. Ed Norton is Bruce Banner and after you see him you will forget about wanting anyone else for the role. William Hurt is awesome as usual, Tim Blake Nelson did a very colorful and entertaining job in his role and will definitely be stealing the show as The Leader in the next film. I really saw a lot of promise in what the future brings that character. Liv Tyler was great as Betty as well ... Lastly the final sequence is unbelievable and nobody will ever be able to say it's anti-climatic. It's long, intense, and unrelenting. It's the superhero/villain battle like no other.

At RottenTomates.com, you'll find fans like Mazmanian in the broader community. (Note the bold text in the table above.) There's a huge chasm between what they thought of Hulk and what they think of The Incredible Hulk. That chasm leads to me predict at least $70 million in weekend receipts.

Ready for the math? Good. Let's begin with the opening grosses for Iron Man and 2003's Hulk:

Film

Opening Weekend (mil)

Iron Man

$98.6

Hulk

$62.1

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Fans spot the newest gamma-irradiated rageathon a 36-percentage-point lead -- 81% to 45% -- over Eric Bana's interpretation. Robert Downey Jr.'s Shellhead, meanwhile, holds a 12-percentage-point lead over his future Avengers teammate -- 93% to 81%.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Take Hulk's $62.1 million opening weekend and bump it by 36% and you get $84.4 million. Take Iron Man's $98.6 million opening and discount it by 12% and you get ... $86.7 million.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Just remember that the first two of the three Spidey films rate better than 90% among the broader community at RottenTomatoes.com. Each opened for more than $80 million.

Spider-Man 3 opened strong at $151 million but was ultimately panned by the fans. It ended up being the worst draw of the trilogy at the U.S. box office.

Hulk smash $70 million!
No doubt industry wags will call me nuts. Tracking data as of last night put The Incredible Hulk's opening at little more than "comfortably north" of $40 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And most experts, the magazine says, believe the angry green giant would do well to bow in at $50 million.

Are these the same experts who told us that Iron Man would open at $60 million or "better?" Probably. Expect better, Fool.

More Marvel:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had positions in Marvel shares and LEAP options at the time of publication. He still very much believes that the company, though officially a Stock Advisor selection like Disney and Time Warner, is the sort of multibagger in the making that he and his rebellious colleagues search for daily at Rule Breakers. Try either service risk-free for 30 days.

The Motley Fool's disclosure policy rarely gets angry. But it's been known to get even.


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