Marvel released Iron Man to wide acclaim and a $98 million opening weekend. Before the armored hero packed away his metal vestments, the movie had grossed $585 million worldwide -- and I'm not even counting DVD sales or on-demand rentals.
So the sequel is a very big deal to Marvel's new owner, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) . Due to a legacy distribution deal signed before Marvel had a big, rich, and mouse-eared sugar daddy of its own, Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) subsidiary Paramount Pictures stands to collect 8% of box office sales -- the rest belongs to Disney. The opening weekend for Iron Man 2 is expected to collect as much as 50% more than the original, thanks to improved brand awareness and the growing star power of Robert Downey Jr, who plays Iron Man himself.
Jumping to conclusions from previous successes and wild guesses is always a tricky business, but I dare say that Iron Man 2 will work out very nicely for the studio. The international launch last week already pulled in $100 million in box office receipts, and the movie is a lock to make its $170 million budget back -- with interest -- very, very swiftly. The rest, as they say, is just gravy for Disney shareholders like myself.
What's even better is that the franchise is walking on muscular legs. Unlike Avatar, which makes the accountants at News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) studio 20th Century Fox very happy, the Iron Man franchise is built on strong characters and quality storytelling. Avatar is a technical tour de force but lacking in true creativity. Hence, Iron Man 2 is set to make lots of money without the 3-D gimmickry that propelled Avatar ticket prices to unheard-of levels. The movie still looks great, and I expect it to serve IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX ) very well, too, but you don't need overly fancy and expensive visuals when you have good actors telling a great story -- and that's what Marvel is presenting, here.
The Marvel juggernaut continues to rock and roll, setting the stage for another Iron Man blockbuster in 2012 and a plethora of related Marvel hits elsewhere. This was $4 billion well spent for Disney, as Marvel is establishing itself as a hit-making machine -- the Pixar of live-action movies. IMAX is happy to ride Marvel's coattails, along with future heirs of the entertainment dollar like Netflix and Coinstar's RedBox.