In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power ... Green Lantern's light!
-- The Green Lantern oath, per the DC Comics character.
Lord Voldemort is a mightier villain than Parallax. Hogwarts is a better training ground than Oa. Albus Dumbledore is a better mentor than Kilowog. And Green Lantern is no Harry Potter. So say this past weekend's box office results.
According to Box Office Mojo, Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) newest and arguably biggest superhero epic -- sporting a $200 million production budget -- brought in just $53.2 million from weekend screenings at more than 3,800 theaters. The implication? With this summer's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 concluding the series, Warner has yet to find an heir apparent to J.K. Rowling's boy wizard.
Green Lantern was never meant to fill that gap alone. How could it? Just look at what the Harry Potter films have done at the box office over the years:
|Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone||Nov. 16, 2001||$974.7 million|
|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets||Nov. 16, 2002||$878.6 million|
|Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban||June 4, 2004||$795.6 million|
|Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire||Nov. 18, 2005||$895.9 million|
|Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix||July 11, 2007||$938.2 million|
|Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince||July 15, 2009||$933.9 million|
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1||Nov. 19, 2010||$954.5 million|
Source: Box Office Mojo.
You don't replace a $6 billion franchise with just one character. Fortunately, that's not what Warner planned. DC Entertainment, like comic book peer and Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) unit Marvel, has thousands of characters to work with. One, Batman, has been a box-office performer since the late 1980s.
More recently, Christopher Nolan's interpretation of the character -- including 2005's Batman Begins and 2008 megahit The Dark Knight -- has yielded nearly $1.4 billion in global box office receipts. Green Lantern won't get anywhere close to that. More likely, it'll fit in the middle of DC's middling comics-to-movie franchise. Here's a rundown of the past decade's debuts:
|Catwoman||July 23, 2004||$82.1 million|
|Constantine||Feb. 18, 2005||$230.9 million|
|Batman Begins||June 15, 2005||$372.7 million|
|V for Vendetta||March 17, 2006||$132.5 million|
|Superman Returns||June 28, 2006||$391.1 million|
|The Dark Knight||July 18, 2008||$1,001.9 million|
|Watchmen||March 6, 2009||$185.3 million|
|The Losers||April 23, 2010||$29.4 million|
|Jonah Hex||June 18, 2010||$10.9 million|
|Red||October 15, 2010||$186.6 million|
Source: Box Office Mojo.
Talk about a huge gap. Up till now, the average DC-inspired film has produced 29% of the receipts of the average Harry Potter film. More tellingly, the top getter from DC Comics' Hollywood history -- The Dark Knight -- grossed more than twice the No. 2 getter, 1989's Batman, which took in $411.3 million worldwide. Both films star the same character.
Warner badly needs to branch out, and it needs to do so with characters to which it already owns the rights. That's why Green Lantern was given so much leeway. But while Marvel's characters continue to produce profits for not just Disney, but also News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS ) 20th Century Fox with the X-Men films , and Sony (NYSE: SNE ) with the Spider-Man films, DC hasn't yet figured out how to bring more characters to the big screen. Green Lantern was the first of what should be many tries.
As an investor, I can't quibble with the plan. My sons liked Green Lantern. So did I, for the most part. The script suffered from bad writing in several spots, but on the whole, there's enough story here to produce a sequel. One that should cost less, feature a single screenwriter, and spend more time exploring the mythology of the fictional Green Lantern Corps and less time with one-liners that do nothing to explain the main character's motivation to, you know, save the world.
The effort would be worth it. Why? Good comic book-inspired storytelling has a way of producing profits. Cablevision's (NYSE: CVC ) Rainbow Media, which is anchored by the AMC channel, saw operating profit increase 18% last year on the strength of AMC's The Walking Dead, an adaption of Robert Kirkman's long-running comic book series of the same name. Green Lantern isn't likely to do the same for Time Warner.
Yet while it might look like the blackest night has already enveloped DC and Warner, I believe the search to find the next Harry Potter has only just begun. Do you agree? Disagree? Weigh in using the comments box below. You can also add Time Warner to your watchlist for comprehensive coverage of the stock.
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