How to Milk Superheroes for Fun and Profit

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How do you milk superheroes? Put 'em together in the mother of all tentpole movies. Drum up enough pre-launch excitement, and the lucrative spinoffs never have to end.

That's exactly how Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) treats its Marvel stable (or is it a barn, with the milking and all?) of brand-name heroes under the Avengers brand. A series of standalone hits lead the way: the two Iron Man movies have grossed $1.2 billion worldwide; both Thor and Captain America hover around the $400 million global ticket line; even the action reboot of The Incredible Hulk, which didn't exactly draw rave reviews, nearly doubled its budget with $260 million in global box office.

So the table has been set for a feast of heroic proportions. The crowd is appropriately hungry for action.

When Disney posted the trailer for The Avengers last week, 10 million fans downloaded the two-minute clip in the first 24 hours. Available exclusively from the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes Movie Trailers service, like many of Disney's theatrical trailers, The Avengers crushed the previous record of 6.4 million first-day views.

The old record belongs to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which has collected $1.1 billion in worldwide grosses all by itself. Producer and distributor Viacom (NYSE: VIA-B  ) was particularly overjoyed to see Transformers breaking records in China. All of this bodes well for another high-octane action movie with a ready-made fan base and a franchise history of doing well overseas.

The Avengers looks ready to break the billion-dollar mark for Disney. Cinema chains will love it, the action-oriented IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) in particular. Then you've primed the pump for decades of sequels, spinoffs, theme-park rides, and hero-themed cruise rides. Don't forget about DVD and Blu-ray sales, and then these heroes trickle down to international syndication and digital streaming deals -- if not by Netflix in a global stretch, then perhaps through part-owned movie service Hulu.

The Marvel deal may have looked expensive at $4 billion, but the Mouse House will make those heroes pay their dues -- and then some. Marvel is an economy unto itself.

So that's how you milk a barn full of heroes and earn a perfect five-star CAPS rating. What will Disney dream up next? Be the first to find out with the help of our Foolish watchlist service.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney, IMAX, Netflix, and Apple, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him on Twitter or Google+, or peruse our Foolish disclosure policy.

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10/21/2016 4:00 PM
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