Hollywood's had a long history of profiting from epic adventures. If the early enthusiasm I'm seeing for The Avengers is any indicator, Disney (NYSE: DIS ) will be the latest to cash in.
The Avengers has already taken in some $281 million at the international box office ahead of this weekend's U.S. debut. What's more, I'm writing from a fast-filling movie theater that's showing what's called the "Ultimate Marvel Movie Marathon" -- six films in a row, closing with the midnight premiere of the new film.
Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, The Avengers is the culmination of a series that began with the $300 million hit Iron Man in 2008 . The idea? Bring to the big screen the sorts of multi-issue, long-serial storylines that have long made comic books popular.
The formula is working so far. In July, Sony (NYSE: SNE ) will reboot the Spider-Man franchise. I've enjoyed the previews so far, and given history -- aside from Christopher Nolan's take on Batman, the Spidey films are the top-grossing comic-book adaptations of all time -- there's likely to be an eager audience for the film, which stars Andrew Garfield as Marvel's favorite wall crawler.
Yet the concept isn't necessarily transportable. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) took a hit when last summer's Green Lantern bombed at the box office and in the process failed to establish the necessary beachhead that could have led to new films featuring more minor DC characters such as The Flash and Hawkman, and ultimately, an epic featuring The Justice League -- DC Entertainment's answer to The Avengers.
But that's DC. Marvel Studios isn't having the same issues, and Disney, wisely, is giving the division plenty of creative room as a result. The Avengers are assembling this weekend. Don't be surprised if, like these similarly epic world-dominating stocks, Disney punishes analyst estimates as a result.