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That was fast. Four days after I predicted that Marvel's The Avengers would become a billion-dollar movie, it has. Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) superhero epic, produced by subsidiary Marvel Studios, took in $103.2 million in U.S. box-office receipts and another $95.4 million overseas over the weekend, resulting in a $1.002 billion worldwide haul of this writing, according to Box Office Mojo.
Think about that for a second. In just 19 days, The Avengers has outperformed the entire 33-week box-office run of The Dark Knight, a smash that not only established Christopher Nolan as one of the genre's best directors but that also earned the late Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar win. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) executives must be turning Hulk green with envy even as they plot ways to turn their own comic-book subsidiary, DC Entertainment, into a Marvel-style hit machine.
And while we don't yet have the numbers, it's a good bet The Avengers' digitally enhanced cinematography will end up a boon for both RealD (NYSE: RLD ) , which specializes in technology for 3-D viewing, and IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX ) , which offers a more immersive large-screen experience. Interestingly, of the two, only RealD has beaten the market since The Avengers' May 4 open.
We won't know the full list of winners from Disney's assemblage of The Avengers until long after the curtain falls. In the meantime, I take three lessons from the success of the film so far:
- Comic-book adaptations are alive and well. Predictions of the death of the superhero genre were and still are greatly exaggerated. Audiences crave a good viewing experience, and they really don't care whether it's cowboys, secret agents, or superheroes that deliver.
- Investing in a strong creative group matters more than the source material. Just as last summer's Green Lantern bombed because it had the wrong mix of actors and a confused jumble of a script glued together from the work of four writers, The Avengers benefited from audience knowledge of and empathy for the main characters and an exceptional script from director Joss Whedon.
- Franchise-building works. Among the many things that make The Avengers work so well is history. Audiences are familiar with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, with Chris Hemsworth as Thor, with Chris Evans as Captain America, with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Marvel and Disney have built a franchise, and when viewed as a series, the six films that comprise the story arc that leads to The Avengers comes off as a fast-action comic book brought to screen, with just the right mix of character development and double-fisted action payoff.
As a Disney shareholder, I'm happy to have been right about The Avengers. Betting on big-budget, Rule Breaking ideas doesn't always pay off, but when it does -- as it has here -- the resulting windfall can climb well into the trillions.