5 More Ways for Disney to Cash In on the Superhero Boom

For as much ink as The Dark Knight Rises has gotten in the headlines recently, it's easy to forget that Batman isn't the only superhero starring at cinemas.

Yesterday, we took a look at how Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) might re-up the Bat Franchise now that director Christopher Nolan is on to other endeavors. Today we'll look at what Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) subsidiary Marvel Studios already has planned, and what might be in the works.

Looking back to look forward
The House of Mouse has good reason to want more of what Marvel has to offer. Box Office Mojo ranks the comic-book king the top cinematic franchise, with just over $5 billion in gross receipts as of this writing. Disney-produced flicks are responsible for about 26% of that total:

Film (Year)

Domestic

Worldwide

Marvel's The Avengers (2012) $616.0 million $1,460.6 million
Iron Man 2 (2010) $312.4 million $623.9 million
Thor (2011) $181.0 million $449.3 million
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) $176.7 million $368.6 million
TOTALS $1,286.1 million $2,902.4 million

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Among the remaining franchises, DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA  ) ranks second at $3.96 billion, followed by Disney's Pixar at $3.25 billion and then DC Comics at $2.8 billion. The numbers drop off significantly from there. Fifth-place MTV has earned about half of DC's haul, while up-and-comer Hasbro (NYSE: HAS  ) has brought in $1.32 billion for its licensing partners.

American Superhero Idol 
When viewed through the lens of current box-office trends, Disney CEO Bob Iger is a genius for paying just $4 billion for Marvel's mighty money machine. Every one of his peers is searching for a deal of their own. Most of them spend millions hunting for talent at the annual San Diego Comic-Con. Call it American Idol for comic-book nerds like me.

Someone will find the next Marvel eventually. Until then, investors are likely to be better served by betting on Disney. Here are five Marvel projects that have either already been or could soon be greenlighted for production.

Ant-Man. In production and previewed at Comic-Con. Edgar Wright, who co-wrote and directed the 2010 comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, will direct. We don't yet have a date for the film, but fan reaction to the footage shown at Comic-Con suggests this could be another cult winner for Wright, and for Disney shareholders.

Black Panther. Rumored but not in production. The fictional prince of an advanced African nation is a mean and agile fighter who in the comics is affiliated with The Avengers, making him a natural for the big screen. The character has also appeared in his own cartoon series on BET, so there's a ready-made audience waiting to pay up to watch his adventures.

Daredevil. Not yet in production. Though he's already appeared on the big screen once (played by Ben Affleck in a 2003 movie that earned mixed reviews), Marvel has long hinted at a reboot because of the popularity of Batman at the cineplex. Both characters share a thirst for vengeance (Batman for his parents, Daredevil for his dad and girlfriend) and count the mob as chief enemies, suggesting crossover audience appeal. There's just one problem: News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS  ) Twentieth Century Fox, which owns the film rights, has lost David Slade as a potential director. Fox must get a reboot into production before year's end or face having to return the rights to Marvel and Disney.

Doctor Strange. Discussed when Marvel first announced plans for its own studio and then teased again in 2008, but no news since. The surgeon-turned-Sorcerer Supreme of Earth could play off the current fascination with all things occult, undead, and just generally creepy. Plus, special effects could make the various displays of magic crazy cool.

Guardians of the Galaxy. In production, scheduled for an Aug. 1, 2014, release. Possibly the most ambitious film we've ever seen from Marvel, seeing as it would probably star a genetically altered, intelligent raccoon, a human with a telepathic link to a starship that's actually a sentient energy form, and an alien plant monster. Yet if the screenplay and production come together well, this movie could become exactly the sort of far-out cosmic adventure that Green Lantern was supposed to be but wasn't for Warner and DC.

Put on your cape!
Those are the in-house films we've heard about. Other productions include a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, already in filming at Fox, which holds the movie rights to all X-Men characters. Similarly, a film starring Ryan Reynolds as the assassin Deadpool -- who also figured in X-Men Origins -- has long been rumored, but it, too, would have to come from Fox, and the studio is apparently busy with pre-production for a reboot of 2005's Fantastic Four.

Those limitations aside, which character or characters do you most want to see? Please weigh in using the comments box below, and then be sure to add Disney to your Watchlist for ongoing coverage. You're also welcome to a new special report that reveals three other American companies that are dominating on the world stage. Get our copy now -- it's 100% free to download.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Time Warner and Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro and Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of DreamWorks Animation, Hasbro, and Walt Disney. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 01, 2012, at 4:19 AM, ZhengHo wrote:

    For the majority of these characters, the idea of doing live action films on them is a very bad idea. One of the reasons the super hero films of the past 15 years have been so popular is that all of the characters are big name stars. Those who aren't into comic books would go see the movie as they have very few questions on who the character is. There are multiple reasons for Daredevil's failure besides just Ben Affleck. One example is their handling of the King Pin. The primary issue is, just like Ghost Rider, the character is not known enough. For these two characters as well as Ant Man, Guardians, Dr Strange, have they ever had an afternoon or (going way back) Saturday morning cartoon? If not, they will fail at the box office. Many of us grew up hearing about these characters from our parents or older siblings. We then passed that on to our children.

    One difference is Blade. Blade was successful in the 90s due to timing. We were all on the rebound from the Batman movies. If Blade were released now, the reception would not be as it was in the 90s. To introduce all of these lower level characters mentioned in the article(sorry to the fans, but it's a fact) would not only saturate the market, but also damage future releases from already successful franchises.

    Deadpool is a success waiting to happen. The reason--we got a glimpse of him in Xmen Origins. (Had Venom been hinted at in Spider-man 2, 3 may have developed into a better story). This is something that I've said to multiple people. You have to bring the audience along for the ride. That was the reason the transition from Episode V to VI was successful back in the day, The Avengers, Nolan's Batman trilogy, and even Xmen. We--the audience--see signs of what is to come. For the Avengers, we saw Sam Jackson in 5 movies prior. When a story is not wrapped up, people speculate. Using Yoda as an example speculation leads to anticipation, anticipation leads to......MONEY. In "Begins", we knew the Joker was the next villain, then in the "Dark Knight" we saw Bruce’s world burn which lead into "Rises". For Xmen, there is so much potential that is being sat on it is mind boggeling. The fans are waiting to pay money for what Marvel created, yet it looks (from the outside) that Marvel doesn't want that money. How long ago was Wolverine's movie made? From that, we should already have seen Gambit, and Deadpool. Again, they are successes waiting to happen.

    The best move for the studios is to gradually introduce new characters, or just leave them alone. Besides, isn't this how the Marvel universe has remained so popular over the decades? They realize that the characters exist in the same universe. It is impossible for them not to meet up. There has been talk of a Justice League film. This will not work. The Superman franchise is dead, Wonderwoman has been off the air since the 80 and there have been no popular reruns advertised on TV, the Flash is in that Daredevil zone, and if you can't get Christian Bale as Batman, just forget about the whole deal. In fact, that in itself is an issue. The actors who played those characters are so closely tied into them from our view of them on TV that it’s difficult to imagine someone else in that role. Linda Carter is Wonder Woman. Christopher Reeve is Superman, and Bill Bixby is Bruce Banner. (as much as I liked Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, the new guy in Avengers actually capture more of the feel of Bill Bixby in that role.)

    Anticipation is the key. There was no anticipation for Electra, Fantastic Four 2, Ghost Rider, or a Batmanless Catwoman. Be careful how/if you introduce new superheroes. You may be digging everyone's gravel.

  • Report this Comment On August 01, 2012, at 5:15 AM, ZhengHo wrote:

    Not sure how that last word changed from grave to gravel.

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