Does the U.S. Box Office Matter to Media Stocks Anymore?

Initial appearances to the contrary, Pacific Rim is well on its way to turning a profit for Legendary Pictures and production partner Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) . Guillermo Del Toro's monsters-vs.-robots epic earned another $33 million from international territories last weekend -- a great moment for one of my favorite media stocks.

All told, Pacific Rim has produced $344.2 million in box office receipts worldwide, with $247.4 million of that figure coming from overseas territories. Box Office Mojo's Ray Subers figures the film's international gross will come in around $300 million. That amounts to about $400 million globally, more than double Pacific Rim's reported $190 million production budget.

Chinese jaeger "Crimson Typhoon" sees action in Pacific Rim. Source: Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures.  

A rising tide of profits ... found elsewhere
Hollywood shorthand says a film turns profitable when it earns double its production budget at the box office. Enough, that is, to not only make and distribute the film but also to promote and market it.

This, Fool, is why so many fear the impact of The Lone Ranger on Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) profit picture. The film, which cost $215 million to make, has earned $196.2 million worldwide as of this writing.

Disney executives now say The Lone Ranger could lose anywhere from $160 million to $190 million. A big loss, to be sure, but also an anomaly thanks to the global success of Iron Man 3. Studio revenue for the June quarter came in at $1.59 billion, a slight decline from last year's $1.63 billion, in a quarter that included Marvel's The Avengers -- a record-setter that also earned huge sums overseas.

Of course, plenty of media stocks are profiting from Hollywood's global ambitions. International sales accounted for more than 50% of the gate for each of the year's top-five grossing films:

Top 5 Grossing Films of 2013 (YTD)
Domestic Gross
International Gross
International As a % of Total

Iron Man 3

$407.8 million

$804.6 million

66.4%

Despicable Me 2

$338.3 million

$407.5 million

54.6%

Man of Steel

$287.9 million

$359.5 million

55.5%

Monsters University

$260.1 million

$376.9 million

59.2%

Fast & Furious 6

$238.3 million

$544.2 million

69.5%

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Media stocks with global appeal
What's the takeaway for investors? Think globally. U.S. cinema may still be king, but studios are increasingly releasing films in foreign territories first to build momentum. Disney and Marvel did that for both The Avengers and Iron Man 3.

Others, such as Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) , prefer to bet on popular properties and hope for wide appeal. November's Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games series, opens between Nov. 20 and 28 in most territories. The first film earned $691 million worldwide on the strength of $408 million in U.S. sales.

Frankly, I prefer how Disney and Warner market their pictures worldwide and across media, which is why I'm still invested in both stocks. Think I'm wrong? What media stocks are on your radar right now? Leave a comment to let us know what you think.

Whatever your choice, remember that nothing exports like superheroes. Super-powered movies have been some of the highest-grossing films of all time, and as these franchises continue to grow, the numbers are only going to get more impressive. The Motley Fool's new free report "Your Ticket to Cash In on the Superhero Battle of the Century" details what you need to know to profit from your favorite comic book characters. Click here to read the full report!


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