Will Fox Dominate the Box Office With its Comic Universe?

Despite having two films in its Marvel-licensed universe that haven't been released, Fox is looking toward the future and announcing new sequels as well as a mystery project. Will this boldness be rewarded with box-office hits, or is the studio setting itself up to fail?

Mar 26, 2014 at 7:06AM

Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) is wasting no time in developing the cinematic universe that it's building around the comic book properties it has licensed from Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios. Though the studio's efforts have largely centered around the X-Men in recent years, its plans for the Fantastic Four are also coming to the forefront.

Despite the controversy surrounding the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, the studio slated a sequel to the film among several other announcements this past week. Including the Marvel-based films the studio has in development, its recent announcements give it one or two superhero films per year between now and 2018.

A hit-or-miss history
Critics of films based on Marvel-licensed properties typically call for the studios making those films to give up the rights and let them return to Marvel. This would allow new films to be made that were part of Marvel's official "cinematic universe," which includes Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and more. While this includes characters such as Spider-Man (who is licensed to Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Columbia Pictures), the loudest cries often surround Fox's properties.

Currently, Fox holds the licenses for the "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four" franchises, as well as characters related to those properties. A few -- such as the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Skrulls -- are cross-licensed between Fox and Marvel (allowing them to appear in both cinematic universes under certain circumstances), but Fox largely has exclusive rights to the characters on the big screen.

While Fox has generally enjoyed decent returns from its "X-Men" films, other properties haven't been as lucky. Neither of its previous "Fantastic Four" films were overly well received, and Daredevil and Elektra are frequently cited as examples of how poorly comic book films can be done. Even the "X-Men" franchise hasn't been spotless -- X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were low points that seemed destined to kill the franchise.

Days of future present
Despite a checkered past, Fox seems confident in its films moving forward. Following the moderate success of last year's The Wolverine, the studio is anticipating a larger hit with the May 23 release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Featuring both the "modern" cast from the first three "X-Men" films and the "past" cast from the 1960s-set X-Men: First Class, the film uses time travel to bridge two eras. Recently voted as the most anticipated movie of the summer among visitors to RottenTomatoes.com,  the film is all but guaranteed to be a blockbuster and will likely bring in a larger box office haul than the $353.6 million that First Class earned worldwide.

After Days of Future Past, the X-Men will appear in 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse. Rumored to be loosely based on the popular "Age of Apocalypse" storyline, that film is in the early stages of production and will reportedly be set in the 1980s (and will continue to use the First Class-era cast instead of the "modern" cast that includes Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen). According to statements by director Bryan Singer, the film will also explore the idea of ancient mutants and will feature the first big-screen appearance of X-Men arch-nemesis Apocalypse.

More X-films are on the way as well, with a sequel to The Wolverine being planned for March 3, 2017 and a mystery Marvel-licensed film planned for release on July 18, 2018. While the latter hasn't been definitively tied to the X-Men universe, it's unlikely to be related to the Fantastic Four and may be the X-Force film that has been rumored to be in early development for some time.

Fantastic films?
Despite casting controversy and rumors surrounding the 2015 release of Fantastic Four, Fox has already slated a sequel for release in July 2017. This may seem premature, but given that both of the previous "Fantastic Four" films more than doubled their production budgets with their worldwide box office takes, the studio is confident that the upcoming reboot will perform at least well enough to cover production and marketing expenses.

Even if it does underperform, its role as a building block in a shared X-Men/Fantastic Four cinematic universe might be worth a sequel even without being a major hit. Fox might be keeping the budget restrained (which would explain the casting of an actor who was already committed to a multi-film contract) as a means of ensuring that the film doesn't lose money.

Provided that the new "Fantastic Four" films perform better than the previous ones, even if only moderately, they could still contribute to greater box office draws for Fox in the future. Though there are no plans for an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover at this time, the fact that both franchises will exist in the same cinematic universe at least opens up that possibility. Assuming that the mystery Marvel film in 2018 is in fact an "X-Force" movie, a crossover involving the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and possibly even X-Force could hit the big screen by 2019 or 2020.

Will people watch?
The "X-Men" films have their detractors, but the series is still solid for Fox. Just as Sony is doing with its forthcoming "Spider-Man" spinoffs that will flesh out that universe, Fox wants to expand on its properties to build a Marvel-like shared universe that will see major releases each year. This could be a lucrative plan for the studio, but it's also risky -- there hasn't been a major "Fantastic Four" hit yet and the current film has been getting a lot of negative attention.

Still, Fox seems dedicated to its course of action and is jumping headfirst into its new shared universe. It remains to be seen whether this boldness will pay off with a string of hits like Marvel has enjoyed, but at the very least it should be buoyed by moderate X-universe hits every year or two.

Boost your 2014 returns with The Motley Fool's top stock
There’s a huge difference between a good stock and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it’s one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information