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Nothing Marvelous in This Setback

You know, something just happened that might get under Bruce Banner's skin -- and believe me, you don't want to get him angry. You wouldn't like it.

I'm referring to the altered release date of Fox's (NYSE: FOX  ) movie Fantastic Four, which is based on intellectual property owned by Marvel Enterprises (NYSE: MVL  ) . Originally, it was flying into theaters on July 1. Now, however, it's been moved back to July 8. What gives?

Well, here's what gives: War of the Worlds. According to The Hollywood Reporter, that movie will be out on Wednesday, June 29, just two days before the Marvel/Fox feature was set to open. Apparently, Fox got cold feet at the thought of warring with that juggernaut of alien invasion, so the company decided to blink and give Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) Paramount division its due.

I can see why Fox wanted to do this. Combine Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and a classic literary tale (one that had an illogical ending, in my opinion) by Herbert George Wells, and you've got one hell of a Goliath to overcome. Add in that it's a remake of a cult classic, and -- well, even those Fantastic Four might not be up to the challenge.

Fair enough, then. It's a sound strategy on Fox's part. All of the studios shuffle around their release dates like this, whether it's Paramount or Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) New Line or any other movie concern you can think of. The whole goal is to maximize the opening weekend by not fighting the market. It's sort of like a trader trying to short a stock that's going up on huge volume -- forget about it, move on.

Problem is, this is going to hurt Marvel's upside potential on the project. Sure, you can't predict these things -- perhaps Fantastic Four will do just as well on July 8 as it would have done on July 1. But the film is going to miss the July 4 weekend, which traditionally is a strong time frame for capturing box-office dollars. I would much rather have seen a July 1 opening, since it would have increased the odds of achieving as large a gross as possible. Opening weekends drive the domestic box -- and the domestic box tends to drive everything else: DVD sales, merchandise, international, TV sales, you name it.

Marvel, a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, is pretty protected on the downside here since it is the licensor, but the long-term growth of its traded equity does depend largely on its tent-pole films performing up to expectations -- think Pixar (Nasdaq: PIXR  ) . And since Elektra didn't make much noise at theaters and Mr. Excelsior himself was recently handed a court win against Marvel, shareholders are probably praying that Fantastic Four will be just as fantastic on July 8. By the way, I'm not just the writer of this Fool article -- I'm also a Marvel shareholder (as if you couldn't tell).

Recent articles on companies mentioned in this discussion:

Have an opinion about Marvel? Post it at the Marvel discussion board. Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Marvel Enterprises.

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