The Bat Is Back

Citizens of Gotham City have a reason to celebrate: The Caped Crusader is back. Shareholders of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) stock, on the other hand, shouldn't get too excited. This movie's prospects alone won't necessarily move your investment's value. (A series of hits, however, is a different matter.)

Still, the media conglomerate's stakeholders will be following the Bat's box-office trajectory over the summer -- rooting for Batman Begins and hoping the competition will breathe in some of the Scarecrow's fearful fumes and stay far away from Warner Brothers' tentpole production. Holders of Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , and News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) , beware.

Batman Begins had a decent beginning -- its five-day domestic gross (the movie opened last Wednesday) is currently estimated at about $71 million at boxofficemojo.com, though final grosses will be determined later. For the Friday-through-Sunday period, estimated revenues are about $47 million.

I don't want to rain on any fan's parade, but while this was a strong opening, it's not quite as stellar as it could have been, especially for a marquee name like Batman. Then again, this debut can be considered darn good for a franchise all but crippled by the previous two installments, which bombed with critics and slouched at the box office. Batman Begins' second weekend will help determine whether this project has legs (or, wings, as the case may be).

No matter what, Time Warner should be happy come the holiday season, when the home video version of Batman Begins will presumably fill shelves at Wal-Mart and Best Buy. DVD revenues, as we all know by now, are a great way to recoup expensive budgets. Still, there's no question that a $100 million take would have been preferable (or perhaps even a minimum) for the five-day period.

But since this film represents a new beginning for Batman as a celluloid icon, I think Time Warner has a lot to look forward to, from additional sequels to nascent merchandising opportunities -- especially in the hot video-game software sector. As an origin story, Batman Begins has to lay groundwork for the character. With a backstory now in place, future films will likely have an easier time crossing over to increasingly mainstream audiences.

Don't assume too much, though. The movie business is fickle and risky. So is Time Warner's stock, which hasn't done much lately. Things have improved for shareholders since the company finally instituted a payout (see Rick Munarriz's coverage). America Online continues to plague the company like crime in Gotham City, but at least investors now have a bit of cash to compensate them while they wait for AOL to turn around or be spun off.

I don't think Batman Begins really hit it out of the park for Time Warner, but that's OK. It's got some more attempts coming up, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Moviegoers without a taste for the Dark Knight may prefer to indulge their sweet tooth.

More Foolish media takes:

Time Warner is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. What do you think of Batman Begins? Post your opinion at theTime Warnerdiscussion board.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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