My gracious colleague Rick Munarriz offered his thoughts on Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Marvel (NYSE: MVL ) recently, generally taking a bearish slant on things. I see Marvel in a better light, and I'll explain why.
Rick paints a first bearish stroke by pointing out that when Box Office Mojo polled its site visitors, asking what is the most anticipated movie of 2005, Marvel's upcoming release, Fantastic Four, came in ninth. Unfortunately, this view infers that anticipation is directly correlated to box office results.
There is no better way to illustrate the inability to predict box office performance than a study done by an astrophysicist who was on a Hollywood panel I saw a few years ago. His study showed that the average box office results of any movie was $0 plus or minus infinity, regardless of what predictive criteria was used, and that included anticipation. Conclusion: It is impossible to predict box office results.
OK, so Sin City did indeed take in a "lame" $74 million. This is a prime example of the box office headline trap. What a movie takes in at the box office is only relevant in relation to its cost. It's about profit. The fact is that Sin City cost $40 million to make. Even if you double that by including marketing and distribution costs, the current worldwide gross is $98 million. And before even hitting DVD or other ancillary markets, the movie is already well into profits.
Rick, espousing a commonly held view these days, goes on to say that the comic book genre just isn't as vibrant as it used to be. Why? Because only three of these films have broken the $100 million mark in the past two years. While that counts for something, it still does not account for foreign box office sales. Also, it might be helpful to look at the percentage oftotal comic book films that have reached the $100 million mark versus previous years -- which itself is an irrelevant benchmark without knowing what each film's cost was.
But he does ask: "How will Marvel grow earnings if the public just isn't interested in its comic book heroes anymore?" That is an extremely important question. The answer is for Marvel to make the best movies it can by making sure the scripts are great and the filmmakers are talented enough to see the vision to the screen. Good stories equal good movies. That's always been true. Now, good movies do not always translate to big box office dollars. There are the occasionally overlooked masterpieces that just never catch on, but there are an equal number of sleepers that do. With Marvel films, the key lies in marketing. Marvel flicks have the powerful draw of its characters, and the good ones will do even better at the box office. We can definitely see that in what it has released so far.
Rick also wonders: "Did you think the wave of recent superhero duds like Catwoman or Marvel's Elektra was coincidental?" The best answer you can find to that question is right here, in an open letter from the film-buff fan site www.aintitcool.com to 20th Century Fox Studio. Was it coincidental? No. The shooting scripts were awful. But if you read the original first draft of Elektra, as I did, then you'd understand that somebody outside of Marvel turned a great script into ... what Elektra became.
Hence the reason, one might suspect, why Marvel decided to finance its own movies. No more meddling kids. "Bad timing," Rick says. But I say there is plenty of room for good movies, no matter the genre. I think the market has overlooked and underappreciated the importance of Marvel's decision to self-finance.
Sure, the bigger a hit with the more recognizable a superhero, the better the merchandising bucks. But there will always be kids who buy the toothbrush, video game, and DVD, regardless of the superhero.
"So how confident can one be that Fantastic Four will save the summer for Marvel?" Rick asks. We cannot be one bit confident. We just do not know, nor will we know for some time, what the ultimate profit will be for this film or its ancillary revenue stream. That is, and always will be, the risk with Marvel. Rick, an admitted Marvel fan, may well see his bearish suspicions proven right, at least for a while.
Personally, however, I am looking way beyond F4 to placing my faith in Marvel's financially liberated creative team. When left alone, it has already demonstrated the ability to guide its filmmakers into making excellent films. With Hollywood studios out of the way, the team can get on with doing what it does best. I believe the results will be strong, and the stock price will follow in kind.
Read more on opinions about Marvel:
- A Marvel-ous Movie Plan examines Marvel's decision to make its own flicks.
- My Lunch with Stan Lee taught me how to evaluate a Marvel story.
- How Marvel's Unseen Superheroes make great movies.