Will 'F4' End the Slump?

Know what I was doing this past Friday, which was the opening day of Marvel Enterprises' (NYSE: MVL  ) and News Corp's (NYSE: NWS  ) Fantastic Four flick? I was running around like a headless chicken telling everyone I could think of to see the movie. Why? I'm a Marvel shareholder. Did my efforts pay off? Well, not exactly.

According to boxofficemojo.com statistics, early estimates for the all-important domestic box-office marketplace for Friday through Sunday stand at approximately $56 million. Final numbers are due later, but right off the bat, I'm disappointed. I've read a couple of articles saying that the film beat expectations. Expectations are great and useful and all, but I have to say, I think the movie was supposed to fill a requirement -- the Hulk requirement. The green anger machine brought in $62.1 million during its opening weekend back in June 2003. Its per-theater average was nearly $17,000. The estimate of per-theater revenue for Fantastic Four stands right now at $15,546. And let's not forget -- The Hulk wasn't exactly an unmitigated blockbuster. Check out Mathew Emmert's coverage of its opening way back when.

I think it would have been reasonable to hope that Marvel's current entry would have topped The Hulk. Don't get me wrong -- the movie business cannot be predicted. People working on a project simply do their best and pray that the gods of audience vagaries are working in their favor at the time of release. Still, if one considers that Marvel's earnings do derive a significant amount of leverage from its movie business, then it stands to reason that each subsequent summer-period film needs to grow to justify any expanding multiple.

Marvel will have to work harder to ensure that its brand continues to climb upward so that its best days of growth are not behind it. I think the Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation is up to the task, and I intend, barring any negative change to the story at hand, to hold my shares for quite a long time. With the release of new X-Men and Spider Man films over the next two years, a long-term investor would probably be ill-advised to dump the shares just yet. (In fact, any volatility going forward should be perceived as a gift to the dollar-cost-averaging individual.) And keep in mind that Marvel is tweaking its celluloid model to reap more of the monetary flow via direct production of its movies in conjunction with a distribution deal with Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) Paramount Studios. As Lawrence Meyers explains, that might not be such a bad thing.

I'll be praying that Fantastic Four's second weekend is infinitely more lucrative than The Hulk's. To see how the green guy fared his second time out to bat, see this piece by LouAnn Lofton.

More Fantastic Takes:

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Marvel Enterprises. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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