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Instant Analysis: For Disney Investors, "Doctor Strange" Is Tracking Disappointment

By Tim Beyers – Oct 22, 2016 at 7:41PM

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Opening slightly ahead of "Ant-Man" isn't a win for a film that cost far more to produce.

Doctor Strange is tracking to open between $50 million and $75 million when it debuts on Nov. 4. Image source: Marvel Entertainment.

Marvel movies have proven superheroic in their earning power for Walt Disney Co. (DIS -0.01%). Over eight years and 13 films, the franchise is responsible for over $4 billion in domestic box office receipts and $10 billion of global theater ticket sales. Doctor Strange joins the list on Nov. 4, and is tracking for a better open than Ant-Man, the last Marvel hero to make a cinematic debut. (Paul Rudd's adaptation of Marvel's tiniest Avenger opened at $57 million domestically and ended up earning $519.4 million worldwide.) 

Reviews for Doctor Strange are still to come. In the meantime, we know that over 46,000 visitors to Rotten Tomatoes have expressed interest in seeing the film. YouTube also offers a glimpse at fans' enthusiasm. Over 19.8 million have watched the teaser trailer for the film while another 17.7 million have tuned in to the second trailer. Both have been well received, with 96.4% of those rating the first trailer giving it a thumbs-up while 97.6% gave a positive review to the second trailer. Improving numbers are usually a good sign. But is it good enough? That depends on your view of "enough." Compared to the viewership of the original Ant-Man trailer -- 22.2 million, with 96.2% giving it a thumbs-up -- Doctor Strange appears set to exceed $57 million without much problem.

Does it matter?

The problem for Disney investors is that Doctor Strange cost $165 million to make versus $130 million for Ant-Man. Theatergoers also liked what they saw in Rudd as the thief-turned-superhero, giving the film an "A" CinemaScore. Word of mouth led to a decent run in the theaters that ended with the film grossing over a half-billion worldwide. A higher budget for Doctor Strange means a higher hurdle for profitability, which means reviews and early audience reaction are crucial, especially if the tracking data is right and the film opens just marginally higher than Ant-Man did.

Marvel's master of the mystic arts also comes to the screen at a transitional moment for Disney as a company. Analysts are expecting fiscal 2016 revenue to improve 7% and adjust profit to grow 12.2%, but the weight of cable subscription losses could drag down the stock yet again. A significant beat at the box office for Doctor Strange combined with reports of outsized growth in the Studio Entertainment and Parks and Resorts division could help prevent another slide.

Tim Beyers owned shares of Walt Disney at the time of publication. He also had the following options: long January 2017 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. 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.

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