Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) recently reported its third-quarter 2018 results, with big increases in its movie business. Year to date, Disney holds the top three spots in domestic box office receipts:


Domestic Gross Sales

Global Gross Sales

Black Panther

$700.1 million

$1.35 billion

Avengers: Infinity War

$678.4 million

$2.05 billion

The Incredibles 2

$590.3 million

$1.09 billion

Data source: Box Office Mojo as of Aug. 15.

That's impressive, but missing from this list is the entertainment giant's Star Wars franchise it purchased for $4 billion back in 2012. With the exception of the animated Pixar feature The Incredibles 2, Marvel's superheroes are firmly in the driver's seat. But investors need not fear a dark future for the classic sci-fi fantasy franchise.

Marvel is rescuing results

In 2009, Disney scooped up the Marvel business (also for a price of $4 billion) after the comic book empire scored a box office hit with Iron Man the year prior -- global sales of the movie tallied $585 million. The Incredible Hulk reboot that same summer didn't fare as well with only $263 million globally. Pundits panned Disney's purchase decision as being too expensive, saying that Marvel's lesser-known characters wouldn't fare so well at theaters.

A group of young people at a theater eating popcorn and soda.

Image source: Getty Images.

It's taken some time, but under the guidance of the Magic Kingdom, Marvel has become a true cash cow. Through three quarters of Disney's 2018 fiscal year, the studio entertainment division has reported revenue and operating profit increases of 13% and 12%, respectively, compared with last year. Those results include a couple of misses: the Solo: A Star Wars Story flop in the spring and Star Wars: The Last Jedi falling well short of its prequels at the box office.

However, it's not just this year's Marvel hits that are impressive. Its last five entries previous to 2018 averaged $854 million worldwide, with only the original Ant-Man back in 2015 bringing in less than $800 million.

Give Star Wars some time

I argued a couple of months ago that Disney's Star Wars franchise does not matter that much right now and that the Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Last Jedi disappointments would barely show up in this year's results. The studio's third-quarter results are proof of that.

Nevertheless, the galaxy far, far away still matters, but it's a longer-term investment for Disney. That was the case with Marvel as well. After taking over the superhero franchise, Disney had some blockbusters along with a few modest turnouts before finding its groove, and ticket sales fell dramatically for some titles. Here are the first four Marvel and Star Wars movie results under Disney, side by side for comparison (excluding Marvel titles that were produced with other studios besides Disney):

Marvel Movie

Global Box Office Sales

Star Wars Movie

Global Box Office Sales

Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

$1.52 billion

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

$2.07 billion

Iron Man 3 (2013)

$1.21 billion

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

$1.06 billion

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

$645 million

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

$1.33 billion

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

$714 million

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

$392 million


$4.09 billion


$4.85 billion

Data source: Box Office Mojo as of Aug. 15.

Franchise fatigue is the worry with Disney's newest sci-fi universe, but it's important to remember that was the same concern with Marvel just a few years ago. Box office sales were slipping at home and abroad, and a few misses with critics and audiences didn't help. The franchise got back on track, though, and has been a steady success the last few years.

Star Wars is taking a break until Dec. 2019 when the still-untitled Episode IX debuts, giving audiences time to breathe and Disney the chance to learn some valuable lessons. That's OK, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now 20 films in and still going strong. That should pay the bills and keep investors happy. And it's proof that Star Wars can not only be rejuvenated but that its best days may still lie ahead.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.