It's easy to forget about Marvel Enterprises (NYSE:MVL) these days. With the local multiplex chock full of dramatic tear-jerkers, side-splitting comedies, and other classy films angling for an Academy Awards nod by debuting over the holidays, where are the superheroes?

For comic book-heavy Marvel, letting major movie studios give the Hollywood treatment to its cast of characters like Spider-Man and X-Men has opened up the floodgates of royalties, residuals, and merchandising opportunities. The stock has followed suit, as the timely Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick has more than tripled over the past year.

So, what does the company have in store for 2004? Plenty. Anyone who has seen the amazing movie trailer for Spider-Man 2, as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have an intimately revealing moment broken into by a car barreling their way through a restaurant window, is left with little doubt that the summer release will be a blockbuster. Sony's (NYSE:SNE) original grossed more than $800 million worldwide.

Along with Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) third installment in the popular Blade series, Marvel characters will hit the big screen as many as five times this year. It all starts in April with The Punisher. The swampy, horror-hungry Man-Thing will hit movie theaters in the fall. Yet, the most anticipated franchise debut would probably come over the holidays if Fox's (NYSE:FOX) Fantastic Four is ready in time.

Another hit at the box office and Marvel will once again stand to collect princely sums from the games, home video market, and various merchandising tie-ins. Back in November, the company raised its guidance for 2004. Marvel is now looking to earn between $1.31 and $1.48 a share. Net sales will come in between $415 million and $435 million.

The fact that Marvel has upped its targets a few times over the past two years is encouraging. With every blockbuster, the company's earnings potential and bargaining power grows. It's like a superhero -- only in slow motion.

Did you catch the Spider-Man sequel's movie trailer? Will it unseat the original in box office sales? What other characters should Marvel be tapping for movie treatments? All this and more -- in the Marvel discussion board. Only on