Let's get to it: comic book movies have become big business and can deliver huge profits to investors.
Anyone watching movies can't help but notice the plethora of comic book fare pervading the box office. Historically, the occasional comic book movie was produced with little regard for the source material. However, as a generation of comic book aficionados came of age, a paradigm shift occurred: many modern-day writers and directors grew up with comic books and have great respect and reverence for the characters and their stories. What may have begun as labors of love by self-professed comic book geeks has evolved into a full-fledged movie genre.
Computer-generated imagery, or CGI, has ushered in a new era. In years past, much of what existed on comic book pages could not have been reproduced in celluloid. However, technological advances in CGI have pushed the boundaries of what was possible just a few years ago, and movie makers have embraced the technology.
The coming of age of self-proclaimed comic fan boys and the emergence of CGI have combined to produce blockbuster franchises.
The key to our evolution
Just more than a decade ago, one of the first comic books to achieve blockbuster movie status was Marvel Comics X-Men, helmed by Bryan Singer and brought to the big screen by Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX). Singer's approach was nothing short of revolutionary. Singer knew that "X-Men would need to win over the true believers who had been reading the comics for years, and the director believed the Hollywood tradition of dismissing hard-core comic book fans would be a disaster." "Ultimately, the comic-book fans are your first core audience, the ones that are going to embrace it and talk about it and embrace it or reject it," Singer said. "They were the first people we worried about."
The rest, as they say, is history. Numbering six movies, the X-Men franchise has accumulated box-office receipts to date of $2.2 billion. Bryan Singer has signed on to direct the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, due out in May of 2014. With additional sequels and spin-offs planned, Twenty-First Century Fox remains one path to invest in comic movies.
With great power comes great responsibility
Marvel Comics Spider-Man, brought to the big screen by Sony (NYSE:SNE) was the next superhero to prove comic book characters, treated with respect, could appeal to a wider audience. The web-slinger's legacy was entrusted to Sam Raimi, a fan of the Spider-Man comics since he was a child. Raimi had this to say about his charge:
"I look at Spider-Man as a great American myth. It's a great American myth that is almost wrapped in a flag and being handed to me, and I better not drop it. I better not sully it. I better retell it with as much honor and greatness as I can muster from my voice to do it justice before I hand it to the next storyteller."
Raimi's three installments, along with the current reboot, have generated a box office of $3.25 billion to date. For investors convinced that the opportunity has passed them by, fear not: The Amazing Spider-Man franchise continues with sequels expected in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
In 2008, Marvel, a division of Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) embarked on a path that would forever change the course of comic book movies: it took what many considered to be a "B" level superhero, Iron Man, and made him the foundation of a cinematic comic universe.
With Iron Man, director Jon Favreau "joined the ranks of directors like Chris Nolan and Sam Raimi— people who have the trust of the comic-book audience because (the directors) know the source material".
Followed by four separate but inter-connected movies, the franchise exploded: The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger. The series finale, The Avengers, helmed by writer/director/life-long-comic book fan Joss Whedon, gathers the heroes to battle a global threat.
The franchise has achieved over $4.9 billion at the box office with The Avengers and Iron Man 3 achieving over $1 billion each. With two Marvel movies per year scheduled through 2017 and ABC prime-time offering "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", investors in Disney can continue to reap the benefits of this trend.
Bigger than life
Another way to benefit from the trend is to invest in IMAX (NYSE:IMAX). Superhero movies cater to Imax strengths, providing screens to accommodate the bigger than life characters. IMAX saw record-breaking attendance with both The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Imax generated 12% of the total opening weekend box office for Man of Steel and 16% for Iron Man 3. The Wall Street Journal proclaims "A generation of directors with clout love the way it makes their movies look", which bodes well for IMAX prospects.
Why so serious?
DC Comics, a division of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) entrusted one such director, Christopher Nolan, with The Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan approached the genre with a level of seriousness and sophistication that had not been seen before. Additionally, he incorporated over 40 minutes of footage shot using Imax in The Dark Knight and over an hour in The Dark Knight Rises, the most IMAX footage ever for a Hollywood feature.
This combination helped propel the saga to over $2.4 billion at the box office. With their recent Superman reboot Man of Steel raking in over $600 million, DC Comics is taking a page from the Marvel playbook. DC will produce a joint Superman/Batman movie in 2015, Flash in 2016 and join the heroes in The Justice League in 2017, providing plenty of future profit potential for investors.
Foolish final thoughts
Comic book movies will continue to be big business. Consider this quote by Iron Man director Jon Favreau about comic book fans: "You can't underestimate how powerful this group is... It's an unlimited press corps, all of them knowing how to communicate in a digital age. The geeks have inherited the Earth, and that's good news for us."
Danny Vena owns shares of Walt Disney and Imax and embraces his inner geek. The Motley Fool recommends Imax and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Imax and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!