It's Dath Vader versus Loki, or Han Solo taking on fellow rebellious rogue Wolverine. Both Marvel and its vast universe of characters and Star Wars, with its galaxy, far, far away filled with Jedi, Wookiees, Stromtroopers, and (sadly) Gungans are now part of the Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) empire, but which property will prove more valuable for the Mouse House?
Both franchises have been responsible for multiple films on the top 50 of Box Office Mojo's global all-time box office list and both have hugely anticipated films already in the pipeline. Disney paid a similar $4 billion price for Marvel and Lucasfilm (the parent company which houses both Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchise).
It's clear that the investment in Marvel was a solid one with the franchise building momentum to the point that not only are Avengers sequels guaranteed $1 billion box office hits, but so are new Iron Man installments. With Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy being not that far behind and Thor only a tick below that, the question is now not "was buying Marvel worth it," but "can the LucasFilm/Star Wars deal be equally as lucrative?."
Marvel is in the lead
When Disney acquired Marvel in 2009 it was not universally seen as a good investment. Comic book movies had historically been an iffy proposition and there was no guarantee that fans were clamoring for a long series of films which built to a climactic Avengers movie. When the first Iron Man was released, there was great skepticism, but its critical and commercial success touched off a run of movies which can only be compared to the string of hits Disney's own Pixar brand has enjoyed.
While not every film has been a $1 billion hit, Disney has built successful franchises with The Avengers, Iron Man, GOTG, Captain America, and Thor with each series that has had a sequel growing the box office success of its predecessor. It is yet to be seen if the company can continue to pump out hits as it moves to films starring even more obscure heroes including Ant Man and Dr. Strange, but what it already has will lead to lucrative sequels for years to come.
Marvel has five established hit franchises already established and it can keep pumping out two movies a year from those series without wearing out its audience.
|Movie||Year||Global Box Office|
|Marvel's The Avengers||2012||$1.5 billion|
|Iron Man 3||2013||$1.21 Billion|
|Guardians of the Galaxy||2014||$752 million*|
|Captain America: The Winter Soldier||2014||$714 million|
|Thor: The Dark World||2013||$644 million|
|Iron Man 2||2010||$623 million|
|Iron Man||2008||$585 million|
|Captain America: The First Avenger||2011||$370 million|
Star Wars has one advantage
The upcoming Star Wars Episode VII (working title) which is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 18, 2015 may be as close to a guaranteed $1 billion box office hit as any film ever released. Not only is it being directed by J.J. Abrams, it continues the adventures of the beloved cast from the original trilogy -- Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia. Pent up demand will be enormous as these characters have not appeared on screen since 1983's Return of the Jedi. Since then, Star Wars has only grown as a brand with new generations being exposed to the movies,
As I wrote about in "How to Tell if Disney Was Right to Spend So Much for Star Wars," the entire fate of the Star Wars brand may rest on whether Episode VII is good or not. If it's good, then it sets the stage for the next two films in the trilogy as well as planned movies focusing on famous characters from the Star Wars universe. Episode 7 and its sequels could easily all be $1.5 billion hits and the spin-offs, which are rumored to focus on beloved characters including Boba Fett and Yoda, could be $1 billion movies as well.
The LucasFilm library does not have the depth of the Marvel Universe (it's really just Star Wars and Indiana Jones) but it does have one advantage Marvel does not -- Disney controls its theme park rights. In the case of the Marvel characters, they are licensed out east of the Mississippi to Universal Studios for its Islands of Adventure theme park. Though that deal has not been released publicly it is believed that Universal keeps those rights as long as Islands of Adventure remains in business.
This does not prevent a Marvel attraction or theme park on the West Coast or one anywhere else in the world, but it does keep the Avengers and the rest of Marvel universe out of Disney's flagship Disney World in Orlando.
Star Wars already has a presence in Orlando at Disney Hollywood Studios and there are strong rumors the company plans to add attractions and make it a much larger part of the park.
Marvel looks to be bigger
Though Star Wars, and perhaps more Indiana Jones movies, should do very well at the box office, there simply aren't enough potential movies to equal the Marvel output. It's conceivable that Disney could release a new Star Wars that advances the storyline every other year with a spinoff on the alternate years and a possible Jones movie thrown in every few years. That's an output of perhaps 1.33 films a year. If each averages $1 billion in box office, that's $1.33 billion per year.
Marvel however has unveiled its current release plan through 2018, which shows two films some years and three in others. If we assume one top-tier film at $1.25 billion and one secondary move bringing in $500 million, that's $1.75 billion in box office in a "slow" year. In 2017, which has Thor 3, GOTG 2, and a third, unnamed film, that number could climb to $2.5 billion if not more.
Star Wars won't make up that difference by expanding its footprint at Hollywood Studios. Both franchises are good deals for Disney and both have extensive value in licensing, theme parks, television, and games, but overall Marvel looks to be the bigger franchise.
Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of 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.