Ant Man Ants Battle Marvel Studios

Marvel's tiniest superhero has had a big run at the box office so far. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

Of the 12 films comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, none were as cheap to make as Ant-Man.

Director Peyton Reed and his team spent just $130 million to produce Disney's (NYSE:DIS) latest superheroic adventure. Add in another $55 million for marketing and distribution and you have the lowest out-of-pocket spend in Marvel Studios history. Ant-Man is just shy of $40 million in worldwide grosses short of box-office break even heading into its fourth weekend in theaters.

Tiny hero, big numbers
Marvel's two other tries at a cheap win -- 2008's The Incredible Hulk and 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, both of which cost $200 million to produce and distribute -- played for 12 and 16 weeks, respectively, during their time at the cinema. What's more, neither earned an "A" CinemaScore as Ant-Man did. That's important; a high CinemaScore indicates positive word of mouth that can keep a film earning weeks after release.

In short -- yes, pun intended -- signs point to Ant-Man outperforming its low-budget Marvel cohorts. Here's how they compare to each other and the MCU average as of this writing:

MovieDomestic GrossWorldwide GrossBudgetBox Office ProfitMargin %
Ant-Man $132.1 million $291.6 million $130 million ($39.2 million) (13.43%)
The Incredible Hulk $134,8 million $263.4 million $150 million ($68.3 million) (25.92%)
Captain America: The First Avenger $176.7 million $370.6 million $140 million ($14.7 million) (3.97%)
MCU Average $295.3 million $737.3 million $174.2 million $126.9 million  23.96%

Sources: Box Office Mojo, BoxOffice.com, author's estimates.

3 reasons every Disney investor should see Ant-Man
I'll be headed to the theater to see Ant-Man on my birthday two weekends from now. In the meantime, after studying MCU history and this film, here's why I think every Disney investor should be joining me:

  1. To see the full range of what the MCU has to offer. While I haven't seen the film yet, most of my friends and fellow industry observers describe it as more heist flick than superhero epic. If true, that's a super-smart way to broaden the appeal of the MCU without watering down the core premise of a world populated with superheroes. A good run for Ant-Man indicates that there's room for three or more Marvel films in a given year because they won't all look and feel the same -- even if they operate in the same continuity.
  2. To see the impact (or lack thereof) of a lower-budget on the final product. Action films tend to be driven by visual effects, and Ant-Man is no different. Showing the character change size while embroiled in fisticuffs had to be difficult. The CinemaScore suggests the Marvel Studios' visual effects artists pulled it off just fine, a good sign for the future of lower-budget MCU fare.
  3. To see what's lacking. Count me among the many who was looking forward to seeing what Edgar Wright could do with Ant-Man. When he and Marvel parted ways, most of us wondered if the film would end up disappointing. That's no longer a concern, but are there any noticeable weaknesses that might have been addressed with more time or budget? Or can we say that Disney and Marvel navigated their first crisis as elegantly as they have every other project to this point? The latter would be a very good sign for the future of Marvel Studios as an ongoing contributor to Disney's fortunes.

Have a different view? Write to me to Twitter or Google+. I'd love to hear from you, and I may even use your comment in a follow-up story.

Tim Beyers owns thousands of comics, though very few of them feature Ant-Man. He's also a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission and owned shares of Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool.

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