Marvel stock up on "Iron Man" success

BANGALORE Mon May 5, 2008 2:32pm EDT

Stan Lee, creator of the fictional comic book super-hero Iron Man, gestures at the premiere of the film ''Iron Man'' at the Grauman Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, April 30, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Stan Lee, creator of the fictional comic book super-hero Iron Man, gestures at the premiere of the film ''Iron Man'' at the Grauman Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, April 30, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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BANGALORE (Reuters) - Shares of Marvel Entertainment Inc soared almost 10 percent after "Iron Man," its first self-produced film, had a dream run at the box office over the weekend, raking in more than $100 million in ticket sales, far exceeding expectations.

The comic-book publisher, which reported a first-quarter profit above market estimates and raised its 2008 outlook on Monday, also unveiled plans to release a sequel, "Iron Man 2," in 2010 and three other films in 2010 and 2011.

Ticket sales for "Iron Man," starring Robert Downey Jr, exceeded expectations of an opening in the $70 million to $80 million range for the three-day period beginning Friday.

"The reverberations of the success of 'Iron Man' will be significant in the industry and obviously for Marvel," said David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios, in a conference call.

The film had the second biggest non-sequel opening of all time, according to box-office data provider Media by Numbers. The first was "Spider-Man," another Marvel character, produced by Sony Corp's Sony Pictures.

Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey said the company now has a franchise with "Iron Man" and it will give Marvel "a predictable level of consumer demand."

Natexis analyst Alan Gould, who said "Iron Man" was "a fabulous opening for the company," added that the film was expected to bring in $250 million at the domestic box office.

"Iron Man," which cost about $150 million to make and $75 million to market according to some estimates, has generated an estimated $201 million in global box office to date.

Marvel will make a profit of about $125 million to $150 million from the film, which will be boosted by another $50 million to $60 million from toys, video games and other licensing related to the film, Gould added.

Marvel stock, which rose as much as 10 percent to $33.10, was trading up 8.3 percent at $32.75 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

'HULK' LOOMS LARGE

Offering a glimpse into its repertoire of movies, Marvel said it plans to release "Iron Man 2" and "Thor" in 2010, adding that two "Avenger"-themed movies were slated to hit theaters in 2011.

Maisel said Marvel's second self-produced film, "The Incredible Hulk," had one week left in post production. "Hulk" is due to release in six weeks.

Some analysts noted the relatively light marketing for "Hulk" and believe the film's prospects to be weak as it comes nearly five years after its previous version failed at the box office.

Marvel spokesman David Collins said the heavy marketing for "Iron Man" was partly because he was an unknown character and the company did not want the marketing of the films to compete with each other.

The company kicked off marketing for "Hulk" over the weekend, and TV marketing is due to start in the week of May 19, Maisel said in the call.

However, Marvel said it would not release a self-produced film in 2009.

Marvel had initially planned to release two self-produced films a year, but said in February that it would not be able to do so in 2009, partly due to the writers' strike.

OUTLOOK UP

First-quarter net income for Marvel, which houses a cast of more than 5,000 characters, was $45.2 million, or 58 cents a share, compared with $46.8 million, or 54 cents a share.

But net sales fell more than 25 percent to $112.6 million.

First-quarter licensing segment operating income results reflect settlement payments of $19 million from two licensees in connection with the termination of their respective interactive license agreements.

Revenue from licensing fell more than 29 percent to $84.6 million, mainly due to lower net sales from the "Spider-Man" merchandising joint venture with Sony and a substantial decline in income from its licensee Hasbro Inc

Analysts expected earnings of 45 cents a share, before items, on revenue of $113.5 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

For 2008, Marvel raised the lower end of its net sales outlook to a range of $370 million to $400 million, from its prior view of $360 million to $400 million.

The company also raised its earnings outlook range by 5 cents a share to $1.35 to $1.55 a share.

Analysts were expecting earnings of $1.53 a share, before items, on revenue of $466.9 million.

(Additional reporting by Purwa Naveen Raman; Editing by Bernard Orr, Himani Sarkar)