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Marvel's Iron Man Takes Off (So Does Its Stock)

Tuesday, 6 May 2008 | 10:25 AM ET

"Iron Man" opened the summer movie season with a whopping $100 million plus from the U.S. box office and $200 million worldwide.

With Robert Downey Jr. cleverly cast in the starring role, the film is skewing to an older audience than traditional superhero fare, and has great word of mouth so far.

(I recommended it to my friends after catching a packed Saturday night screening, urging them to check out Jim Cramer's pretty hysterical cameo!)

This is the second biggest opening EVER for a non-sequel film, second only to Spider-Man, another Marvel character -- though that film was produced by Sony. Not only is this past weekend a good sign for Hollywood this summer, it's phenomenal news for Marvel Entertainment.

This comes as Marvel announced its quarterly earnings -- beating analyst estimates and raising guidance for the rest of the year. The combination of the stellar numbers -- both at the box office and on the balance sheet -- sent the stock to its highest price ever, closing the day up 9.4 percent.

The company faced tough comps with the year-ago quarter, but had some more positive news. It's pulling out of the toymaking business, at a time when kids are more interested in technology, and playing fewer old fashioned games. Now Marvel is shifting more towards licensing, which can be incredibly profitable -- especially with a new franchise like Iron Man.

Iron Man is the first film from its studio, Marvel Studios, part of the company's strategy to produce and finance its own films. This a departure from its old strategy of licensing and co-producing films, the way it made the Spider-Man trilogy with Sony -- and the trilogy was a huge box office winner.

The theory behind starting a studio is that by maintaining more control, Mavel will be better able to cash in on its success. (Rumor is that Marvel is not happy with the amount it brought home from the Spider-Man blockbusters.) Marvel isn't handling distribution and marketing, leaving that to Viacom's Paramount for Iron Man -- and apparently to strong word-of-mouth.

RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank points out that while the Dow, S&P and S&P Media have been in negative territory over the past six months, Marvel has been positive the whole time, with a big run since March. Bank says he thinks this is one of the few media stocks that has what looks like real sustainable momentum.

Next up, "The Incredible Hulk" in June, starring Edward Norton and distributed in the U.S. by Universal Pictures.* Stacking the two movies so close together isn't a mistake -- it's part of a strategy to build awareness and create a world in which the Marvel characters all exist.

In the post-earnings conference call Monday morning, the company said that Iron Man would make an appearance in Hulk, and it unveiled its upcoming slate of films. Iron Man 2 will come out April 30, 2010 (that first weekend of Hollywood's summer movie season) followed by "Thor" on June 4, 2010. Then in 2011, "The First Avenger: Captain America" will come out on May 6, followed by The Avengers in July 2011.

It'll be interesting to see how Marvel weaves the characters into the various films -- and if it works to boost interest.

*(Universal Pictures is a unit of NBC Universal, the corporate parent of CNBC.)

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.