Did you know the long anticipated “Spider-Man III” opens tomorrow in a theater near you? You did? Maybe you’ve seen one or two of the “tie ins” being pimped by everyone from cell phone companies to fast food chains to TV cable services. It’s sure to be a blockbuster. Maybe it’s time to buy some stock in Marvel Entertainment?
Not according to this interesting article on “The Spider-Man Trade”, a phenomenon that shows how fast money stock traders drive the price of Marvel stock up when a Spider-Man film is about to be released, and then it nose dives by as much as 50% just months after the film’s debut. The time to buy was after the last Spidey movie was 3 months in the theaters. It’s sell time.
The article also reports about how Marvel emerged from bankruptcy in 1998, changing it’s business model to treat it’s characters like properties it licensed and sold film rights out for. It was a successful move, turning their comic book line into a “property development ground”, and much of the focus became not the comics themselves but how best to make each character into a possible movie/merchandise franchise. This was actually good for comics, because the revenues generated from the actual sales of comic books was no longer high enough to keep good art and stories going or for companies to take risks on new ideas and characters. Because the licensing money was more lucrative, it kept production up and made it worth making the effort to develop storylines and keep the properties going. Whatever works.
The real interesting part of the article is how Marvel is changing it’s business model again, this time they will be producing their own films rather that licensing out the properties to someone like Sony, who made the Spider-Man films. A bad move, in my opinion. Yes, the licensing money they recieved was limited compared to the huge money generated by movies like the Spider-Man films… but the risks were virtually non-existent. If the movie tanked they had not risked any capital on it, and just didn’t make much. Now they will be backing films with their own dollars… and a few flops in a row would seriously cripple Marvel, perhaps sending them back into bankruptcy. Yes, it’s tough to see the majority of the dollars that are generated by hits like “Spider-Man” and “X-men” go into some studio’s pocket while Marvel collects a good but far smaller licensing fee, but how many huge hits like that are left? Will the big screen version of “3-D Man” really have a chance?
Right now comic books are a hot commodity in films, but they still have had their share of flops. Anyone remember “Catwoman” with Halle Berry? “The Fantastic Four” didn’t exactly set the world on fire either (heh). And we know movie franchises that were very successful can go south in a hurry… “Batman and Robin” destroyed that franchise for a decade, and the last X-Men and Blade films were at best luke warm at the box office. Luke warm is okay if you didn’t spend 200 million of your own money making the film.
Good luck to Marvel on their new endeavors. The upcoming “Iron Man” starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is reportedly the first of their self produced movies. They are already starting to dip into the “B List” characters that are only well known to the comic book fanbase. I think they’d be wiser to leave the movie making to the pros and stick to developing their “properties” on the comic book stands.
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