Sell, Spidey, Sell!!

May 3rd, 2007 | Posted in General


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.


  1. mengblom says:

    You bring up some good points about Marvel’s bid to make their own movies. What they seemingly gain in creative control and “authenticity” (i.e. as close as possible to the comic book continuity) they definitely have lots to lose in financial risk, as well as a huge hit to whatever credibility they might have built up to this point.

    Perhaps their role will function closer to that of a movie producer, where there’s still lots of cash at risk, but nowhere near the overhead of an actual film studio. That way, their partnership with various studios would minimize some of the financial risk. Still, it’s a pretty audacious plan you can tell was put together in the wake of a mammoth Spider-Man or X-Men movie.

    I think it’ll be awhile before they work their way down to 3-D Man, but you raise a good point about Iron Man. Though the movie certainly looks promising (seen the photo of the Iron Man costume yet? Very cool looking), and Robert Downey Jr. is still a media darling (despite…or perhaps because of his personal problems), and a great director (Jon Favreau), so maybe Iron Man will be able to overcome his relative obscurity with the general public. Still, it’s a challenge.

    Captain America has the potential to be a huge movie, if it’s positioned correctly…more as a non-self conscious, non-ironic patriotic treatment without getting into any of the dank political nonsense some in Hollywood can’t resist latching onto. THOR could also be one hell of a movie (think Lord of the Rings mixed with Gladiator and a little Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

    X-Men spin-offs also have some potential for hits, such as the much talked-about Wolverine solo movie. I think there’s also talk of a Magneto solo film.

    I’ve recently read that their going to take another run at a HULK movie, this time with a new Bruce Banner and, for that matter, an entirely new set-up….pretty much disowning the Ang Lee version.

    The success of Ghost Rider ensures a sequel (or two), and I wouldn’t rule out a “Marvel Team-Up” type film starring two (or more) successful film characters.

    But still….it’s hard to see any of these hitting the same levels as the Spider-Man and X-Men movies. I guess we’ll have to wait to see how Marvel’s “movie mogul” direction pans out.

  2. Tom says:

    From what I understand, Marvel’s role in making these films will be financing them and keeping the movie rights as opposed to licensing them out to others. I imagine that will give them more creative control with what happens with the characters but I don’t think they’ll be too involved in the actual movie making process. The article I linked to also mentions that Marvel will be at risk of actually losing the rights to their own characters by financially backing the films. Marvel used the character’s rights as collateral in a deal for $525 million in funding from Merril Lynch, so a flop or two puts that collateral at risk.

    The bottom line with comic book films is like any other film: good story, good casting and good effects equals success. The fanboy factor doesn’t account for Spider-Man level success.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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