Ben Fritz and Dawn C. Chmielewski, a dynamic duo writing for the Business section of the Los Angeles Times, have an insightful piece in Tuesday’s paper about the future of Marvel and Disney and how they’re both holding out for a hero who will perform across corporate platforms:
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger got right to the point in a conference call last week to discuss the company’s financial performance with Wall Street analysts.
“Let me start off by saying how thrilled we are with the global success of ‘Iron Man 2,'” he said. “It makes me even more enthusiastic about the great things that Marvel and Disney can do together.”
“Iron Man 2″ was put into production before the Burbank entertainment giant acquired the comic book publisher turned movie-maker in December for $4 billion. But it nonetheless epitomizes Iger’s strategy for Disney: build “brands” on the big screen that can earn more profits through sequels as well as spin-offs including toys, television shows, digital media and theme park attractions.
The big question surrounding Marvel since the acquisition has been how much value its library brings to mainstream audiences that have never heard of Namor the Sub-Mariner, Dr. Strange or Ant-Man.
Before the release of the first “Iron Man” in 2008, few people outside those who frequent comic book stores had heard of billionaire Tony Stark and his red and gold super suit. Now he has generated more than $1 billion in worldwide box office and is Marvel’s bestselling consumer products property, exceeding even Spider-Man.
The web slinger, along with other high-profile superheroes such as the Fantastic Four and X-Men, are tied up in long-term licensing deals with other movie studios.
Now Disney is hoping that Iron Man provides Marvel a model for turning subprime superheroes from its 5,000-plus character library into investment-grade franchises.
“I like franchises, not necessarily because they fit the corporate model, but because that’s what I was a fan of when I was a kid,” said Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, who produces the company’s films. “Toys simply extend the experience that people had so much fun with for two hours in the theaters. And if it feeds other divisions, that’s awesome.”
During a climactic battle late in “Iron Man 2,” the titular superhero saves a boy who’s wearing an Iron Man mask and “repulsor ray” and is mistaken by killer robots for the real thing.
It’s a dramatic moment but also an example of how Disney hopes its high-stakes bet on a comic book company will pay off. The same items that the child wears in “Iron Man 2″ are now stocking the toy department shelves of Target and other retailers.
“The movies were what drove mass-market awareness of Iron Man,” said Simon Philips, president of worldwide consumer products for Marvel. “Before them you had to go into a collector’s store to find something around the character.”
Now that Iron Man is a bestselling brand with worldwide appeal, Philips said, Marvel intends to keep him that way with new waves of products that will continue to be released until “Iron Man 3″ hits theaters.
Disney hopes its Pixar Animation Studios will be the model for Marvel. The creators of “Toy Story” have not only produced more hit movies since the 2006 acquisition, but also helped design theme park attractions, video games and toys…
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– Ben Fritz and Dawn Chmielewski
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PHOTOS: Top, Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige, on the left, go over a scene on set of “Iron Man 2,” which stars Don Cheadle, far right. Second: Feige and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of “Iron Man 2.” Third, Disney’s Bob Iger, Feige, Disney’s Rich Ross and Favreau at the premiere of ‘Iron Man 2′ on April 26 at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre