Marvel seeing green with The Hulk Movie

Once-bankrupt comics publisher comes back with a vengeance. The Hulk's creator, Marvel Entertainment, has seen a string of box-office successes derived from its stable of super-heroes that have made it to the big screen.
LOS ANGELES, June 19 — It should be a monster of a weekend for Marvel Entertainment, as the eagerly awaited film, "The Hulk" hits theaters tomorrow.

IT'S JUST THE LATEST in a string of movie releases based on the company's comic-book properties. And that's helping drive sales of "Incredible Hulk" toys and other merchandise.

There's a lot riding on the broad shoulders of the angry green giant. Vivendi's Universal film studio spent $130 million to make the picture. And for Marvel Enterprises, which owns the rights to the comic book character, the success of the Hulk is critical for the company's real-life turnaround story.

Just a few years ago, Marvel was a bankrupt toymaker and fading comic book publisher. But thanks to new management and new strategy focused on licensing the company's library of more than 4 thousand characters, Marvel has sprung back to life like one of its super-heroes.

Beginning with "Blade" in 1998, a series of films based on Marvel properties began finding audiences and attracting the interest of the major studios.

In 2000 came "X-Men," which grossed $157 million domestically. Then last summer's "Spiderman", a $400 million grosser. Early this year came "Daredevil," another $100 million-plus film, followed by "X-2 - X-Men United," already at $150 million in ticket sales and growing.

Marvel got a flat fee or a share of the box office on each film without putting a penny of its own capital at risk. The company also started raking in millions of dollars from licensed merchandise, and later, video games based on Marvel properties.

With each successful movie, Marvel is getting more interest and better terms from studios who want to make movies based on the company's characters.

"In the past, Marvel was signing profit deals and they would hardly see any money under those deals," said Arvind Bhatia, an analyst at Southwest Securities based in Dallas. "But most recently ... the deals they are signing are revenue deals — which have much better economics because they are getting a percentage of revenue and the cost of creating a movie, for example, does not go into the equation."

Bhatia has a "strong buy" on shares of Marvel Enterprises and for disclosure purposes said he has no personal ownership or banking conflicts with his firm. Marvel's stock is up more than 300 percent over the past 12 months. The company reported blowout first-quarter earnings, thanks to strong licensing deals — and this one-time ward of the bankruptcy court said it will be debt-free by this time next year.

Also coming in 2004 will be the release of a new Superman movie from Sony, as well as a film based on Marvel's Fantastic Four characters from Fox.
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