Superheroes have never been more powerful. Tony Stark — the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist at the heart of Iron Man — has earned himself the coveted position of ‘character with the single highest grossing film’ with the release of Iron Man 3: over $1.1 billion worldwide in just about a month, all on a budget of $200 million.
As of May 27, the three film adaptations of Marvel’s Iron Man have grossed approximately $2.633 billion worldwide, and had a collective production budget of $540 million. That’s a top-line return of 388 percent. The first two films were distributed by Paramount, a subsidiary of Viacom (NYSE:VIA), and the third was distributed by Disney (NYSE:DIS). All three films were produced by Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, which is a subsidiary of Disney. Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment — previously listed on the NYSE as MVL — for approximately $4 billion in cash and stock in 2009, one year after the release date of the first Iron Man film.
It’s important to point out that what Disney really acquired with its purchase — aside from talent — was intellectual property. The Disney umbrella now shelters a library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four, and Thor. Each of these characters has a narrative and a fan base that is decades old, and as Disney and Time Warner (NYSE:TWC) have found out, highly engaged.
These entertainment giants know that the secret to blockbuster success, the kind that pulls in more than $1 billion in worldwide sales in under a month, is owning the right intellectual property.