Commentary: 'Knight' has taken in $324.3 million

Movie close to being the second-biggest ever

"The Dark Knight" has taken in $324.3 million at the domestic boxoffice so far and probably is on its way to becoming the second-biggest movie of all time behind "Titanic."

Way to go, Warner Bros. It's already your biggest film ever, surpassing the $318 million earned domestically by "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Now, if only some smart executive could figure out a way for Time Warner shareholders to benefit from all that success.

The stock of Time Warner, the movie studio's parent company, has languished for years, and even a boxoffice superhero like Batman hasn't come to shareholders' rescue. Not yet, at least.

Shares of TW were at $14.70 on July 18, the opening day for "Dark Knight." They closed at $14.36 the following Monday, after the movie shattered the opening-weekend boxoffice record. On Tuesday, the stock traded at $14.57.

For those optimistic shareholders who figure it must be a case of buying the rumor (or in this case, the hype) and selling the news (in this case, the weekend record), that's just wishful thinking.

Check a TW chart leading up to the film's record-breaking performance, and it's all downhill.

One could argue that the "Dark Knight" hype began Jan. 22, the date of the untimely death of Heath Ledger, the terrific actor who plays the Joker. On that day, TW was at $15.06, higher than where it closed Tuesday. And if you figure the hype didn't really kick into overdrive until the first day of summer, well, the stock has dropped since then, too. Actually, one almost could pick any random day this year and the stock is lower now than it was then.

So it appears that one of the biggest movies of all time has done nothing for shareholders of the company that made the film, distributed it and will collect the bulk of its profits. And let's not forget that TW also is parent of DC Comics, where Batman was born, so profits ought to be rolling into that unit off of "Dark Knight" as well.

So if TW shareholders aren't benefiting from the success of "Dark Knight," whose shareholders are?

Mattel's might be. The day "Dark Knight" opened, Mattel shares jumped 13%. That's also the day Mattel reported a better-than-expected second-quarter profit and Batman-related toys got some of the credit, along with "Kung Fu Panda" toys.

But Mattel also won a legal victory that day that ultimately might give the company royalties from the popular Bratz dolls franchise, which caused the shares to spike more so than did "Dark Knight."

Nevertheless, if investors were looking to profit from "Dark Knight," they'd have made a killing buying Mattel a few days ahead of the movie's opening, and they'd have lost money buying shares of TW.

Imax also would have been a better pick than TW. While its shares haven't budged much since the movie's opening, they are up 15% in the past month, and it's hard to argue that "Dark Knight" is not the catalyst.

The movie opened at 94 Imax theaters, and showings were sold out weeks in advance. So popular was "Dark Knight" at Imax theaters on opening weekend that tickets sometimes went for $50 at Internet auction sites like eBay.

But all is not lost for TW, as patient investors eventually will see a "Dark Knight" benefit, if nothing else as a counterweight to the underperformance of "Speed Racer."

"Dark Knight," says Steve Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management, "is a nice confidence booster as the spinoff from cable makes TW more reliant on successful content creation for long-term growth."

Legendary Pictures put up more than half the money to make and market the movie, so when it's all said and done, Birenberg figures that if "Dark Knight" can manage $800 million in worldwide boxoffice, Warners' take will be roughly $440 million.

Also, Birenberg says, the blockbuster "reminds investors that movies can still be big and profitable, and that supports multiples on stocks of studio owners."

Along those lines, UBS analyst Michael Morris says that TW trades at an operating-income multiple of just 6.9, and he expects that to rise to 8, giving him a $19 target price for TW shares within a year's time.

But any way you slice it, "Dark Knight" also is proof that no matter how big a movie is, if it's just one asset at a company expected to bring in annual revenue of $47 billion, it won't be enough to immediately move the stock much.
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