Marvel looks ahead
Distribution among variables for the futureNew YORK -- With "Iron Man" set to explode this weekend, the next question for Marvel is: What now?
One big variable is who does the distribution. When its financing deal was announced in summer 2005, Marvel said the deal "guarantees distribution for 10 films" through Paramount.
But that guarantee means the Melrose Avenue studio must distribute movies Marvel brings to it. For Marvel, the pact is simply a two-picture deal, with "Iron Man" the first and Marvel obligated only to distribute its next movie through Paramount. (Universal's "The Incredible Hulk" is exempt.)
An additional provision requires that movies based on "Captain America" and "Nick Fury" go through Paramount should they be made, with either film also counting toward the two-picture deal. Sequels of Par-distributed movies also will remain with the studio.
As a result, Marvel properties including "The Avengers," "Thor" and "Ant Man" could conceivably end up with other distributors.
Three years ago, the company wanted to stress the Paramount deal to show it had a pipeline; now, with "Iron Man" tracking well, Marvel aims to show Wall Street that the fledgling studio has flexibility.
Marvel also needs to convince investors it can deliver a steady stream of product. Despite a deep reservoir of characters, it only plans on releasing two titles per year.
"There's a lot riding on 'Iron Man' for Marvel because they don't have a lot of movies," director Jon Favreau said.
Marvel likely won't be releasing any movies in 2009, as the studio would have to be in pre-production now to make a summer date but isn't, mainly because of Hollywood's labor uncertainty.
"We're not going to risk our characters by rushing them," president of production Kevin Feige said. When asked about the timing of an 'Iron Man" sequel, he added that "two or three years is the proper time between movies." Favreau added, "I'd do number two in a heartbeat."
The studio's next project is expected to be announced on an earnings call Monday, with "Avengers," "Ant Man" and "Thor" the favorites. ("Captain America" is a prime property but is perceived as a tough sale overseas.)
Some question whether the Marvel characters waiting in the wings have the appeal of previously licensed characters like "Spider-Man" and "The X-Men." But Marvel chairman David Maisel said that the key ingredient to make a film successful isn't "more well-known or less well-known characters but tender-loving care."
The earnings call will prove an unusually direct referendum on Marvel. Most film studios get buried on a conglomerate balance sheet. But since the publisher-turned-studio will see much of its growth from movies, weekend grosses likely will make its stock price soar or fall, kind of like, well, a superhero.