Which Superhero Earns $1.3 Billion a Year?

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In the battle of Marvel vs. DC Comics, there is one clear winner

This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Much has been made of the arms race between Disney's Marvel Studios and Warner Bros.' DC Comics to create superhero movies through 2020. Less debated is a key financial underpinning of the war: Licensing revenue generates tens of billions of dollars for Hollywood companies, and DC needs a heroic effort to catch Marvel in licensing profits. 

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On Oct. 15, Warners CEO Kevin Tsujihara said that if he can close the current gap by half, the studio could earn an additional $150 million a year in profits. How big is the gap? In May, License Global placed Disney first among licensors with sales of about $41 billion in 2013; Warners was seventh with $6 billion. Both have strong properties: The Licensing Letter listed Marvel's Spider-Man global retail sales at $1.3 billion and Avengers at $325 million in 2013, compared with DC's Batman at $494 million and Superman at $277 million.

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"Marvel has a big head start," says Ira Mayer, publisher of The Licensing Letter, adding, "It's not that Warners can't do it, but it is going to take a lot of time and money and energy to make it happen."

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