Box Office Showdown: Iron Man vs. Harry Potter

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Paramount Pictures / Warner Brothers
Paramount Pictures / Warner Brothers
"Iron Man 3" only debuted in U.S. theaters last week, selling more than $175 million in tickets, but the film was already a hit around the world. The previous weekend's international opening grossed more than $195 million, or at least $10 million more than the global debut of "Marvel's The Avengers," which went on to become a $1.5 billion blockbuster. Tony Stark looks likely to fly past that figure: Sales have already hit $680.1 million worldwide.

Impressed? You don't know the half of it.

The 50-year-old Armored Avenger, who debuted in the March 1963 issue of "Tales of Suspense" as the brainchild of artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby and writers Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, Iron Man is showing signs of becoming as good or better a draw for Walt Disney (DIS) as Harry Potter was for Time Warner (TWX).

Quidditch fans will protest, no doubt. But who would you rather have in a fight? The bespectacled teen wizard with friends in magical places, or the womanizing genius inventor who's so adept at creating armored weaponry he once designed a suit capable of battling the Hulk to a standstill? (Called the "Hulkbuster," oddly enough.)

Tony and Harry by the Numbers

As you'd expect from the hero who doubles as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, Iron Man's numbers are trending better than the Potter franchise. Here's a closer look at the head-to-head between these cinematic juggernauts through their first four films:

Series Entry Iron Man
(worldwide gross)
Harry Potter
(worldwide gross)
More Impressive Feat?
1 "Iron Man"
($585.2 million)

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
($974.8 million)
IM: Building a clean energy arc reactor from scraps in a cave? Score one for Shellhead.
2 "Iron Man 2"
($623.9 million)

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
($879.0 million)
HP: Slays a monstrous basilisk, gets first glimpse of Voldemort. Way to man up, teenage Harry.
3 "Marvel's The Avengers"
($1,511.8 million)

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
($796.7 million)
IM: Deposits nuclear missile through portal in outer space, ending alien invasion. Expelliarmus that, Potter.
4 "Iron Man 3"
($307.7 million so far)
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
($896.9 million)

HP: Because, well, spoilers! And because Harry duels Voldemort in view of the Death Eaters. Spooky.
Total $3,028.6 million $3,547.4 million
IM: Sorry, Harry, but stopping an alien invasion trumps tangling with an angry wizard.
Source: Box Office Mojo

To be fair, these totals are not adjusted for inflation. Had they been, Potter's numbers would have been demonstrably more impressive than what you see above.

This is also a partial list. Harry Potter's cinematic adventures have not only made author J.K. Rowling rich, but as a group, they also represent the biggest film franchise in history, having generated more than $7.72 billion in global box office receipts over eight movies.

Yet, of the two, Iron Man seems to be the more impactful character.

This once second-tier superhero was largely unknown to the general public before 2008. Now, he's selling out premium showings around the globe.

IMAX (IMAX) says "Iron Man 3" grossed $7.1 million from 113 IMAX theaters internationally during the film's end-of-April opening weekend overseas. And the May 1 premiere in mainland China set a new opening day record for the company, raking in $1.8 million in 101 theaters.

Raining Gods, Monsters, Aliens and Heroes

For Disney and subsidiary Marvel Studios, "Iron Man 3" also kicks off "Phase 2" of what's known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Executives are stringing together films as if they were an on-screen comic book series, which means Iron Man could still be repulsor-blasting baddies when Harry Potter is a distant memory.

"Phase 1" marked the first step in realizing that vision, culminating with "The Avengers." As a franchise, the six "Phase 1" films grossed $4.109 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

With "Phase 2," Disney wants to beat that total and pass Harry Potter. It'll have five films to make the extra $4 billion needed:

1. "Iron Man 3" (May 2013). Tony Stark faces off against the mysterious Mandarin, one of his oldest and most infamous foes from the comics.
2. "Thor: The Dark World" (November 2013). The Norse god of thunder teams with his subversive adopted brother, Loki, in facing off against an ancient enemy.
3. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (April 2014). Based on a popular offshoot of the mainline Captain America comic book. The film teams the star-spangled hero with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow from "The Avengers."
4. "Guardians of the Galaxy" (August 2014). A big-space epic filled with aliens and endless possibility. If done well, it could succeed where Warner's "Green Lantern" failed.
5. "The Avengers 2" (May 2015). Sequel to the biggest film of last summer, and sure to introduce at least one new character to kick off another phase of Marvel films.

Will this collection of gods, monsters, aliens, and heroes match up to the magic of Hogwarts? Thanks to the record-setting start of "Iron Man 3," Disney and Marvel seem poised to do that and more.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Walt Disney and Time Warner. The Motley Fool recommends IMAX and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of IMAX and Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

Box Office Showdown: Iron Man vs. Harry Potter

There are now 36.3 million streaming subscribers worldwide, and a big reason for Netflix's success is that the value proposition of $7.99 a month for an unlimited buffet of video titles is too juicy to let go.

Netflix points out that it served up 4 billion hours of content to its streaming customers during the first three months of the year. Divide that by the midpoint of the 33.2 million streaming accounts that Netflix had when the year began and the 36.3 million that it had three months later and you get an average of 115 hours of content per member during the quarter -- or roughly an hour a day.

Yes, Netflix is that magnetic. Worrywarts arguing a couple of years ago that premium entertainment services have a history of peaking around 25 million don't realize that Netflix is rewriting the rules.

"Hemlock Grove" -- Netflix's latest exclusive series -- began streaming late last week.

The reviews have been mixed, and that's a far cry from the consistent raves that its licensed "House of Cards" series received two months ago. However, Netflix revealed that "Hemlock Grove" attracted more viewers during this past debut weekend than "House of Cards" did in its first weekend back in February.

Netflix points out that the creepy Eli Roth-helmed series is faring well with young adults, and that's a jaded group that probably ignores the reviews of older critics. We still don't know if folks will stick to the series the way that many did as they went through all 13 episodes of "House of Cards," but it's a good start.

In a surprising move, Netflix revealed that it begin offering a streaming plan that allows as many as four members to be online at the same time for 50 percent more than the current plan, which only allows for two simultaneous streams.

Netflix isn't banking on the new $11.99 a month plan to move the needle. It emphasized twice during its call that it doesn't expect more than 1 percent of its subscribers to upgrade to the new offering. However, as large families lean on Netflix across a growing number of supported devices, upgrading to four simultaneous streams will be an easy sell.

More importantly, this is the first time that Netflix has added a new option to the $7.99 a month streaming plan it introduced in 2010. It could be a taste of more customized plans in the future.

 

Netflix has made no bones about the future of its DVD rental business. CEO Reed Hastings has argued that it's DVD-based mail-order accounts will continue to shrink with every passing quarter. Netflix closed out the quarter with 7.98 million DVD subscribers at the end of March, 240,000 fewer than it had three months earlier.

Netflix has routinely provided subscriber, revenue, and contribution profit guidance for its streaming and DVD businesses. On Monday, it only provided contribution profit guidance for its DVD business. Netflix expects this to be the case in the future, as the number of DVD customers and the dwindling revenue they generate continues to shrink.

Photo: Michael C. Rael, Flickr.com

As Netflix families will attest, a problem with sharing a Netflix streaming account in an immediate family is that Netflix doesn't distinguish between viewers. It offers recommendations based on what the accounts are watching, and that's a problem for the quality of the suggestions.

Netflix is addressing that by testing individual settings. The new Profiles feature will ideally begin producing better recommendations so your toddler can watch "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and your spouse can catch "How I Met Your Mother" without getting in the way of your affinity for "Breaking Bad."

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