Marvel makes plans for super summer

Marvel is turning the summer of 2008 into the season of the superhero, setting June 27 as the release date for its new Hulk pic.

Release of “The Incredible Hulk” will be the second in a two-month span for the nascent studio, which plans to open the Jon Favreau-helmed “Iron Man” on May 2. Both movies go into production next year.

Even as Marvel was touting its film releases, its traditional publishing division was driving revenue.

Publishing sales growth of 20% helped to drive up overall sales for the third quarter by about 13% to $92.2 million.

Despite a 44% drop in net income to $13.2 million, the company satisfied Wall Street with solid projections for the coming year, and investors responded by sending up its stock price by 6%.

“Hulk,” whose rights reverted to Marvel last winter, is being pushed out relatively quickly, observers said, in part to reassure Wall Street that the film division is running smoothly in the wake of Avi Arad’s surprise departure in June.

If they remain in place, the timing of the two releases could be an earnings boon for the company, whose second quarter ends in June. “Iron Man” coin and opening-weekend B.O. from “Hulk” would be booked in the second quarter, while the remainder of “Hulk” money would spill into the third quarter.

Marvel insiders pointed out that the company has had properties open in a compressed time frame before, including the release of “X Men 2″ in May 2003 and “Hulk” a month later.

Nearly two years out, summer 2008 is already shaping up to be a busy one for franchises — Warner Bros.’ next “Batman” installment, “The Dark Knight,” is a likely summer release; Disney’s next “Narnia” pic is set to open in May; and Paramount’s “Indiana Jones 4″ and Universal’s “Hellboy 2″ are both possible releases during the season.

Marvel is taking pains to distance its Hulk pic from Ang Lee’s 2003 movie. Marvel licensed the rights to U for that film, which earned $132 million at the U.S. box office but which was considered a disappointment by some.

Company resists calling the new project a sequel and noted in a press release, “You will like (the Hulk) when he’s angry,” a not-so-subtle reference to fans’ criticism that the character in the earlier pic was too ponderous.

Company has brought on genre director Louis Leterrier (“Unleashed”) to ensure a more commercial feel.

Arad, Kevin Feige and Gale Anne Hurd are aboard to produce; Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) will pen the screenplay.

Marvel predicts sales will grow to between $375 million and $435 million in 2007; company generated sales of $391 million in 2005.

Marvel also could see a bump in the year from licensing related to Sony’s release of “Spider-Man 3″ in May and other pics as it releases products tied to its new deal with Hasbro.

“Hulk” announcement wasn’t the only one aimed at exciting investors Monday. Company also disclosed it would pact with Sega for an “Iron Man” vidgame. Sega will publish the game day-and-date with the pic’s release and also has secured rights to make future games based on the superhero.

Interactive rights for “Iron Man” had been held by Activision, which has an overall licensing deal with Marvel. But Activision gave back the rights to “Iron Man” earlier this year when the two companies renegotiated their agreement.

Sega is in negotiations to license a second Marvel property, possibly the Hulk.

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