Company tops fourth-quarter profit forecasts

Just how super are Marvel’s heroes at boosting its bottom line?

The DVD for “Iron Man” helped more than double Marvel Entertainment’s fourth-quarter profits, pumping nearly $136 million into its coffers.

Marvel’s film arm alone generated $255 million in revenue in 2008 for the comicbook company thanks to last summer’s “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk,” its first self-financed and -produced pics.

It didn’t record any earnings for its film division in previous years because most of the grosses of pics like the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” franchises were collected by studios as part of licensing deals.

The film arm is expected to earn between $120 million and $135 million this year, Marvel execs said.

“In addition to providing a substantial contribution to our operating results, our 2008 theatrical releases have raised the level of global awareness for Marvel and two of our key brands,” said Marvel’s chairman Morton Handel.

Marvel’s publishing business also was strong, with high-profile comicbook titles hitting shelves during the period. Sales in that segment were up 9.2%.

However, sales in the company’s licensing biz fell 27%. Drop was attributed mostly to the huge bump that “Spider-Man 3″ gave to product in 2007.

Company wants to increase its licensing efforts, and this month inked with toymaker Hasbro to extend its deal through 2017. Marvel said that deal will guarantee it $100 million in royalties and could generate $140 million more based on toys tied to new pics.

Overall, Marvel’s fourth-quarter profits came in at $63 million, up from nearly $28 million a year earlier, on revenues of $224 million, up from around $109 million during the same period in 2007.

Company ended last year with revenues up 28% to $676 million and profits up another 32% to $206 million, due to the release of “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

It has no movies set to unspool this year, but a “Wolverine” spinoff will be released by Fox in May as part of a licensing pact. It also has four animated TV series airing on Nicktoons, Disney XD and Cartoon Network this year.

“Iron Man 2″ starts lensing in April for release on May 7, 2010, while the Kenneth Branagh-helmed “Thor” starts production this year for release on July 16, 2010. Paramount distribs the pics.

Marvel also has a “Spider-Man” musical that hits the stage next February, helmed by Julie Taymor with music and lyrics created by U2′s Bono and the Edge.

The results sent shares of Marvel up nearly 15% to close at $27.55 on Tuesday.

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