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Not so jolly green giant?

Street cool to 'Hulk' prospects

Marvel Enterprises shareholders weren’t seeing a whole lot of Hulk green Monday, as the comicbook character’s ancestral home saw its stock flop by 11% despite the Universal pic’s muscular opener.

The steep decline in Marvel stock suggests that many traders may already have been anticipating a sizable box office dropoff in subsequent weekends and chose to take profits after a strong two-year run in the stock. Marvel stock fell 11.56% Monday to close at $18.75. A year ago, the shares were trading at around $5. Marvel’s next big film, “Spider-Man 2,” is more than a year away.

Wall Street volatility coincided with Monday-morning quarterbacking in Hollywood. The main question being debated: Can $62 million be considered anything but good news?

Optimists, especially those at U and Marvel, point to the record book: biggest June opening ever; seventh straight Marvel-based pic to open at No. 1; third straight U opening at $50 million-plus; 43% of all weekend tickets sold.

Skeptics point to the flurry of last-minute P&A spending, the inauspicious Friday-Sunday decline (from roughly $24 million to $21 million to $16 million), and the distinctly male skew of first-weekend crowds.

“It could be a franchise-killer, and that’s what hurts,” noted one veteran studio production exec. “It might end up making money way down the line, but it’s basically a push. The goal was to kick off a franchise.”

Marvel is highly exposed to the media hype surrounding the box office, with a run on the stock in anticipation of a big release and a selloff after opening weekend. A similar pattern was discernible last May during the “Spider-Man” blitz.

And even though Marvel’s gross participation in “The Hulk” is capped, a strong run is essential to generating lucrative sales on merchandise such as videogames and toys.

Equity analysts at Thomas Weisel Partners nonetheless expect “The Hulk” will easily hit the $100 million domestic and $100 million-$150 million international box office grosses needed for the company to reach its capped gross participation percentage (estimated at the lesser of 4%-5% of net after theater splits of around 50% or $5 million).

Spider’s tangled web

Expectations were high for “Hulk,” and it indeed equaled tracking projections. Still, “Hulk” launched in a climate in which everything from “Star Wars” to “Matrix” is critiqued for being no “Spider-Man” at the B.O. Compared with “Spider-Man’s” $114.8 million opening weekend last year and “X2’s” $85.6 million first weekend haul in May, “The Hulk” bow looks a bit subdued.

Perhaps a couple of years ago, it would have been fashionable to withhold judgment on long-term prospects until second-weekend numbers are in. But with “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” arriving Friday, most distrib toppers and B.O. watchers expect “Hulk” to suffer a direct hit.

A week-to-week drop of 50% — hardly an oddity for summer tentpoles — appears likely. Most projections point to a domestic cume in the neighborhood of $150 million, roughly equal to its production cost. Overseas, pic is already showing strength in Asian territories like Hong Kong, where it opened better than “X2.”

3-D deal

Separately on Monday, Marvel announced a licensing deal with X3D Technologies granting X3D exclusive 3-D publishing rights to past and upcoming Marvel Comics comicbooks in CD-ROM formats, to be called Marvel ComX3D.

X3D may republish comics featuring at least 50 Marvel superheroes characters including Spider-Man, X-Men and the Incredible Hulk.

X3D said it will start with six comicbook titles on “mini” CD-ROMs as a first edition release in 3-D.

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