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.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Basics of Diversification

Learn one of the fundamental concepts of building a portfolio.

View Course »

Investing Like Warren Buffett

Learn from one of the world's best investors.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

4 Comments

Filter by:
mitchngerry

Sorry Tim. You quoted it yourself but never connected the Literary dots. A 50 year old Iron Man franchise spans the life of Harry's creator, selling books at $.12, $.25, $.75 and on into the $Billions. Add several animated TV shows plus the uniquely combined movie franchises and the sky is the limit. I love both books for their own reasons, both are powerhouses. It's your commentary that fails to solve the icing problem.

May 06 2013 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mitchngerry's comment
tim.beyers

@mitchngerry,

>> It's your commentary that fails to solve the icing problem.

OK, help me out. Where could I have improved the piece?

Thanks for writing and Foolish best,

Tim
--

TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards
@milehighfool on Twitter
http://about.me/timbeyers
http://timbeyers.me

May 06 2013 at 10:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tim.beyers's comment
mitchngerry

Sorry, let me explain. With a huge lead in time Marvel started out-earning Rowling at $.12 per book. Later increased to $.25 per book. First animated TV shows skyrocketed earnings. Later books increased to $.75 per book. After that, J.K.enters secondary school. Stan Lee becomes publisher of Marvel and earnings continue to increase. Marvel Action Hour debuts on TV with Toy-Biz action figure tie-ins. Champagne corks pop. Ms. Rowling does something, not sure what. My point is that with a huge disparity in time and earnings, trying to compare the much loved but now complete Harry Potter cycle to the much older and still open ended Iron Man franchise was never a good match up.

May 07 2013 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
alfredschrader

I'm the real Iron Man and I never got a cent from Marvel. I'm also the physicist who discovered the graviton particle. Marvel now also has a Graviton character. Again, I never got a cent for this.

May 06 2013 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply