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Time Warner Inc (TWX), The Walt Disney Company (DIS), Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (LGF): Does the U.S. Box Office Matter to Media Stocks Anymore?

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Initial appearances to the contrary, Pacific Rim is well on its way to turning a profit for Legendary Pictures and production partner Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX). Guillermo Del Toro’s monsters-vs.-robots epic earned another $33 million from international territories last weekend — a great moment for one of my favorite media stocks.

All told, Pacific Rim has produced $344.2 million in box office receipts worldwide, with $247.4 million of that figure coming from overseas territories. Box Office Mojo’s Ray Subers figures the film’s international gross will come in around $300 million. That amounts to about $400 million globally, more than double Pacific Rim‘s reported $190 million production budget.

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Chinese jaeger “Crimson Typhoon” sees action in Pacific Rim. Source: Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures.

A rising tide of profits … found elsewhere

Hollywood shorthand says a film turns profitable when it earns double its production budget at the box office. Enough, that is, to not only make and distribute the film but also to promote and market it.

This, Fool, is why so many fear the impact of The Lone Ranger on The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)‘s profit picture. The film, which cost $215 million to make, has earned $196.2 million worldwide as of this writing.

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) executives now say The Lone Ranger could lose anywhere from $160 million to $190 million. A big loss, to be sure, but also an anomaly thanks to the global success of Iron Man 3. Studio revenue for the June quarter came in at $1.59 billion, a slight decline from last year’s $1.63 billion, in a quarter that included Marvel’s The Avengers — a record-setter that also earned huge sums overseas.

Of course, plenty of media stocks are profiting from Hollywood’s global ambitions. International sales accounted for more than 50% of the gate for each of the year’s top-five grossing films:

Top 5 Grossing Films of 2013 (YTD) Domestic Gross International Gross International As a % of Total
Iron Man 3 $407.8 million $804.6 million 66.4%
Despicable Me 2 $338.3 million $407.5 million 54.6%
Man of Steel $287.9 million $359.5 million 55.5%
Monsters University $260.1 million $376.9 million 59.2%
Fast & Furious 6 $238.3 million $544.2 million 69.5%

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Media stocks with global appeal

What’s the takeaway for investors? Think globally. U.S. cinema may still be king, but studios are increasingly releasing films in foreign territories first to build momentum. The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and Marvel did that for both The Avengers and Iron Man 3.

Others, such as Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF), prefer to bet on popular properties and hope for wide appeal. November’s Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games series, opens between Nov. 20 and 28 in most territories. The first film earned $691 million worldwide on the strength of $408 million in U.S. sales.

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