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Thor Beats X-Men in Movie Marketing Smackdown

LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- If Thor, the young X-Men, Captain America and the Green Lantern all fought, who would win? Their marketing partners.

Including the film adaptations of Tokyopop's Korean comic Priest next week and Platinum Comics' Cowboys vs. Aliens slated for July, there are six potential comic book movie blockbusters on the slate for late spring and early summer of this year -- seven if you count the latest installment of a Transformers franchise that hasn't been considered a hot comic property since the Reagan administration.

Marvel Comics (MVL) alone is responsible for half of that total, as its Paramount Pictures (VIA.B)-released Thor opens Friday, its 20th Century Fox (NEWS)-partnered X-Men: First Class follows on June 3 and Captain America: The First Avenger finishes the trifecta July 22. Still a year away from its next Batman movie, D.C. Comics has to make do with Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern on July 22.

So who'll win the much-awaited match-up of the month between Thor and X-Men: First Class? Our first guess would be Marvel Studios, which has made a habit of turning its stable of comic titles into heroic onscreen efforts whose lone superpower is the ability to turn marginal acting and megadoses of CGI into Galactus-sized mounds of money. With notable exceptions including 2008's Punisher: War Zone, 2005's Elektra and each of the three Blade films, the Marvel Studios movies have each been good for more than $100 million in box-office receipts alone -- which is largely why Disney (DIS) bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009. The lone film released by Marvel last year, Iron Man 2, pulled in $318 million at the U.S. box office on its way to more than $623 million worldwide.

"You can't pay money to be in a films like these, but what these companies can do is pledge their media dollars," says Jeff Greenfield, chief operating officer and co-founder of media analytics group C3 Metrics, describing Marvel's peculiar approach to merchandising. "If you're a car company and you plan to spend $20 million this quarter on a campaign, if you spend $5 million of that to integrate Thor into it so that part of the ad has 'Be sure to see Thor, opening in theaters Friday' at the end of it, in return they'll do big things for you, like exclusive footage for ads or licensing deals for in-store promotion and purchases."

As marketers noticed during Iron Man 2's run last year, superheroes have pretty broad shoulders for carrying a stable of brands to success right along with them. Among the brands attached NASCAR-style to Iron Man's armor last year were Burger King (BKC), 7-Eleven, Dr. Pepper Snapple (DPS), LG, Oracle (ORCL - Get Report), Symantec (SYMC - Get Report), Hershey (HSY - Get Report), Audi, racing-oil producer Royal Purple and Chinese clothing retailer Semir. Yes, it was easier for marketers to jump on a known commodity such as Iron Man, whose first movie alone made $586 million globally, but it's not as if Thor and X-Men: First Class marketers are dealing with some mysterious masked entity.

"They said that a Batman film couldn't be made and after Batman was made and it was successful, there was concern over Spider Man," Greenfield says. "Most people know that they're getting involved with a successful franchise and it's going to do well."

In this case, Thor is just one of the films Marvel's using to build to its 2012 blockbuster The Avengers, which requires appearances from Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk. While the Captain America film hasn't been released yet, 2003's Hulk was considered disappointing and still grossed $243 million worldwide. Marvel's apology film, 2008's The Incredible Hulk brought in $263 million. Even if Thor doesn't end up on par with Iron Man 2, which opened on the same weekend last year, it's still a coup for marketers.

The same holds true for X-Men: First Class, a prequel to 2000's X-Men and part of a franchise that has made a total of $1.5 billion on its own and hasn't made less than $300 million at the box office in more than a decade. X-Men took in $296 million worldwide, while its two sequels in 2003 and 2006 made $407 million and $459 million, respectively. Even when Marvel decides to make a prequel, such as 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it still brings in more than $373 million.

That tips the scales toward X-Men: First Class, but let's look at how the films' marketing matches up before hammering the God of Thunder too harshly:

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