"The Avengers," starring Chris Evans, left, and Robert Downey… (Zade Rosenthal, Marvel )
Marvel's comic book superheroes "The Avengers" proved up to the task of vanquishing not only a malevolent demigod — but also the ghost of "John Carter."
The blockbuster summer movie, which has garnered nearly $1.5 billion in worldwide box-office receipts so far, helped Walt Disney Co. post a better-than-expected 24% increase in quarterly earnings.
Buoyed by "The Avengers" and improvements at its theme parks and consumer products groups, the Burbank company reported a profit of $1.83 billion, or $1.01 a share, for its fiscal third quarter, which ended June 30, compared with $1.48 billion, or 77 cents a share, a year earlier.
It was the largest quarterly per share earnings in Disney's nearly 90-year history, Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said.
Revenue for the quarter was $11.1 billion, up 4% from a year earlier.
Disney's film group, which in the previous quarter lost $84 million because of write-downs associated with the "John Carter" box-office disappointment, saw a dramatic reversal in fortune.
It benefited from the strong worldwide performances of not only "The Avengers" but also of Disney Pixar Animation Studio's "Brave," an animated princess tale that was released June 22, near the end of the quarter. "Brave" has brought in $342 million in ticket sales to date.
The studio division reported an operating income of $313 million for the quarter, up from $49 million a year earlier.
The unit's revenue for the quarter was $1.6 billion. That was roughly the same as a year earlier but shy of the $1.8 billion analysts had expected. Disney said DVD and Blu-ray sales of "John Carter" and "The Muppets" fell short of last year's sales of "Tron: Legacy" and "Tangled."
Iger told Wall Street analysts on a conference call that the studio's acquisitions have yielded characters and stories that pay rich dividends for the company. Disney paid $4 billion for Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and $7.4 billion for Pixar Animation Studios six years ago.
"The Avengers" is now the third-highest-grossing film in history. Disney is planning a sequel — also to be written and directed by Joss Whedon — as well as a television series for its ABC network.
"Pixar and Marvel are now contributing to our company's strength," Iger said.
Disney's parks and resorts division reported third-quarter revenue of $3.4 billion, up 9% from a year earlier. Its operating income rose 21% to $630 million, reflecting improved results from domestic parks, cruise ships and the Tokyo Disney Resort.
The Japan park showed stronger results compared with a year earlier when the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami resulted in a temporary suspension of operations and fewer guests once the park reopened.
Closer to home, attendance rose dramatically at the California Adventure theme park in Anaheim after its billion-dollar upgrade that included a nostalgic 1920s era Main Street and a 12-acre Cars Land attraction.
Iger said that since the park's reopening in June, California Adventure has drawn 50% of the total attendance at the entire Disneyland Resort. That was up from roughly 25% in the past.
Revenue for the consumer products group rose 8% to $742 million for the quarter from a year earlier. Operating income jumped 35% to $209 million, fueled in part by sales of Avengers and Spider-Man merchandise.
But the struggling interactive media group, which produces digital games and online content, saw its revenue fall 22% to $196 million. However, the division reduced its operating loss to $42 million for the quarter from $86 million a year earlier.
Disney's cash cow, its media networks group that includes the company's broadcast and cable television assets, reported an operating income of $2.1 billion on revenue of nearly $5.1 billion.