Stan Lee's long legacy extends even to the economic world
On Nov. 12, 2018, the world mourned the loss of Stan Lee, a beloved comic book writer and one of Marvel Comics’ foremost creative leaders. In time, we may better understand the effect of his legacy as a pioneer of superhero comics and his personal journey from a poor immigrant household in New York to the figurehead of a massive multimedia corporation which dominates the comics industry.
However, I suggest leaving that task to the biographers and historians of tomorrow and instead analyzing some of the economic impact Stan Lee has had on the world today. To preface this analysis, in the name of fun I will be making some broad assumptions and comparisons. All values stated are accurate and sourced accordingly, even though their interpretation will be relatively tongue-in-cheek.
To start, we shall look at the billions of dollars in box office revenue across the globe as an estimated reflection of the dollar value of the characters written and co-written by Stan Lee since Marvels Comics’ inception. Without Lee, these characters, and thus their box office numbers, would have not come into fruition in the form we know and love today, regardless of whether he was the central creator or co-creator.
From without adjusting for inflation, the of movies based on characters created and co-created by Lee amounts roughly to a whopping $22 billion. The Avengers, Spider-Man and X-Men franchises contribute to over half that amount, with the Avengers at $4.97 billion, Spider-Man at $4.84 billion and X-Men at $3.18 billion. Evidently, even if we credit Lee with just 10 percent of the value of these box office numbers alone, his legacy in the movie business exceeds a billion U.S. dollars.
Now, let’s draw some comparisons to the 2017 Gross Domestic Product of countries around the world, the total value of goods and services produced in a given country in the year 2017. The countries with a GDP closest to $22 billion are smaller countries like Iceland, Honduras and Cambodia: They have $23.9 billion, $22.9 billion and $22.1 billion respectively, . In other words, the total value of the goods and services produced in Cambodia in 2017 nearly matches the estimated economic impact of Stan Lee in box offices worldwide.
How about individual film franchises? The Avengers franchise alone is equivalent to that of the island of Fiji, at $5 billion, or of Barbados at $4.8 billion. Daredevil, a lesser known character with only one feature film to his name, is worth approximately $179 million in revenue according to Box Office Mojo, roughly equivalent to the 2017 GDP of the island country Kiribati, home to just over 110,000 residents.
In addition to looking at the movie numbers, why not take a look at the company numbers? Following his retirement in the ‘90s, Stan Lee served as a public figurehead and executive for Marvel, but only after working many decades within the company. Let’s use Marvel’s acquisition by the Walt Disney Company for $4.2 billion in 2009, as detailed in a Sept. 2009 Wall Street Journal . Again, If we attribute 10% of its total corporate value to Stan Lee’s influence and creations, Marvel’s value as his idea would amount to approximately $420 million – certainly a large sum, but one that certainly pales in comparison to the numbers that Marvel brings in today at the box office.
Perhaps another fun exercise could be to look at some of Stan Lee’s more direct contributions in his earlier days as a writer and storyboarder. A famous example is the comic “Amazing Fantasy #15” written by Lee in 1962, which featured Spider-Man for the first time. A vintage copy of the issue sold for over $1 million in 2011, according to. Many of these classic comic books from decades ago are appreciating in value at a greater rate than the Standard & Poor's stock exchange, with some reaching over 1000 percent appreciation, according to a . One can only wonder how much these direct contributions from Stan Lee, who created characters like the Incredible Hulk and the Black Panther back in the ‘60s, will be worth far into the future.
All this is, of course, in addition to huge sales in merchandise such as toys, figurines, video and tabletop games and. of course, comic books.
At the end of the day, it is likely that Stan Lee will be remembered best for his impact on a generation of comic book readers and moviegoers, rather than his economic impact on the world.
However, I believe that this impact should not be ignored. In today’s era of billion and now trillion-dollar companies and the near-rockstar status of tech founders, it is easy to forget the monetary impact of the many artistic and cultural icons that all contribute to the world’s economy. Especially in a time of extraordinary economic growth, that one should remember just as invention and technological innovation drive economic growth, so too does creativity.