There’s no room for your ‘Fantastic Four’s or ‘Green Lantern’s in this list: with our special inflation adjuster at the ready, we’ve sifted through the receipts, written off the popcorn expenses and calculated the 20 most successful superhero movies of all time.
Heroes! Villains! Capes! Tiny pants! One thing these 20 movies have in common is they made a whole lot of money…
20. ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (2006)
Often seen as the red-headed step-child of the original ‘X-Men’ trilogy, Brett Ratner’s threequel out-grossed Bryan Singer’s two movies, even after being adjusted for inflation.
19. ‘The Mask’ (1994)
Though this film might make the list on a technicality – Stanley Ipkiss has a special suit, wears a mask and has outrageous super-powers, and it’s based on a comic book – there’s no denying the stopping power of Jim Carrey in his prime: his heroic gurning won over audiences to the tune of over half a billion dollars. For comparison, Carrey’s 2013 superhero movie ‘Kick-Ass 2’ grossed just $60m.
18. ‘Iron Man’ (2008)
Arguably the movie that kick started the current superhero trend (shared universes, cameos, super-powered attitude), Jon Favreau’s first ‘Iron Man’ movie was a real money-spinner – the initial receipts don’t stack up too high in this list, but that Nick Fury post-credits scene launched a franchise that’s grossed around six billion dollars to date. And we’re still only in Phase 2.
17. ‘Thor: The Dark World’ (2013)
Five years on from ‘Iron Man’, few would have believed Thor would be out-grossing his Midgardian colleague, but in 2013, the Marvel effect was in full flow – the brand association alone had audiences flocking to cinemas. ‘The Dark World’ grossed approximately $200 million more than Kenneth Branagh’s 2010 original, which doesn’t make the cut.
16. ‘Man Of Steel’ (2013)
DC would have breathed a sigh of relief when the final figures came in for Superman’s reboot – not only is the big blue boy scout the jewel in their crown, Zack Snyder’s action extravaganza was ground zero for their own shared universe. Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League are all incoming – who knows what this list will look like in 10 years?
15. ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010)
Objectively a poorer movie than its predecessor, ‘Iron Man 2’ nonetheless out grossed the original considerably, thanks mainly to the now-established tease of the burgeoning Avengers universe. Exactly what portion of the film’s box-office take can be attributed to Scarlett Johansson’s performance in a little black cat-suit is difficult to attain.
14. ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ (2014)
Make way for the newbies! The financial success of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ would have been music to Marvel’s ears – thought to be their trickiest prospect to date (unknown heroes, an adventure outside the Avengers universe, talking animals), fans embraced Star-Lord, Rocket and the gang just as they did Tony Stark and pals all those years ago.
13. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ (2014)
In what universe this could be considered a flop we don’t know, because Sony’s latest Spider-Man movie still broke the $700 million barrier – that’s more than ‘X-Men’ and ‘X-Men 2’ ever managed. Sony are hoping the shared universe tactic will pay off for their Spider-Man franchise, but don’t count on the likes of ‘Sinister Six’ getting close to even touching this total take.
12. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)
Thought Thor’s sequel uplift was impressive? ‘The Winter Soldier’ almost took double what ‘Captain America: The First Avenger made’ – more proof that Marvel know exactly what they’re doing. Marvel’s WW2 vet now has ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ worried, with the DC team up film moving release dates to avoid a box office clash.
11. ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’ (2014)
'Days Of Future Past' became the most popular X-Men movie to date in 2014, with Bryan Singer retaking his crown as superhero filmmaker extraordinaire. He's already hard at working prepping 2016's 'X-Men: Apocalypse', which will close the trilogy started by 'X-Men: First Class' (which managed a respectable worldwide gross of $353 million).
10. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (2012)
Fans thought it was screen suicide to reboot the Spider-Man franchise so soon after the original trilogy, but the new radioactive blood of Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Marc Webb et al did see Spidey make some pretty serious bank. Still, Spider-Man 2.0 couldn’t get within web spinning distance of any of the Sam Raimi movies.
9. ‘Batman’ (1989)
Who knew a lunatic in black PVC would be so universally beloved? Tim Burton took Batman into a gothic playground of his own creation in this, the daddy of all modern superhero movies. Audiences went crazy for the caped crusader, scaring up over $400 million – that’s worth almost double in today’s money. Remember the name: Batman. He’s gonna be big.
8. ‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)
The greatest superhero movie ever made? You could make a pretty convincing argument for sure. What isn’t up for debate is just how successful Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man 2’ was at the box-office – it almost breaks the billion dollar barrier when adjusted for inflation. Darker, faster, bigger and more expansive, it’s the movie that set the template for super-sequels.
7. ‘Spider-Man 3’ (2007)
Too many crooks might have spoiled this broth, but the presence of Green Goblin, Sandman and Venom did not turn off audiences one bit – it might have grossed less than the first Spider-Man movie but you can forgive a few million dollars here or there when you’re counting receipts in the billions. Raimi went out on top.
6. ‘Spider-Man’ (2002)
James Cameron couldn’t get his proposed Spider-Man movie out the door. If he had – and given the fact the director is behind the two highest-grossing movies of all time – you wonder exactly how much money his ‘Spider-Man’ would have made. But it matters not: Sam Raimi’s wallcrawler showed the world just how exciting superhero cinema could be. A game-changer.
5. ‘Superman: The Movie’ (1978)
The first superhero movie. The most iconic superhero movie. The best superhero movie. But only the fifth most successful superhero movie? Blame that on the marketing practices of the era and the fact that 1978 cinemagoers might have been reluctant to spend two hours in the company of a man in tights. Put simply, ‘Superman: The Movie’ made the genre what it is – every other film on this list owes it every dollar they made.
4. ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
Hype was at deafening levels even before the untimely death of Heath Ledger pushed ‘The Dark Knight’ to ‘would sell own kidney to see immediately’ status. The first ever superhero movie to make a billion dollars at the box-office, Christopher Nolan’s sequel to ‘Batman Begins’ owed a huge debt to the Joker – and DC were laughing all the way to the bank.
3. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012)
Topping off a great year for superhero movies, Nolan’s trilogy closer had everything – Batman at his peak, a formidable villain in Tom Hardy’s Bane and Anne Hathaway at her least irritating. Thanks to stellar reviews and word of mouth, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ outgrossed its predecessor to become the most popular Batman movie ever. Take that, ‘Batman & Robin’!
2. ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013)
Okay, we love Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr and Ben Kingsley, but on the surface, there was nothing remarkable about ‘Iron Man 3’ – the first threequel of the MCU – apart from one thing: it came immediately after ‘The Avengers’. Hungry for more action, audiences would have been delighted at the whip-smart script, awesome twist and Iron Man mayhem they received – fans couldn’t throw enough money at Marvel.
1. ‘The Avengers’ (2012)
With five full-length feature films effectively acting as trailers for its 2012 release, it was a surprise to no one that superhero ensemble ‘The Avengers’ assembled quite so much cash at the box office. A light and frothy alternative to the increasingly gloomy ‘Dark Knight’ movies, it made Marvel billions and ensured the rest of the industry sat up and took notice. It’s currently the third most successful movie of all time. And now you want to watch it again.
Where will Avengers: Age of Ultron end up on the list? At present the top ten will be shifting around for sure. Do you agree with the list? Any of your favourites missing? Tell us in the comments.
Box-office figures from