The Superhero Movie has been around for almost as long as there have been comic-book heroes, with filmographic manifestations of Batman, Superman, and Captain America appearing as early as the 1940s. However, in the decades that followed superheroes were mainly confined to the small screen and the page of the comic book. It wasn’t until after George Lucas’ Star Wars that the genre began to enjoy a newfound popularity in the form of the critically and commercially successful Superman and Batman movies of the late 1980s.
In the last decade the larger movie studios have begun to increasingly depend upon superhero movie franchises, with sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots of the familiar characters cropping up on almost every box office blockbuster list. As the movie industry struggles to keep profit-making in an age of increasing piracy, the glittery, CGI-filled films that are best viewed on huge cinema screens with massive surround sound systems and 3D effects, are seen as reliable ways to get the public into cinemas.
Some of the most profitable franchises of all time are those with a superhero at its heart, with Superman, Spiderman, the various X-men, Iron Man, and Batman all placing within the top fifteen. It could be said the popularity of the superhero culminated in 2012 with Joss Whedon’s 143 minute long epic The Avengers, which contained some the biggest and oldest comic book heroes, and was the first film to make $200m in its opening weekend.
Although each of these films costs enormous sums of money to make, with state of the art computer graphics and A-list actors adding to the inflated budgets, these films are capable of making staggeringly large amounts of cash. Below you’ll find the list of the Top Ten grossing superhero movies according to Box Office Mojo – each of which have made over $200m profit for the movie studios that just can’t seem to shake their superhero addiction. These are the 10 silver screen superhero incarnations which have proved more popular than any others, according to domestic lifetime gross.
10. Man of Steel: $291,045,518
Following the success of his Batman trilogy, English director Christopher Nolan (who started out his career with the labyrinthine thriller Memento) turned his hand to potentially the most famous superhero of all time: Superman.
Superman first exploded into the American consciousness in 1938 in the original comics, and appeared on screens soon after in 1942. Since then he has enjoyed almost 10 movie versions (numbers change, depending on what your classification of a Superman Movie) of varying quality.
The 2012 adaptation sees the then relatively unknown Henry Cavill taking up the blue suit but controversially ditching the red underwear which Superman had worn over his lycra for the last 75 years.
9. Iron Man 2: $312,433,331
Despite the general consensus that the second Iron Man doesn’t compare to the first or third films – it scored lower on the tomatometer, which compiles all critical reviews, than the others – this instalment still places at No. 9, with takings of over $300m. Robert Downey Jr. proved box office gold for this sequel, pulling in ticket sales through sheer force of personality.
Like Batman and Superman, Iron Man has been around for sometime, with his first appearance in 1963, almost half a century before he appeared on the silver screen. As with many movie adaptations of comic books, the Iron Man trilogy makes use of the original story lines from the comics, though often taking liberties with certain narratives or character which spark outrage from die-hard fans.
8. Iron Man: $318,412,101
The first Iron Man film dives straight into origins story of the playboy weapons manufacturer, detailing the history of the character and introducing a range of characters from the original comics.
Like many superhero films the budget for Iron Man was high, at $140m, but the film was extremely well received, (it currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%.) and as a result made a profit of almost $600m.
Robert Downey Jr was chosen by director Jon Favreau because like Tony Stark “the best and worst moments of (his) life have been in the public eye.” He also felt that Downey Jr would be able to portray Stark as “a likeable asshole”.
7. Spiderman 3: $336,530,303
Spider-Man 3 was the last film to star Tobey Maguire before film executives felt that it was time to do a u-turn of a reboot. Although not as successful as the two earlier films, Maguire’s portrayal bought in over $60m more than the recent incarnation of the besuited hero played by Andrew Garfield. However, the film still contains this infamous scene which is in itself the perfect argument for the timely reboot.
6. Spiderman 2: $373,585,825
Although a markedly better film than the one that came after it, Spiderman 2 couldn’t quite stand up to the first in a critical or commercial sense. Despite this it managed to take home an Oscar for the special effects involved in creating Spider-Man’s nemesis, Dr Otto Octavius, who has four robotic limbs. In reality each of these robotic limbs are thirteen foot long, individually controlled, composed of 76 individual segments and were created for the film by special effects company Edge FX.
5. Spiderman: $403,706,375
The first, and best Spider-Man film was really the beginning of the current long term relationship between the comic book and the movie business. Although there had been a number of notable films based on the pages of superhero comics, this was the first to bring the superhero to a wider audience. The film was also the first to take $100m in its first weekend, and still places at No. 5 of this list despite the massive franchises that would follow in its path.
There’s an interesting story concerning the several red Spider-Man suits which were created at a cost of around $100,000 each. During filming several of the suits were stolen, which lead to Colombia Pictures offering $25k rewards for their return.
4. Iron Man 3: $409,013,994
The third Iron Man film made almost $100m more than the second, and was the first in the series to gross over $1bn worldwide. Following the success of The Avengers, Marvel and Disney decided to up the budget from $140m to $200m in order to allow director Shane Black to make the best movie possible.
The other two Iron Man film had been directed by Jon Favreau, but for the third instalment Shane Black was bought onboard; Downey Jr and Black had previously worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the film which got Downey Jr the role of Iron Man. Downey Jr said that “bringing in Shane Black to write and direct the film is basically the only thing that Favreau and the audience and Marvel and I could ever actually sign off on.”
3. The Dark Knight Rises: $448,139,099
The third instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was highly anticipated by both the public and the movie studio executives following the successes of the first and second film. The completion of the trilogy meant that Nolan became the first director to complete a full trilogy of Batman films, he was however the second to direct a full trilogy of superhero films, after Sam Raimi who completed his Spider-Man films in 2007, five years before The Dark Knight Rises.
The star filled cast, which already includes regulars Michael Caine, Christian Bale, and Morgan Freeman was supplemented with the addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Marion Cotillard. The combination of this cast, the quality of the second film, and a huge viral marketing campaign meant that when the film film opened in 4,404 cinemas across the US, it took a whopping $160,887,295 in its opening weekend.
2. The Dark Knight: $534,858,444
The Dark Knight was Christopher Nolan’s real breakthrough film, making a profit of over $500m, in fact in its first six days, the film made more money than all of the profits from Batman Begins. Much of its success is due to a stunning performance from Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker, who was posthumously awarded an oscar for his position as supporting actor.
In addition to commercial success the film was incredibly well critically received, and was the first film to go straight to No. 1 on IMDB only two days after its release. The film received eight Academy Awards, the most that any comic book adaptation has received.
1. Marvel’s The Avengers: $623,357,910
Marvel’s Avengers was really the ultimate cash cow for movie studios; the rising popularity of modern comic book adaptations, with a-lister names and stratospheric budgets was eventually going to lead to an huge film containing each of the comic book characters who had been successfully transplanted onto the silver screen.
Although many of the reviews were lukewarm, the film certainly made the studio executives happy, as it currently sits at No.3 of the all time highest grossing films, and is the first marvel film to take over $1bn in ticket sales. It is, in fact, the highest ever grossing film not directed by James Cameron!
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