Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Thor. Once the gem of only comic book readers, these heroes (and many others) have taken the world by storm in recent years. Marvel Studios has done a fantastic job building up their own universe of movies (dubbed the "Marvel Cinematic Universe"). All of the films are set in the same universe as one another, so stories and events in one movie span and affect other movies as well.
This formula of a connected universe has paid dividends for Marvel. Listed below are the top 10 domestic box office grosses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Note: Avengers: Age of Ultron is not listed at the time of this writing. "Phase One" films refer to all films released from the original Iron Man to The Avengers. "Phase Two" refers to any films released after The Avengers.
UPDATE: It was only a matter of time before the Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron, would pass its predecessor in the international market. Reaching $900 million internationally, the film has conquered its predecessor by $5 million dollars (and it has only been out a month as of this writing). Domestically, Avengers: Age of Ultron still trails the first film.
10 The Incredible Hulk -- $134.8 million
Following the massive success of the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man), Marvel had a lot to live up to. With rumors circulating that many films would be released to tie-in and create an Avengers mega movie, audiences' interests were peaked with the release of the film. It's a good thing their interest was piqued by the thought of this superhero being a part of a film saga, because the character of the Incredible Hulk had already been portrayed in a 2003 film. Hulk, directed by Ang Lee, tanked hard at the box office. The character needed to be revived and needed a great sum of money to be earned in theaters. Luckily, Edward Norton's uncredited writing and the feeling of the Hulk existing in a connected universe led to a successful box office run. The film earned $134.8 million at the domestic box office.
9 Captain America: The First Avenger -- $176.6 million
Captain America: The First Avenger had a unique task. It was the go-home movie leading up to the release of the first Avengers film. Released in July of 2011, a lot of pressure existed on the film. Much like the character of the Hulk, Captain America is also the victim of a terrible movie adaption from the early 90s. But, with a dedicated team of writers and producers, Marvel wasn't going to let the past control their decisions. However, Marvel also had to juggle how audiences would react to a film that is largely set during World War 2. With the film leading up to the Avengers, would audiences put up with a story that doesn't necessarily "push the plot forward" in the universe? They would. And did. The film pulled in $176.6 million.
8 Thor -- $181 million
Two months prior to the release of the film listed above, audiences were introduced to the son of Odin in a movie used to kick off the summer blockbuster season. While the casual moviegoer may have heard of Captain America and the Hulk, you would be more hard-pressed to find these same people having prior experience with the character of Thor. With the story element of Thor as a "god-like" figure, this was the first time the Marvel Cinematic Universe blasted off from Earth. Audiences didn't seem to mind, as Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and Tom Hiddleston established a solid foundation for the character. Thor and his friends managed to edge out Captain America by $5 million at the domestic box office. Overall, the film collected $181 million.
7 Thor: The Dark World -- $206.3 million
As the original film introduced audiences to the almighty Guardian of the 9 Realms, the second film led viewers on a darker and edgier journey. The fans of the series got to explore Thor's home world, Asgard, as well as the surrounding realms. With the release of The Avengers absolutely dominating the box office a year earlier, audiences were now familiar with the characters and thirsted for more. All major roles were reprised by their respective actors and actresses, and the film was a commercial success. When all was said and done with the film, Marvel was looking at a huge sum of $206.3 million.
6 Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- $257.9 million
After explaining the origins of Captain America in the first film, The Winter Soldier shifted its story to the present day. While audiences briefly got to see Captain America's adjustment to the present day in The Avengers, The Winter Soldier delves more deeply into his issues with being frozen for 70 years. Not only that, but audiences were also introduced to the titular villain of the movie. The movie has a slightly different feel from the others in the series. Joe Russo, a co-director of the movie, stated to Cinemablend.com that, "...the tone we were chasing was sort of that conspiracy thriller. And we wanted to try and ground the movie as much as we could." Rooting the film in a more realistic way is what gives the movie its unique flavor. Overall, $257.9 million is a great payday for Marvel. The film proved a success.
5 Iron Man 2 -- $312.4 million
With the success of the smug Tony Stark's adventures in the first Iron Man, it seemed logical for Marvel to continue the playboy billionaire’s story in his second solo film. This time around, Stark must pay for his family's actions as an old nemesis of the family plots revenge against the young entrepreneur. Marvel cast the legendary Mickey Rourke as the villain of the movie and it turned out to be a massive success. While the film garnered less money than its predecessor (the original Iron Man made $318 million), it smashed The Incredible Hulk box office numbers by almost triple. Being the third entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was now obvious that the "interconnected universe" idea was catching on. With consistent numbers across the board as more films were released, Iron Man 2 proved that magic could strike twice.
4 Iron Man -- $318.4 million
The film that started it all. Who would have thought that the superhero to kick off the juggernaut now known as the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" never even had a real-life adaption to the big screen (or the TV screen)? Surely, it was a gamble. Marvel Studios had banked on the Spider-Man franchise throughout the 2000s and was highly successful in terms of dollars (not so much critically). Act one of assembling the Avengers began in 2008, and Iron Man absolutely skyrocketed at the box office. With a $98 million opening weekend, Marvel knew they were on to something. Standing at $318.4 million, I think it's safe to say that the gamble was well worth the risk.
3 Guardians of the Galaxy -- $333.1 million
With all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe emanating a relatively "realistic" take on the world, Guardians is the first in the series to step outside this zone of realism and offer a wacky, offbeat adventure into the cosmos. The film is also one of the only movies in the series (if not the only one) that doesn't directly connect with any of the heroes from the Avengers. Like the first Captain America movie, the question had to pop up as to whether audiences would enjoy the more hilarious approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The answer came in the form of box office gold, as the film garnered a sliver over $333 million in the U.S. The film also stands out from the others in terms of its soundtrack. Featuring classic tracks from the 70s and 80s, the soundtrack went platinum in 2015 and was the second-best selling soundtrack of 2014.
2 Iron Man 3 -- $409 million
With the culmination of the Avengers film in 2012, the first group of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (collectively known as “Phase One”) was completed. As the characters from the Avengers parted ways, "Phase Two" began. What better way to start Phase Two than to dig back into the roots of the Universe and follow the antics of the eccentric Tony Stark? The third act in Tony Stark's drama was also the most controversial of the Iron Man entries (no spoilers). The film also features Iron Man's arch nemesis, Mandarin. Iron Man 3 is thought to be the last of the Iron Man films, making its impact on the Cinematic Universe a big one. Following up on The Avengers proved to be a massive success for the legend of Stark Industries, as the film amassed a whopping $409 million at the domestic box office.
1 The Avengers -- $623.3 million
When the concept for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was first conceived, it was built around one idea: assembling the Avengers. Since the Avengers had never been seen in a real-life adaption, the studio thought the films would either tank hard and kill off the superhero movie or become a massive success. Luckily for Marvel Studios, they nailed it. With all of the films in Phase One introducing and fleshing out the characters that would make up the Avengers, audiences were given a treat for the ages as all of the characters' stories crossed paths. It almost feels like a grand finale when you finally get to see all of the individual pieces fit together in the film. The math worked out well for Marvel, as The Avengers brought in a ridiculous $623.3 million in the U.S. alone. Concluding Phase One, the film cemented itself in both cinematic history and the lore of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.