Once upon a time, dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a film was a huge gamble. You never knew when you might end up with another Cutthroat Island or Waterworld on your hands. A lot of that changed when special effects made super-hero films possible. Making a film based on an existing comic book property is almost guaranteed to yield a massive pay day, with only few exceptions. Even the super-hero films that get panned by critics and fans tend to do extremely well. Studios put so much money into these almost guaranteed paydays that every single one of them falls within the top 50 highest grossing movies of all time.
Let's take a look at the money put into these films, how they performed, and what the future may hold for some of these franchises.
10 X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - $200 Million
After a number of misfires in the X-Men franchise that included a third installment titled X-Men: The Last Stand and a standalone Wolverine: Origins film, things weren't looking too well for the longevity of FOX's X-Men series. Luckily, FOX didn't give up on the mutants too soon. FOX took a small break and came back with a sort of reboot/prequel (requel?) called X-Men: First Class that took a lot of characters back to their roots in the 1970's while simultaneously breathing new blood into the franchise with an all new cast. After this, they made the Wolverine movie that everyone wanted with The Wolverine. All of this culminated in FOX's most expensive X-Men venture yet: a time traveling tale that would link the old films with the new films. FOX would also bring back director Bryan Singer, the man that struck gold with the first two X-Men films. Furthermore, the time traveling element would be used to effectively eliminate films that nearly killed the franchise.
Considering this film helped save an entire dying franchise, we'd say this is money well spent.
9 Iron Man 3 (2013) - $200 Million
Any investment of $200 million that yields over $1 billion at the box office can only be considered money well spent. Not to mention the fact that these super-hero films essentially double as toy commercials. Who knows what kind of money these movies bring in across the board?
Iron Man 3 is said to be the last in the franchise. Rumors circulated that Robert Downey Jr. would be back as Tony Stark in a fourth film but it seems those negotiations were for an appearance in a third Captain America film that would kick-off a cinematic version of Marvel's Civil War story-line, an event that pit Iron Man and Captain America against each other.
8 Green Lantern (2011) - $200 Million
What can be said about the Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern film that hasn't been said a million times? After a $200 million investment and a very active advertisement campaign, Green Lantern ended up being the 13th biggest box office bomb of all time, losing an estimated $90 million when all was said and done.
DC Comics has recently announced release dates for a round of ten films that would launch their own cinematic universe that will tie into their Man of Steel film. A new Green Lantern film is on the board, but there is no confirmation yet if this will be a new film or if it will start from scratch. Rumors and common sense all suggest the latter. Let's hope the rumors are right.
7 Spider-Man 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 (2004, 2012 & 2014) - $200 million
When it comes to the Spider-Man films, it would appear Sony has a formula that they're sticking to. 3 of the 5 Spider-Man movies have all been made on a $200 million investment and not one of them has performed poorly. That being said, the Amazing Spider-Man reboots are performing under expectations. Sony thought they would be bigger and better than the original three, when in reality, they've yet to rank against the original Sam Raimi trilogy. The Amazing Spider-Man films have all been highly profitable, but every installment in the original three films rank within the 50 highest grossing films of all time - an achievement the new films have yet to accomplish.
6 Superman Returns (2006) - $204 Million
Believe it or not, this Bryan Singer directed Superman film has a higher Rotten Tomatoes aggregate rating than the latest Man of Steel film that DC is currently placing all their cards on to kick-off their own cinematic universe.
Singer made an interesting move here. Instead of going with an updated reboot, he fit the movie into the original Christopher Reeves films, with the circumstance that Superman III and Superman IV never happened. What we ended up with was essentially a reboot of a sequel. Fortunately, Superman is such a well known character that nobody really needed an origin story of Superman and very few noticed exactly where the film was supposed to fit in.
5 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) - $210 Million
Out of all the X-Men films made, this was the most expensive in the franchise and is highly regarded as the film that nearly killed said franchise. The big issue many had with the film was the fact that a "cure" for mutant powers was introduced, removing the powers from iconic characters such as Rogue. Many also felt the film crossed the line into "silly" territory, which is very easy to do in a comic book film if a director isn't careful. The Last Stand also lost the director that made the franchise so popular (and helped show that comic book movie were possible) when Bryan Singer left the series to do Superman Returns.
The film still made a lot of money, but it left a bad taste in the mouths of movie goers.
4 The Avengers (2012) - $220 Million
It's no surprise that The Avengers cost Marvel and Disney quite a bit of cash. Keeping all these contracts together must have cost a fortune itself, especially since the films leading up to it turned all the actors into house hold names if they weren't already.
The Avengers obviously paid off as it ranks as the third highest grossing movie of all time. The hype surrounding the second installment seems to suggest a chance for Marvel to break their own record and possibly dethrone Avatar or Titanic. Either way, Marvel's estimated $250 million investment into the second film should most definitely be worth it.
3 Man of Steel (2013) - $225 million
Man of Steel may not have performed nearly as well as films in the Marvel cinematic universe, nor did it perform as well as the Christopher Nolan Batman films, but it performed well enough that DC decided to move forward with their own cinematic universe that branches out of Man of Steel.
The Man of Steel sequel should perform even better than its predecessor as hype surrounding the film increased exponentially when it was announced that the new film would include Batman in a big role, and cameos from Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The film will be laying down the groundwork for Justice League films to compete with Marvel's popular Avengers franchise.
2 The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - $230 Million
A lot of fanboys like to nit-pick and talk badly about Christopher Nolan's final installment in his Batman trilogy, but that doesn't change the fact that it's one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time, as well as the top earner out of all ten of the Batman films DC and Warner Bros. have put out over the years. It accounts for a little under a third of the money made across all ten Batman films.
Despite doing so well, Nolan only intended for the films to be a trilogy, and he didn't want to include super-powered individuals in his version of Batman. With DC wanting so badly to move forward with their own cinematic universe, a fourth Nolan Batman film just wasn't in the cards.
1 Spider-Man 3 (2007) - $258 Million
Despite the fact that many fans felt this film was so bad it killed the Raimi franchise, it was the highest grossing Sony Spider-Man film and in the top 35 highest grossing films of all time. Fan reaction to the film was so negative that Sony didn't want to gamble that a fourth film would do so well, not to mention the fact that there were issues keeping director Sam Raimi and their original cast on board. In a bold movie, Sony rebooted the entire franchise just a few years after the release of Spider-Man 3, and released The Amazing Spider-Man to theaters only five years after the release of Spider-Man 3.
While the new films do seem to be well revered, neither of the two have bottled the same success as Raimi's trilogy.