In the last decade, we've seen the resurgence of superheroes in popular culture - and they're not just for kids. Whether it is a Marvel hero or a DC Comics favourite, comic book heroes are some of our first role models and the first stories that many of us will dive into as kids. For a while, it seemed as though the only airtime that these superheroes got was from an animated series, a short-lived television series, or a single movie that would be released without much fanfare. Not to say that the comic book world was suffering in any way (because it wasn’t), but superheroes weren't always the hottest thing in the entertainment industry the way they are today. From the wildly successful The Avengers movies to an origin series for Batman called “Gotham”, it seems as though we can't get enough of the modern incarnations of our favourite superheroes. With the closing of another successful San Diego Comic-Con, we're left to wonder which superheroes have most successfully cashed in on the resurgence of the comic book world?
With the announcement that Thor is now going to be a strong female character, comic book fandom is exploding with new options and possibilities as these writers and artists are figuring out ways to make traditional characters fresh and new for the upcoming generation. However long these comebacks last, one thing of which we can be certain is that the immortality of these comic book heroes is going to continue to persevere thanks to the dedication of the writers, artists, and other industry professionals who want to bring them to life on screen.
Here, we've put together a list of the highest grossing superheroes that have made significant comebacks on the big screen - where 'significance' and of course, success, is based on their movies' worldwide box office gross. With numerous revamps and sequels being announced and filmed each day, these comebacks, revivals, reboots or modernisations (however you wish to class them) are almost guaranteed to endure.
10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - $135,265,915
Perhaps our beloved turtles won't be in the number ten spot for very long since Michael Bay’s revamp on the Mirage comic franchise is set to be released in August this year. If you were a child of the 80’s the TMNT theme song from the classic cartoon is probably playing in your head (if it wasn't, now it is!) as you reminisce about the non-CGI live action movies from 1991 and 1993. The TMNT franchise is certainly a huge success; fans love following their battles against the evil Shredder with their yellow jumpsuit wearing human friend, April O’Neill. The newest Michael Bay movie plus a computer-animated series is sure to introduce these superheroes to a new generation, but purists are likely to take issue with certain aspects of this controversial reboot.
9 Hulk - $266,984,147
Hulk is a part of the Marvel universe and first premiered in 1962. Since his introduction into mainstream media, Hulk has been on quite a roller coaster - from his appearance in an animated series in the sixties, to a live action show in the late seventies and early eighties. The 2003 Ang Lee film didn’t receive wonderful reviews, and Hulk experienced some downtime besides continuing in the comic book series until a new movie, released in 2008, found critical acclaim. With Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” becoming such a blockbuster success, Hulk is experiencing a serious popularity surge.
8 Fantastic Four - $286,617,818
Fantastic Four is a Marvel comic book series that hit widespread popularity in 2005 with a film adaptation which did so well in the box office that a sequel was released in 2007, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”. Interestingly enough, there will be a revamp of the Fantastic Four film with a completely new cast, which might be a good idea since Chris Evans went from playing the Human Torch to Captain America in the same comic book universe.
7 Thor - $387,392,764
Thor has been hitting the entertainment news headlines since Marvel recently announced that Thor will become a woman soon as the Hammer is going to be seeking a new owner. Thor’s popularity stretched from comic book to film in 2011 with an extremely successful movie, and he played a pivotal role in the 2012 film, “The Avengers”. A popular sequel to the Thor franchise was released in 2013.
6 Captain America - $435,502,892
Captain America is another one to have hit headlines recently with Marvel announcing a change to the character, as the hero Steve Rogers passes the shield onto Sam Wilson. Captain America became extremely popular in the 21st century with a movie in 2011, and he played an important role in “The Avengers” (2012) and starred in a wildly successful CA sequel in April of this year, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. With the recent changes to the character announced, there’s no doubt that comic book sales will soar, keeping Captain America relevant on both paper and screen.
5 Superman - $793,481,057
Superman is the All-American superhero in the DC Comics world. His story tells of Superman and Clark Kent, his human incarnation, following him on a journey that often entails heartbreak and sacrifice. In the seventies and eighties, Superman found widespread popularity with several films and sequels, and even a TV series. In the early 2000’s the WB (now CW) launched an origin series called, “Smallville”, which introduced Superman to a new generation. In 2013, “Man of Steel” resurrected Superman’s mainstream popularity, and with a new film set for release in 2016 called, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, it’s almost a guarantee that Superman will remain an iconic figure in pop culture.
4 Iron Man - $1,039,859,426
Iron Man is another Marvel superhero whose popularity has exploded since he was first introduced as a comic book character. Flash forward to 2008, and Robert Downey Jr. made his very own career comeback playing the billionaire playboy-turned-superhero Tony Stark in the film adaptation. Two years later, the sequel to Iron Man would be released, and then just two years after that in 2012, we would see him in “The Avengers”. Most recently in 2013, “Iron Man 3” was released to huge box office numbers that surpassed the previous two movies.
3 Batman - $1,234,186,467
Batman is one of the most iconic superheroes in American culture. From the DC Comics world, Batman, also known as Bruce Wayne, has been depicted in numerous variations. From a live action television show starring Adam West in the sixties, to a popular turn by Christian Bale in recent films, Batman certainly isn't going anywhere. There was some big screen down time for Batman, though, after the fated and universally panned 'Batman and Robin' of '97 which has been accused of 'killing the franchise' until it's reboot in 2005. A new Batman, Ben Affleck, is currently in production and the much anticipated series“Gotham” is to be released later this year.
2 Spider-Man - $1,375,853,166
Spider-Man is a hot topic at the moment. It wasn't all that long ago that Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco were portraying their iconic characters in three movies of the 2000s. Previously, Spider-Man was hugely successful as an animated cartoon character. Then, the musical version of Spider-Man opened on Broadway with amazing acrobatics and music composed by Bono. Now, in just the last two years, there has been a reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man” with two more sequels set for release in the next few years.
1 X-Men - $1,164,176,205
The X-Men have capitalised on the comic book craze like no other heroes. From origin films to “present day”, the Marvel franchise is certainly ingenious -there are so many characters that several could conceivably lead their own individual films, then come together for a massive Hollywood blockbuster. The box office figures show that the X-Men are the most popular superheroes of the 21st century.