We all love a hero and, whether you're a fanboy or fangirl who's read the comics and knows the backstory or you just enjoy a good blockbuster, few of us can resist the draw of a good superhero movie. With the promise of quotable one-liners and incredible fight sequences our expectations are sky-high when it comes to the superhero franchise.
Because we're already invested in the characters of our childhood, a bad movie does not mean the end of a hero. Classic crime fighters such as Batman, Spiderman and Superman have been recast and rebooted countless times both in film and on TV. Because classic heroes have been re-drawn by a number of comic book artists, film makers spearheading a superhero movie can choose among a wide range of source materials depending upon the angle they prefer and the most movie-friendly villains or love interests.
Being a geek these days is no longer something to be ashamed of, so those who may have hidden their in-depth knowledge of wolverine’s back-story can now proudly share their interest with others and obsess over the specific details of each cinematic retelling. Perhaps because of their committed fan-bases, built upon comic books and comic-con conventions, when superhero films get it right they're set to make huge money. The Marvel universe is now one of the most lucrative fictional realms and films written within the Marvel framework have been planned years in advance in order to maintain cohesion. The DC universe, Marvel's comic book sparring partner, has had several successful movie incarnations too, but Marvel has significantly surpassed DC's success on-screen in recent years.
The relative merits of various comic book heroes can cause debate, dispute and serious rivalry, but when it comes to the superhero movies on screen, it's clear which superheroes won the box office battle. The following are the 10 highest grossing superhero movie franchises based upon their global box-office takings. However just as in comic book land, the battle is never really over; with a plethora of new superhero movies set for release in the next few months (a sequel to the Amazing Spider Man is about to be released) there's always the possibility that the winner might be dethroned.
10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, $419 million
Not your traditional heroes in flowing capes, this group of crime fighters emerge from the sewers of New York supported by Splinter (a talking rat). Although on paper the franchises’ premise would seem to stretch the audience’s imagination one stage too far, on screen they have been a massive hit. This year the franchise will reboot the turtles using CGI and the help of Megan Fox, however there has been controversy in the run-up to release as inside sources reveal that the director (Michael Bay) has transformed the heroes from mutants to aliens.
9 Hulk, $509 million
The figure of the Hulk combines both hero and villain into one character, revealing the intrinsic weakness of a great superhero. The franchise was brought to our screens by Ang Lee back in 2003, only to be remade into ‘The Incredible Hulk’ a mere five years later by Louis Leterrier. This meant a change in the lead role from Eric Bana to Edward Norton, and the green monster is now played by Mark Ruffalo in the Avengers franchise. These repeated changes suggest that Hollywood has yet to perfect a representation of the Hulk on the big-screen, however there is clearly a demand for them to keep trying so we can probably expect to see Ruffalo (or perhaps yet another actor) reboot the hero yet again in future.
8 Fantastic Four, $619 million
Marvel’s ‘Fantastic Four’ contains an eclectic mix of heroes with a variety of superhuman traits (including Jessica Alba’s invisibility as Sue Storm and Chris Evans’ fire as the Human Torch). Although the last film was released back in 2007, there has been a reboot in development since 2009 (led by Chronicle director Josh Trank). We may have to wait until next year to see this reimagining, but it has already been confirmed that Michael Jordan will star in the film as the Human Torch (a controversial decision as this character is traditionally depicted as white in the comic books). Following Trank’s gritty flick ‘Chronicle’, fans of the franchise should expect a less glamorized refiguring of the superheroes.
7 Thor, $1.06 billion
This Avenger is more than just a superhero; Thor is a Norse god and the exiled crown prince of Asgard. Although Chris Hemsworth is arguably overshadowed by the villain of the franchise (played by Tom Hiddleston) he shouldn't feel too downtrodden given the runaway success of the films, and of course the fact that he gets to kiss Natalie Portman. This franchise was a long time in the making, Sam Raimi developed the concept way back in 1991 and it was not until Kenneth Branagh was secured as director in 2008 that production truly began. The first film received nominations for a variety of accolades, and won Tom Hiddleston best male newcomer at the Empire Awards.
6 Superman, $1.528 billion
Voted the #1 most legendary superhero in a number of polls, including AskMen, this ‘man of steel’ may be disappointed to discover himself only at number 6 on this list. The character has headed eight movies to date and, after the success of the man of steel reboot (starring high profile names such as Amy Adams and Russell Crowe), there are plans underway for their cast to reprise their roles in a movie where DC favourites Superman and Batman meet for the first time on the big screen - controversial, as DC superheroes' worlds rarely crossover. Henry Cavill (the current superman) was a relative unknown in Hollywood, having previously starred on the small screen as Charles Brandon in the Tudors. Cavil may be ‘flying high’ after his newfound fame and fortune but he should watch his step to avoid falling victim to ‘The Superman Curse’ (a superstition of bad fortune surrounding superman actors, following the death of George Reeves and the paralysis of Christopher Reeve).
5 5. X-men, $2.31 billion
This franchise incorporates an almost unending supply of superheroes, in the form of ‘mutants’, with a variety of powers (some amazing, some comical). This year sees the reconciliation of the original X-men film series and the 2011 reboot (using actors from both casts via the conceit of time-travel). Over the years X-men has starred a myriad of famous and respected actors, including best friends and veteran thespians Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan. One of the central strengths of the franchise lies in its message against the alienation of minority groups (some have even claimed that the series serves to metaphorically represent the treatment of homosexuals within an intolerant society, as there are repeated attempts to ‘cure’ mutants of their true nature).
4 Iron Man, $2.418 billion
Many have claimed that the runaway success of this franchise rests solely on the charisma of its leading man (Robert Downey Jr.). However there are many other elements which place the movies firmly on ‘must see’ lists for any superhero fan. The original Iron Man film was the first instalment in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (followed by others on this list including The Incredible Hulk and Thor). Unlike many superheroes, Iron Man's alter-ego (Tony Stark) lives a life in the spotlight, even publically announcing that he is Iron Man at the close of the first film. Although Iron Man is undoubtedly a hero, his egotistical nature and narcissistic tendencies make him a complex and hugely entertaining figure.
3 Spider Man, $3.254 billion
Whether you prefer Tobey Maguire’s original interpretation with Kirsten Dunst, or Andrew Garfield’s youthful skateboard-riding recent interpretation with his girlfriend Emma Stone, it's hard not to love following the adventures of Peter Parker. Using a range of scientific accidents, the franchise creates both its hero and the villains he fights; from Spidey himself, who is bitten by a radioactive spider, to giant lizards (and more recently a high-voltage-villain in the figure of Electro). Over fifty years since Spider Man was first created by Stan Lee (the father of almost every superhero on this list) he remains one of the world’s best-loved heroes, consistently conflicted over his place as defender of New York City as he fears putting those he loves in danger (but after all ‘with great power comes great responsibility’).
2 Batman, $3.715 billion
With eleven films, the Batman franchise is one of the longest-running on this list, continuously rebooted and reimagined. With many successes and a few glaring failures (Batman & Robin put the franchise to sleep for quite a while), Christopher Nolan’s interpretation is one of the darkest and grittiest, but there have been others which are equally psychologically charged. Specifically, actors’ interpretations of Batman’s eponymous adversary the Joker have famously led to mental deterioration (Jack Nicholson notoriously warned Heath Ledger of the dangers when he accepted the role). Controversially, Ben Affleck has been named as the successor to Christian Bale’s successful Batman, a casting decision fans have been wary of after Affleck’s disappointing portrayal of Daredevil.
1 The Avengers, $5.626 billion
Taking the number 1 spot, The Avengers combines many of our favourite Marvel superheroes and supporting characters with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury keeping everyone in check. So far the franchise has combined everything we love about superheroes into one movie: Tony Stark and Bruce Banner make the science cool, Scarlett Johansson is in a tight black cat suit and Captain America’s confused one-liners as he attempts to understand modern technology give the flick a light hearted edge. Sure, the concept and the alien monsters are a rip-off of Transformers, but they use them in a far more entertaining way and the graphics are vastly superior.