UPDATE: As of May 14,” “The Avengers” has leapfrogged up to #3 on the all-time US comic book-based blockbusters list, a mere 11 days after its initial domestic release.
It’s nearly impossible to overstate the meteoric success of Marvel Studios’ latest film — as we were researching this piece, “The Avengers” was literally moving up the list — but what about the other incredible comic book film adaptations that have taken the box office by storm? While “The Avengers” is currently ranked at #10 as we write this, there is no doubt that it has some stiff competition as it continues to climb the ladder in an attempt to become the #1 comic book film with the largest total domestic gross, based on numbers compiled by Box Office Mojo.
In order to get a better idea of the historic and monetary significance of comic book films, CBR has compiled a list of the top ten grossing comic book film adaptations of all time.
10) “X-Men: The Last Stand”
20th Century Fox
Open Date: May 26, 2006
Close Date: September 28, 2006
Domestic Total Gross: $234,362,462
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $283,381,800
Opening Weekend: $102,750,665
“X-Men: The Last Stand” was the final installment in Fox’s “X-Men” trilogy starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Although the film garnered negative reaction from critics, it still went on to do very well at the box office and it is the sole “X-Men” film to make the top ten.
9) “Men in Black”
Open Date: July 2, 1997
Close Date: Unavailable
Domestic Total Gross: $250,690,539
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $432,564,100
Opening Weekend: $51,068,455
“Men in Black” is the second oldest film to chart, hitting theaters 8 years after “Batman,” and it’s also the only movie on the list based on a comic published by an independent publisher. Created by Lowell Cunningham and illustrated by Sandy Carruthers, “Men In Black” is based on a little series originally published by Aircel Comics, which was bought by Malibu. Oddly enough, Malibu was later bought out by Marvel Comics.
Open Date: June 23, 1989
Close Date: December 14, 1989
Domestic Total Gross: $251,188,924
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $498,600,600
Opening Weekend: $40,489,746
“Batman” starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as the Joker wasn’t the first on-screen depiction of the Dark Knight, but it was certainly the most “grown-up” when it debuted. “Batman” is also the oldest film on the top ten list and is the only film outside of “The Dark Knight” to feature Batman as its protagonist.
7) “Iron Man 2”
Open Date: May 7, 2010
Close Date: August 19, 2010
Domestic Total Gross: $312,433,331
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $311,254,300
Opening Weekend: $128,122,480
In addition to being a highly anticipated sequel to 2008’s “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2” paved the way for a number of other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with nods to “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor” and “Captain America” all sewn into the plot. Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow reprised their roles while Don Cheadle replaced Terrance Howard as James Rhodes. The film also introduced Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, who went on to feature heavily in “The Avengers.”
6) “Iron Man”
Open Date: May 2, 2008
Close Date: October 2, 2008
Domestic Total Gross: $318,412,101
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $351,218,400
Opening Weekend: $98,618,668
Currently the top film on the list from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Iron Man” premiered to critical acclaim for its portrayal of the Armored Avenger and was the first movie to tease the possibility of “The Avengers.” It also featured the pitch-perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.
5) “Spider-Man 3”
Open Date: May 4, 2007
Close Date: August 18, 2007
Domestic Total Gross: $336,530,303
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $387,401,200
Worldwide Gross: $890,871,626
Opening Weekend: $151,116,516
“Spider-Man 3” would be the final film to star Maguire as Spider-Man and Dunst as Mary Jane Watson even as the film introduced two new villains, Venom and Sandman, and cast Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy. “Spider-Man 3” effectively ended this “Spider-Man” movieverse and July 3 will see a reboot for the character in director Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” starring Andrew Garfield as Spidey and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.
4) “Spider-Man 2”
Open Date: June 30, 2004
Close Date: December 9, 2004
Domestic Total Gross: $373,585,825
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $476,457,300
Opening Weekend: $88,156,227
While “Spider-Man 2” may have topped the opening day record set by “Spider-Man” in 2002, it did not go on to break the opening weekend record nor surpass the total domestic gross. In addition to original cast members Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, “Spider-Man 2” introduced a new villain in Alfred Molina, who portrayed Doctor Otto Octavius — or Dr. Octopus.
3) “The Avengers”
Open Date: May 4, 2012
Domestic Total Gross (to date): $380,995,436
Opening Weekend: $207,438,708
“The Avengers” overtook “X2: X-Men United” while we were initially researching this article, opening in the #10 spot. One week later, the movie juggernaut has leaped up 7 spots to overtake all but “Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight,” both of which look poised to fall to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and friends. Earth’s Mightiest Movie is a first for the film industry, bringing together four different film franchises for one ambitious film. It’s also not done, yet — this ranking is based solely on its total gross to date which will likely dramatically increase as its time in theaters continues.
Open Date: May 3, 2002
Close Date: August 18, 2002
Domestic Total Gross: $403,706,375
Adjusted Domestic Gross: $550,319,200
Opening Weekend: $114,844,116
“Spider-Man” was the second major Marvel film to hit the big screen after “X-Men” and was the first movie to pass the $100 million mark in a single weekend. At the time, it also held the record for the highest opening day, a record eventually surpassed by “Spider-Man 2.”
1) “The Dark Knight”
Open Date: July 18, 2008
Close Date: March 5, 2009
Domestic Total Gross: $533,345,358
Adjusted Domestic Total Gross: $588,314,100
Opening Weekend: $158,411,483
It’s no surprise Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is first in box office take for comic book films. Although “Batman Begins” is nowhere to be found in the top ten, the sequel hit all the right notes with audiences, with Heath Ledger being awarded a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Joker.
The top ten comic book films have earned a total gross of $3,229,204,912 before inflation. However, if each Domestic Total Gross is divided by the average ticket price in the U.S. during the year it was released according to the National Association of Theater Owners, it gives you about 525,903,936 total tickets sold.
The adjusted domestic total gross takes into account the increase in ticket price over the years with the most recent estimate for 2011 by The New York Times placing the average ticket price at $7.93. If all the inflated totals of each film are combined, the total increases by about a billion dollars to $4,161,833,000.
Let’s put that into larger terms, because sometimes your brain will look at a figure this size and just think, “That’s a big number” — but just how big is it? If the Top Ten Comic Book Movies were a country and $4,161,833,000 was the country’s Gross Domestic Product, that country would rank 150th on the International Monetary Fund’s list of countries ranked by GDP, right between Mauritania and Swaziland. The top ten grossing comic book films of all time have collectively produced enough money to surpass the Gross Domestic Product of many small countries. In terms a bit closer to comic book fans’ hearts, $4,161,833,000 could buy Nicolas Cage’s 9.0 CGC graded copy of “Action Comics” #1, valued at $2.16 million, 1926 times.
The oldest film on this list is Tim Burton’s “Batman,” released in 1989. Other than “Batman” and “Men in Black,” all the films were produced in the last ten years and seven are based on Marvel Comics characters. Other than “The Avengers,” “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” are the only films to break the top ten that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while all three of Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man” films rank just below the incredible box office success of “The Dark Knight.”
While this list is certainly impressive, there is little doubt it may change in the coming months. In addition to “The Avengers” climbing the ranks faster than a Chitauri up a New York skyscraper, there are still two major comic book films to come this summer. If the past performances of “Spider-Man” films are any indication, Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” reboot may indeed make a bigger splash in the box office than expected when it drops on July 3. However, the biggest contender is Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” which, if the previous installment in Nolan’s trilogy is any indication, has the potential to break even “The Avengers'” opening weekend record when it hits on July 20.