Movies can be very expensive to make, especially if they feature an ensemble cast and a lot of fancy visual effects. When those large investments turn large enough profits, movie studios, production companies and distributors are more than reimbursed. High-budget movies are always a gamble, as one can never be absolutely certain that the movie will make enough money to be considered profitable, let alone a box office success. Some of the biggest money losers based on worldwide gross include very expensive movies such as John Carter, The Lone Ranger and Green Lantern.
However, surprisingly enough, not all superhero movies had enormous budgets. In fact, the number one most expensive movie ever made is the 2011 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, while the most expensive superhero movie is the 2007 Spider-Man 3. Interestingly, movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t make it on the list of the 15 most expensive superhero movies. It was equally surprising discovering that several less successful and not so highly regarded movies somehow found their way into the top 15. Taking into account box office numbers as well as critical reception, we have ranked the 15 most expensive superhero movies, from worst to best.
15 GREEN LANTERN
Before Ryan Reynolds ruled the box office with Deadpool, he starred in a significantly less successful superhero movie. Green Lantern, starring Reynolds as the titular hero and Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, is easily among the worst superhero movies of all time. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive.
Green Lantern’s budget was estimated at around $200 million back in 2011, which is now around $220 million. Given the horrible reviews the movie has gotten from both the critics and the audience, not to mention the $219 million worldwide gross, Green Lantern hardly seems like a smart investment. Ranking among the top 15 most expensive superhero movies, Green Lantern is by far the worst in the bunch. Evidenced by the fact, that it’s poor performance and reception led Warner Bros. to abandon their plans for sequels.
14 SPIDER-MAN 3
Generally speaking, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy was a successful franchise. Both the first and the second movie received excellent reviews and performed rather well at the box office. However, Raimi’s third movie did not quite follow suit. While, Spider-Man 3 outperformed both of its predecessors at the box office, grossing a whopping $890.9 million worldwide, it was met with mixed reviews.
Spider-Man 3 went above and beyond with its $258 million budget, which today comes around at about $308 million. But, even though the movie was released in IMAX with award-winning visual effects, it still didn’t manage to sway its audience. While the action sequences and the visual effects received high praise; the convoluted story and the utter misuse of rogues, especially the treatment of Venom, were highly criticized. As a result, plans for Spider-Man 4 were canceled in favor of a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.
13 X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
The X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs, X-Men: The Last Stand falling within the latter category. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, one of the least successful movies in the franchise was also the most expensive. The budget for the third X-Men movie was estimated at around $210 million back in 2006, which today comes up to $257 million.
And while the movie’s worldwide gross wasn’t a complete disaster, the reviews it received were less than stellar. X-Men: The Last Stand failed miserably at adapting the well-known comic book storyline "The Dark Phoenix Saga." Luckily, the events of Last Stand were undone by the much superior 2014 sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past, which did succeed at adapting a different comic book storyline with a $50 million shorter budget.
12 SUPERMAN RETURNS
In 2006, Warner Bros. attempted to reboot Superman, which obviously didn’t work out as planned. The Bryan Singer movie, Superman Returns, starred Legends of Tomorrow’s Brandon Routh, aka Ray Palmer. With a $270 million budget (adjusted for inflation: $331 million), Superman Returns is one of the most expensive superhero movies of all time. But was it worth it?
Well, after its release, Superman Returns received mostly positive reviews from the critics. The movie was highly praised for its visual effects, story, musical score and style. However, the reviews that came in following years weren’t as approving, criticizing the movie’s length, the lack of action scenes, as well as story structure. While Superman Returns was officially a box office success, Warner Bros. wasn’t satisfied with the worldwide gross and canceled the planned sequel.
11 BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Batman v. Superman’s $255 million budget lands the movie among the most expensive superhero movies ever made. But, the DCEU’s most expensive movie thus far is also their highest grossing movie with worldwide returns of $873 million. Still, the movie received bad reviews from the critics and mixed reviews from the audience.
The movie was harshly criticized for being messy and clustered with characters and plotlines that didn’t really amount to anything. Those who did like the movie, praised it for excellent cinematography, acting, direction and costumes. While certainly not the worst entry on the list, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t exactly stand out with the best of the best when it comes to the superhero genre. Despite the solid worldwide gross, the movie was still considered a box office disappointment.
10 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
History teaches us nothing. Despite the poor reviews Spider-Man 3 got back in 2006, Sony made the same mistake in the reboot franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.While the movie’s $207 million budget paid off as the worldwide gross went over $700 million, the reviews for Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man sequel weren’t so hot.
Compared to its rather successful predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 falls flat. The movie was criticized for being over-stuffed with plot that tried too hard to set up sequels and spin-offs, without ever really engaging its audience into the story. Crammed with unfinished plotlines and underdeveloped villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 essentially killed Sony’s Spider-Man reboot and any future plans for the franchise. But it could have gone a lot worse had the movie also introduced Mary Jane Watson, as was originally planned.
9 MAN OF STEEL
Five years late to the party, Warner Bros. finally got DCEU off the ground with a Superman reboot titled Man of Steel. The Zack Snyder movie, starring Henry Cavill as the titular hero, was released to mix reviews from both the critics and the audience. Many were hoping that Man of Steel would do for the DC Cinematic Universe, what Iron Man did for the MCU.
Despite the reviews, Man of Steel’s worldwide gross of over $660 million more than made up for the whopping $225 million budget, which today amounts to $236 million. Most of the criticism was pointed towards the movie’s extremely dark tone and hectic yet uneventful plot. Still, the movie did manage to kick off the DCEU making it a relative success, despite its shortcomings.
8 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
In 2012, Sony rebooted Spider-Man with director Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. The Amazing Spider-Man was released to predominantly positive reviews, praising the movie’s fresh take on the web-crawler and Andrew Garfield’s performance. Others were of the opinion that the reboot was too close to the end of Raimi’s trilogy and brought nothing new to the table.
Nevertheless, the movie was a box office success with a worldwide gross of over $757 million, making up for its $230 million budget, which when adjusted for inflation comes up to $246 million. Apart from being one of the most expensive superhero movies ever, The Amazing Spider-Man was also the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 2012 and the highest-grossing reboot of all time. All things considered, money well spent.
7 IRON MAN 3
The third Iron Man movie was one of MCU’s most expensive installments. The budget costs for Robert Downey Jr.’s third escapade were estimated at $200 million back in 2013, which is $210 million today; making Iron Man 3 one of the most expensive superhero movies to date. The movie was released to slightly more positive reviews than its predecessor, but not nearly as positive as the first Iron Man movie.
Still, the movie’s budget more than paid off, because Iron Man 3 grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of 2013, behind Disney’s Frozen, and the current twelfth-highest-grossing movie of all time. Iron Man 3 even earned an Academy Award nomination for its superb visual effects. So, perhaps there’s still hope for Tony Stark’s return in Iron Man 4.
6 AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
In 2015, Marvel’s Avengers assembled for the second time in Avengers: Age of Ultron to prevent Ultron from causing human extinction. The eleventh film in the MCU was written and directed by Joss Whedon and starred an ensemble cast. Upon its release, the movie received widely positive reviews from the critics, as well as the audience.
With worldwide box office returns of over $1.4 billion, Avengers: Age of Ultron became the seventh-highest-grossing movie in history. At the time the movie was made its budget was estimated at $250 million, which has since increased another $7 million. Although the second Avengers movie wasn’t praised as highly as the first one, it was still a successful sequel. Joss Whedon’s script and direction received both praise and criticism, but the reviews were generally favorable.
5 SPIDER-MAN 2
In 2004, Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie became a smashing box office success and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, praising the movie’s deeper emotional focus and compelling villain. The movie’s budget was estimated at $200 million, which is equivalent to $261 million today. Fortunately for Sony, Spider-Man 2 grossed over $783 million worldwide and became the third highest-grossing movie of 2004.
Spider-Man 2 received three Academy Award nominations, including best sound mixing, best sound editing and best visual effects, taking home the Oscar for best visual effects. The movie’s tremendous success prompted Sony to immediately announce and start developing the sequel, which as we all know did not reprise its predecessor’s success. Nonetheless, Spider-Man 2 is often listed as one of the best superhero movies of all times.
4 CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
One of Marvel’s best pictures, Captain America: Civil War felt more like an ensemble movie than a Captain America movie. Despite of that, the movie received generally favorable reviews and grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the forth-highest-grossing MCU movie thus far.
Captain America: Civil War was also one of Marvel’s most expensive movies with a production budget of $250 million, which now comes up to $255 million. However, considering its worldwide returns and the largely positive reception, we’d say the investment more than paid off. Captain America: Civil War was highly praised for its action scenes, witty dialogue, character development and intelligent ethical debates. Besides, considering the fact that it was the number one highest-grossing movie of 2016, Captain America: Civil War was definitely money well spent.
3 THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy spanned over a period of eight years and grossed over $2.4 billion in total. The Dark Knight Rises was the trilogy’s third installment and earned generally positive critical response, as well as the trilogy’s biggest box office return. The movie’s $250 million budget (today: $267 million) is also the highest of all three movies. Fortunately, The Dark Knight Rises’ worldwide returns topped both of its predecessors’, with a whopping $1.08 billion gross.
However, unlike its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises did not receive any Academy Award nominations. While many were of the opinion that the movie didn’t quite live up to the previous two installments, almost everyone agreed that it was a worthy conclusion to a trilogy that has set new standards for the superhero genre.
2 THE AVENGERS
Marvel’s hotly anticipated superhero team-up, The Avengers, still remains MCU’s highest grossing movie five years after its release. The movie opened in 2012 and received positive reviews from critics, as well as various award nominations. Grossing over $1.5 billion worldwide, the movie set and tied box office records.
The budget for Marvel’s The Avengers is estimated at around $220 million, today: $235 million, which makes The Avengers MCU’s third most expensive movie thus far. Critically acclaimed, The Avengers movie was lauded for its fast-pace, a decent amount of comedy and thrilling well-structured story. Joss Whedon in particular was praised for his ability to maintain the authenticity of the characters. The less positive reviews mostly criticized the movie and the superhero genre in general for being cynical and lacking a meaningful story.
1 THE DARK KNIGHT
All three movies from Nolan’s Batman Trilogy were generally well received and earned a collective of nine Academy Award nominations. The Dark Knight alone earned eight Oscar nominations, winning for Best Sound Editing. Plus, Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor for his outstanding portrayal of The Joker. And while Christian Bale’s Batman will always be fondly remembered, Ledger’s Joker will undoubtedly remain the most memorable character of the entire trilogy.
Often referred to as one of the best superhero movies, if not the best superhero movie, The Dark Knight was released to extremely positive reviews. The movie received critical acclaim for its fantastic action scenes, stylish look as well as smart writing. The Dark Knight’s $185 million budget, which after adjustment for inflation increases to $212 million, was more than justified by its worldwide gross of over $1 billion.
Which of these expensive superhero movies did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments!