Superhero films weren’t always taken seriously in the film industry, until the box office hit that was X-Men (2000). Since then, studios have taken a liking to adapting beloved comic book characters to film, which is a difficult thing for them to hate since these films tend to make a lot of money. A lot of money.
Since the late 2000’s, superhero films have come out yearly from both DC and Marvel properties, and both have been trying to build an entire universe from their rich literary sources. That enterprise has been largely successful, especially for Marvel, and you’re about to see why. Here are the 15 highest-grossing superhero films of all time, from lowest to highest. The list includes worldwide gross profit for the most successful comic book film adaptations.
15. Suicide Squad (2016)
The recent “Suicide Squad” film received a decent amount of hype preceding its release, thanks to a few colorful, exciting trailers flaunting the inclusion of two of DC’s most iconic villains, the coquettish Harley Quinn and the Joker. Both took on a more modern appearance, which drew the interest of millions of fans. Everyone was eager to see this lighthearted DC property on the big screen; with the disappointing performance of “Batman v Superman” a few months prior to its release, expectations were low and there were many who doubted its entertainment value. Thanks to a star studded cast featuring Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Jared Leto, the temptation to check this film out was still there. Unfortunately, after release, the film received a large number of negative reviews which hurt its box-office performance. It wasn’t wholly unsuccessful, however.
Despite an inability to release the film in China, the film grossed $744.2 million with a budget of $175 million.
14. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The sixth instalment in the “X-men” franchise saw the merging of two timelines, giving fans the opportunity to see their favorite X-men stars together in the same film. Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as Professor X, Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask, and of course, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. The studio (20th Century Fox) and the star studded cast of the film franchise offered long-time fans of the series a fitting and epic resolution to a storyline spanning 14 years (or 70 film years), as well as an after-credits cameo of fans have been dying to see in a live-action film. Not only that, but it fairly handily rebooted the universe, relegating some of the logical inaccuracies of the films and streamlining the franchise going forward. In that and in many other ways, it was perhaps the most comic book of comic book movies.
With a budget of $200 million, the critically-acclaimed “X-Men: Days of Future Past” grossed $749.9 million worldwide.
13. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Starring Andrew Garfield as the titular Spider-man, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as the Lizard, 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” set out to reboot the character’s film franchise with a new, youthful energy. That was made abundantly clear from the showing of the film’s first teaser trailer shown at San-Diego Comic-Con back in 2011. The film brought a new suit along with its new faces and characters. Despite some fans questioning why a reboot was necessary so soon after Sam Raimi’s trilogy had ended, as more information about it was released, Spidey fans grew ever more eager to see how this film would fare. This was especially true since it seemed to be staying faithful to the comics, which is always a great way to please audiences when it comes to comic book film adaptations. The moment of truth arrived on its theatrical release in 2012; the general consensus being that it was a worthwhile film, though one that was not particularly well-followed by its more maligned sequel.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Prior to this film’s release, only comic book readers had really heard of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its collection of colorful and unique galactic warriors. Arguably, if it weren’t for Marvel Studios and its consistent success, it’s doubtful the film would have ever seen the light of day. Luckily, we live in an era where anything is possible, especially when it comes to Marvel’s highly profitable properties. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper and Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy” brought even more lighthearted thrills for the whole family. Pulled directly from the pages of comic books and transplanted on the big screen, “GotG” successfully shifted focus to a different area of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also gave us Groot, who is much friendlier looking in the film than his comic book counterpart. That alone is a gift in itself, really.
The film was critically praised and grossed $773.3 million worldwide.
11. Deadpool (2016)
Discussion regarding everyone’s favorite super-powered Merc-with-the-mouth began as early as March 2000, and yet it took a while to get to theaters (properly, anyway — we’re not counting that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” nonsense), mostly because studios weren’t sure if there was a real audience for the foul-mouthed antihero. Those doubts were finally put to rest when leaked test footage fell into the internet, which was then flooded execs and decision makers with a great outcry for a “Deadpool” film. In 2016, audiences got what they wanted… nay, demanded. Produced by and starring Ryan Reynolds as the titular character, the film is already iconic for its viral marketing campaign and the near complete creative freedom given to Reynolds, director Tim Miller and TJ Miller, who at this point, had proven that they knew what audiences wanted. Ultimately, it seemed as though everyone had fun in making the film, which surely aided in its success after release.
“Deadpool” broke a ton of records, including the highest grossing R-rated film (unadjusted for inflation), and grossed a cool $782.6 million worldwide.
10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Still regarded as one of the best superhero films of all time, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” has won numerous awards for visual effects, and has been given high accolades for its treatment as a film. It’s got action, romance, humor and all the tragic, strange, wonderful characters we all love from the “Spider-Man” comics. Starring Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane Watson, James Franco as Harry Osborn and Alfred Molina as the villainous Doctor Octopus, “Spider-Man 2” faced numerous issues during development, including rewrites, as well as an injury sustained by Tobey Maguire. Because of that, discussions began about replacing him with Jake Gyllenhaal. Thankfully, none of those hindered production for very long and we ended up with one fantastic superhero film. Based on “The Amazing Spider-Man” #50, the film explores the human motivations behind what looks like a monster, and the seemingly impossible hardships that afflict even the superhuman.
9. Spider-Man (2002)
As with its sequel, “Spider-Man” faced a lot of hardships during production and development, mostly owing to the fact that the industry hadn’t yet perfected the process of making a serious superhero film. That was one of the reasons why director Sam Raimi decided to give Spider-Man organic webbing, as opposed to his comic book counterpart’s famed mechanical web-shooters. Of course, many of the ideas that were in the final product failed to amaze. Green Goblin’s armor, for example, was described as “goofy,” but those small issues didn’t stop the film itself from generating huge profit. “Spider-Man” wasn’t without its memorable moments, like the upside-down kiss we all remember, not to mention the wall-to-wall action with then groundbreaking special effects. It was the dawn of a new age and the industry had just discovered that the drama, action and depth of superheroes shouldn’t necessarily be confined to the pages of a comic book; that, and there’s a lot of money to be made in spandex and capes on-screen.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
There was quite a lot of hype surrounding the release of the kind-of-not-really sequel to “Man of Steel.” After all, fans had been asking to see something like this for a long, long time. With Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy and Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” the two title characters were ready to face each other without the need for another long and drawn out origin story (not for a lack of trying). Then trailers hit screens everywhere and people got even more excited with the addition of Wonder Woman in an updated look and played by Gal Gadot. “Dawn of Justice” seemed to finally be introducing the “Justice League” to the DC Cinematic Universe. With a spectacular cast, the promise of an epic battle and the introduction of Doomsday to live-action film, expectations were high. Unfortunately, upon release, critics gave the film scathing reviews, citing its clumsily written plot and thin characters on top of a gloomy atmosphere.
Still, the film managed to gross a decent $873.3 million, regardless of its chilly reception.
7. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
With the critical praise received by its predecessor, “Spider-Man 3” was bound to happen. As it happens, however, it would be the last Spider-Man film Sam Raimi would direct. The film introduced the characters of Venom, played by Topher Grace, and Sandman, played by Thomas Hayden-Chuch, to live-action cinema. That was particularly exciting because it was clearly being built on the dramatic cliffhanger at the end of “Spider-Man 2,” in which audiences saw the birth of yet another villain in the Spider-Man films’ rogues gallery. Though fans were excited to see their favorite Spidey villains on the big screen, critics would eventually see them as being unnecessary in a film overstuffed with undeveloped characters, subplots, and shoddy dialogue.
Despite the abundance of numerous great action sequences, it seemed “Spider-Man 3” wasn’t on par with its predecessors. Then again, upon release, it managed to gross $890.9 million at the box office, from a budget of roughly $258 million.
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
Arguably the most memorable comic book film adaptation of Batman comes from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. In it, we see the Dark Knight, as played by Christian Bale, struggle through fear, chaos and war, brought on by Scarecrow, the Joker, Two-Face and Bane, throughout the series. It’s known for its darker tone and for its more sombre comic book character adaptations, which are also depicted more realistically than was typical in the superhero films of the 2000’s. While the trilogy as a whole has been highly successful, the most noteworthy to date in terms of critical reception was 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” which saw the late Heath Ledger’s captivating performance as the Joker, as he wreaked havoc in the streets of Gotham in the name of chaos and conflict.
“The Dark Knight” was critically acclaimed for its tone, thrill and complexity, and went on to gross $1.004 billion at the box office, following an IMAX re-release a few months after its initial showing.
5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
With the success of the second instalment in the trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” was released less than four years later. Starring Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this time, we saw a weary Batman fight against Bane, whose film depiction was drastically different from what comic book fans were familiar with. Loosely adapting elements from the comic series “Knightfall,” “The Dark Knight Returns” and “No Man’s Land” storylines, the film saw our dark hero facing a brutal revolutionist, a mysterious manipulator and ghosts from his past, before he was given an epic farewell ending with a suspenseful and explosive twist.
Critics agreed that, as with Nolan’s other work, “The Dark Knight Rises” was just as rich in philosophy and just as suspenseful, despite the villain being far less memorable than the Joker. It grossed $1.084 billion worldwide, on a budget of roughly $250 million.
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
More recently, superhero films have become a common occurrence, and it’s clear that audiences love giant super-powered battles. Unsurprisingly that helped make Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War” that much more appealing. Adapted from the 2006-2007 “Civil War” comic book story arc, the film features a breathtakingly large, star-studded cast and introduces the characters of Black Panther, Baron Zemo and finally brings Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The plot centers on the Avengers (among others) being divided right down the middle, thanks to a government proposal demanding accountability for the Avengers. It’s a great premise, which, like the comic books, was full of dramatic potential, suspenseful action sequences and tons of wit. The hype was overwhelming and Marvel, despite having to work with more than a dozen characters, did not fail to deliver, with critics praising the action and thought-provoking writing.
3. Iron Man 3 (2013)
If there’s one thing audiences seem to love above all else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s the witty, wealthy, awesome character that ignited it all — Iron Man. Since 2008, the character has scarcely failed to charm people, and Robert Downey Jr.’s immersion into the role (or the role’s immersion into RDJ, it’s currently unclear) greatly added to that. It’s no wonder then that after the success of the Avengers film, audiences rushed to theatres when the third instalment in the Iron Man series was released. Directed by Shane Black and possessing a much darker tone, “Iron Man 3” follows Tony Stark as he struggles with the PTSD in the aftermath of the events that unfolded in “The Avengers,” all the while fighting a new super powered terror born from the sins of his past.
2. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Following Iron Man’s adventures with his army of suits, it makes sense that he would go on to create something bigger in an effort to protect the world. That’s exactly what he tries to do here, in the action-packed sequel to 2012’s “The Avengers.” “Age of Ultron” takes elements from the comic books and has Tony Stark create the sentient robot with the help of Bruce Banner (instead of Hank Pym, who was tied up in his own movie development) and what appears to be one of the Infinity Stones, which will feature large in the upcoming Infinity War film. For all of its failings, “Age of Ultron” showed a fantastic way of bringing more classic Avengers characters into the cinematic universe, though their backgrounds had been modified to suit the new cinematic tone. The film did mostly well critically, with many finding that, although it certainly wasn’t as good as the first, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was still a film worth seeing.
1. The Avengers (2012)
Everyone remembers 2008’s “Iron Man” for being the major reason why everyone tends to stay seated in theaters until after the credits of almost every superhero film. The excitement that washed over fans everywhere when they saw Samuel L. Jackson walk out of the shadows as Nick Fury was what ignited the hype for the Avengers film, four years before its release. It’s what kept people excited for every Marvel Studios release, from “The Incredible Hulk” to “Captain America: The First Avenger” to “Thor.” Fans was excited to see how it would all come together in the end, and when 2012 finally arrived, the hype was unimaginable.
“The Avengers” brought everyone’s favorite superheroes together for one epic battle, and paved the way for a fantastic story spanning multiple films; it was unlike anything cinema had seen before, and remains a unique (and successful) cinematic experiment. Of course, its success wasn’t all just the eagerness of fans. Thanks to a talented cast, and a director who understood his audience, critics praised for living up to the hype.
This summer blockbuster grossed a whopping $1.519 billion worldwide.
Which of these highest-grossing superhero movies is your favorite? Which ones did you hate? Let us know in the comments!
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