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Top 15 Super-Hero Money Makers at the North American Box Office


Top 15 Super-Hero Money Makers at the North American Box Office

Going into 2008’s Iron Man, people had no idea what they were about to witness as they sat down with their popcorn and soda-pop. There was some inkling that opening weekend that you should stick around for the post credit scene, but that was about it. Those that did weren’t even sure what they had witnessed, but once they raced home and checked the internet they had a more general idea. That they had indeed heard things correctly, that the shared universe in comic book movies had been born and that movies had changed forever. While some movies on this list came out before then, it’s safe to say that the birth of the shared universe also ended up increasing the bottom lines for the film studios that own the rights to the largest comic book properties. Since the turn of the century, films that exist in that genre have taken over the world and while we’ve reached a point that these films are beginning to diversify and become less based on spectacle, that hasn’t reduced the amount of money that they’ve been bringing in. So, with that in mind, we here at are going to break down the Top 15 Largest Super-Hero Films at the North American Box Office…

15. Iron Man $318,412,101

Marvel Studios would not exist if they hadn’t knocked it out of the park with 2008’s Iron Man. There was a lot on the line and it really shouldn’t have worked, at all, as they essentially wrote the film as they filmed and it was a movie about a B-level (at best) character in Tony Stark’s Iron Man. Perhaps it’s because of that level that the people both in front of and behind of the camera were able to take such liberties with the story and the character. A larger known character would’ve had a studio behind it (at the time) and that means studio interference. The people behind this film really couldn’t have understood what it would turn into (including actor Robert Downey Jr.), but either way people for decades will look back at this film as one that perhaps changed the landscape of cinema forever and we have it’s surprisingly large domestic box office to thank for that.

14. Suicide Squad $325,100,054

There may be no larger divide between critical response and box office return than the one that exists for Suicide Squad. Suicide Squad, on paper, had everything going for it, with an A-list cast (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto) and one of the most popular young Directors in Hollywood, David Ayer, the film reeked of studio interference and perhaps made a mistake in highlighting Leto’s Joker too much in it’s marketing campaign, considering his limited role in the final film itself. It’s an objectively bad film, though, as it feels very disjointed and perhaps tried to copy the success of another film on this list by using music that felt extremely out of place. It’s also the first movie ever to have it’s final edit be done by an editing studio that is actually a movie trailer editing company, as well, which ended up happening after it’s second trailer was warmly greeted by fans. Regardless of the quality of the film itself, it made a killing at the box office, so much so that it immediately spawned a sequel and spin-off, Gotham City Sirens, that will focus on the one positive aspect of the film, Robbie’s Harley Quinn (and Cat-Woman and Poison Ivy).

13. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice $330,360,194

Another entry on both this list and the above-mentioned list of films with a gigantic distance between the amount of money it made and the critical reception was 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. While the film itself was a bit of a let down, it has been called the best iteration of Batman on film, possibly ever. Ben Affleck shows a darker Batman, that while older than any other Batman shown on film, makes up for it by being more violent, tough and deadly. While some people reacted negatively to the fact that this Batman in fact does kill his opponents, if you really think about the previous actors to rock the cape and cowl, they all did. We live in a real world where people die from getting punched once in the face, so it’s not that big of a stretch of the imagination to think that someone who is dropped 10 or more feet might actually bite the bullet. On top of that, it makes sense that this Batman is a killer, considering the fact that he’s shown as a man that is at the end of his rope/grappling hook. While Clark Kent ends up sacrificing himself to show him a better way, he isn’t really the highlight of this film. That goes to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who recently has taken the Box Office by storm in her first stand-alone film ever. While her film doesn’t make this list, either, eventually she will as her film is dropping at only around 30% a weekend. 

12. Guardians of the Galaxy $333,176,600

Guardians of the Galaxy was a star maker for the Star-Lord himself, Chris Pratt, and while he seemed like the perfect fit, in retrospect few would’ve taken the pudgy fifth or six star or NBC’s Parks and Recreation as anything more than exactly that on film before he was cast. Hearing the film’s Director (And Writer) James Gunn’s initial reaction to his audition basically shows what little chance he had from the get go, that is until he actually saw exactly how endearing and great the actor is. Pratt was always a favorite of those who watched Parks and Rec, as the hilarious Andy Dwyer. He’s one of the more quotable characters on one of the more quotable shows this century and he essentially went from a complete unknown to A-list in one film, which is one of the larger rags to riches stories this century as well. Like the first Iron Man film, Guardians of the Galaxy had so much going against it that despite the nearly unblemished record that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had up until that point (and since, Iron Fist notwithstanding), people were talking about the movie about the mostly unknown group of Cosmic Anti-Heroes starring the mostly unknown group of actors as Marvels first big flop. Thanks, in part, to a soundtrack from the 1970’s that was written into the script and a story that introduced the audience to the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy became this generations Star Wars (At least until Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was released in 2015). It was definitely the furthest thing from Marvel’s first big flop.

11. Spider-Man 3 $336,530,303

Speaking of flops, Spider-Man 3 followed 2002’s Spider-Man and 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Spider-Man 3 has become something of a cautionary tale for film writers, in that it shows what can happen when you have too many characters, in this case villains, in one film. It’s also an example of what can happen when a studio doesn’t know how to sit back and let it’s creator continue to create unabated. The story goes that the Director of Spider-Man’s 1 & 2, Sam Raimi, wanted to focus solely on Sand-Man in Spider-Man 3. For whatever reason, the studio wanted to focus on Eddie Brock and Venom, so as he’d already written a script focusing on Sand-Man and his struggle as a villain and a father of a daughter with medical bills, Raimi had to shoehorn Brock and Venom into his script. The results were a disjointed film that essentially was the beginning of the end of the first Spider-Man franchise and while it started with the (then) largest opening weekend of all-time, it ended up being a disaster. The studio didn’t actually learn it’s lesson as it decided to reboot the franchise as opposed to taking it’s hands off and letting Raimi and Mcguire create the Spider-Man 4 that they wanted to, which would’ve included The Vulture as opposed to Carnage). Considering that Sony is moving forward with a Venom and Carnage film perhaps to the dismay of the Tom Holland/MCU’s Spider-Man, as announced earlier this week and you really do see that apparently there’s truth to some stereotypes, with this one being that studio interference is rarely a good thing when it comes to film.

10. Deadpool $376,704,545

We live in the day and age where the world-wide box office most often dwarfs the box office of North America. So, when you see these numbers you’d have to think that Deadpool would’ve gotten really close to grossing a billion dollars, total, worldwide. However, considering the fact that Deadpool is Deadpool and was done the right way (with a hard R rating) and it’s really not a huge surprise to that the film didn’t get approved in China, as they have a pretty stringent sent of guidelines as to which films are allowed to be viewed by their population. If not for Deadpool‘s success, despite that, we wouldn’t have the film that Babbletop just recently ranked as a top three comic book movie of all time, Logan. Ryan Reynolds fought for over a decade (in actor years) to get his version of Deadpool made after the character was horribly received after the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it paid off when Deadpool was released in 2016. That film ended up being the highest grossing R rated film of all time, worldwide, surpassing The Passion of the Christ which had the family audiences behind it, surprisingly. 

9. Spider-Man 2 $373,704,545

Spider-Man 2 came out during the era where sequels were viewed as pretty much a gigantic let down from the original film(s). So, when this film surpassed the original in pretty much every way possible (beyond it’s box office), it was a big shock to the movie going audience. It, alongside X2: X-United, both films that are listed as some of the films that are responsible for the Super-Hero Movie Era that we’re still right smack dab in the middle of, showed that the second film is better as a whole because it doesn’t need to spend half of it’s run time with an origin. On top of that, it was another film that took advantage of the expansion of CGI to make a film that would’ve been impossible, even only 10 years beforehand to showcase both a hero and villain that were really just jaw droppingly amazing to watch. The fight scene on the above-ground subway is still something that is amazing to watch in 2017, and that CGI still holds up really well. So, while the opening weekend topped the first film’s tally, it’s final box office amount didn’t and that’s really unfortunate as the film itself is still considered to be one of the best comic book movies of all time.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 $376,704,545

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2′s final total is still being tallied as of the writing of this piece and while it hasn’t been as positively received as the original by many, it really should be. The one thing that people have essentially said is that it doesn’t feel as fresh as the original and when it comes to freshness, it’s pretty much impossible to replicate. The first film was something that people really didn’t expect, so when that something is repeated, it’s obviously expected. The fact that it’s actually surpassing the Box Office tally of the first film goes to show you that the film has not only been a gigantic success as a franchise but also that it’s gotten a positive enough word of mouth from the people that have seen it for the critique from the critics to be wrong. If anything, the film actually is a surprise as it is much more emotional the original film. So, while the Half-Celestial, Green Assassin, Grey Widower, Talking Raccoon and Baby Tree that only can say one sentence returned for more, it’s a great sign to see that more people have come through for the second film than the first.

7. Spider-Man $403,706,375

While there had been some on screen versions of Spider-Man in the decades leading up to the 00’s, it was thought that it was mostly impossible for a film to be able to create a Spider-Man film that felt like the comic books, as it required a high level of special effects to show Spidey essentially treating Manhattan like Tarzan treats the Jungle. While it seems pretty obvious once you learn it, that’s actually where creator(s) Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got their inspiration for the web-slinger himself. Many big named directors had their names attached to Spider-Man, including perhaps most famously James Cameron, who had a script written in the 90’s that included Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘s Eddie Forlong as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. That version of the character had very little to do with the comic book version, although it did have Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Octopus. It’s perhaps best, for everyone on Earth, that that film was never made but the fact is that a lot of the plot points from that film ended up in the 2002 version (they just decided to add more elements from the comic books). Perhaps because of the pent up demand for the film, it was an immediate smash hit when it hit theaters shortly after 9-11. The impact of September the 11th can be felt in the film as well, as there are scenes where the citizens of New York City stand up for Spider-Man against the films antagonist, Green Goblin. It was the first film that really addressed the reality that was 9/11 and was also, perhaps, the first time that people in the United States felt like they could begin to move on from the horror that was that day. Because of that, the film ended up as a gigantic piece of pop culture and that was reflected directly as the first film ever to cross $100,000,000 in a weekend. 

6. Captain America: Civil War $408,084,349

Captain America: Civil War was billed by the internet as Avengers 2.5 and that’s fair considering the cast of the film actually had more people in it than any Avengers film, ever. Perhaps the darker tone turned off some families from the film or maybe it’s franchise fatigue, either way the film that pitted one half of the Avengers against the other half (with the addition of some faces from the newer films) and in the process brought perhaps the best MCU film yet. The Directors of the film, the Russo Brothers, by far showed that they’re capable of handling a large cast of characters and it’s because of that (and the switch by the Director of the first two Avengers films, Joss Whedon to the DCEU) that they landed them next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. While the Box Office results were less than the first two Avengers films, this was very much a story that followed Captain America himself, Steve Rogers around. It also showed that Captain America can carry the MCU should Iron Man perish in next year’s Infinity War, but considering that Chris Evans’ contract is up after Avengers 4 and he may not end up making it, either.

5. Iron Man 3 $409,013,994

Iron Man 3 was the first Marvel film that came after The Avengers and took advantage of the post Avengers boost more than any other film, as well. If Suicide Squad represents the biggest gap between money and critical reception, Iron Man 3 represents the difference in opinion that can exist between fans themselves. The twist towards the end of the film that the Mandarin (As played by Ben Kingsley) is actually Trevor Slattery, an actor that is being used by AIM and it’s owner Aldrich Killian split fans right down the middle as to whether or not they liked it or hated it. While the outcome of the film has been ret-conned since then, which is yet another first for the film industry brought to you by the MCU, you have to admit that Iron Man 3 really went for it when they decided upon it’s own M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist. It must’ve played pretty well at first as the film is the highest grossing non-Avengers film there is in the MCU, almost hitting a billion dollars itself in the international box office. That requires a decent amount of word of mouth, so while history hasn’t been that kind to this film, people who originally saw it must’ve liked it.

4. The Dark Knight Rises $448,139,099

When it came time for a sequel for The Dark Knight to go into production, it was always going to be both a really hard task for the writers (The Nolan Brothers) and Director (Christopher Nolan) as the star of the record shattering sequel to Batman Begins Heath Ledger passed away unexpectedly shortly after filming The Dark Knight. On-top of that, no one expected it to reach the heights, at the Box Office that it’s predecessor had considering the hype that existed regarding Ledger’s performance and death. His role as the Joker will forever be what other performers attempts will be measured against, so it’s actually pretty amazing that the finale to The Dark Knight Trilogy actually performed as great as it did both in general and at the Box Office. The world-wide Box Office was actually a lot more developed by the time this film came out and so it actually ended up edging out The Dark Knight over-all, but because it was measured against what some say is the best movie based on a Comic Book property ever (or just movie, ever), it is considered to be just okay. However, especially compared to the more recent DC films, The Dark Knight Rises is an out and out masterpiece. 

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron $459,005,868

Speaking of films that are (perhaps unfairly) compared to films that are cultural movements, The Avengers: Age of Ultron had the unenviable task of following up 2012’s The Avengers which broke records for the biggest first weekend at the Box Office ever, with over $200 million worldwide. Age of Ultron ended up falling short of that record, despite the fact that it was preceded by the amazing films Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. So, many thought that this film, that had some of the better trailers in film history, would break the two billion dollar mark worldwide. While that didn’t end up being the case, mostly because of the fact that it fell short at the domestic box office, it’s still clearly a gigantic film. Like the second Guardians of the Galaxy, it also fell victim to not being considered as “fresh” as the original as the novelty of seeing a film where members of other films coming together for the first time was clearly no longer a possibility. Regardless, the film was and is about as good as one could hope both from a fan and a bean counting point of view and may be about as big as Disney can hope from this point forward from a box office point of view.

2. The Dark Knight $534,858,444

The Dark Knight is a modern masterpiece. Unlike the film ahead of it, as well, it didn’t have the luxury of being able to bring in families or children as it was about as close to an R rating a movie can be, without being an R movie. Focusing on themes of morality in an unjust world, it was really more of a film about crime and it’s impact on society than being based on a comic book story. If The Avengers changed the way movies were made then The Dark Knight changed the way comic book movies were made, at least temporarily, by bringing in terms like “gritty” and “dark” to the forefront. The death of the film’s star, Heath Ledger and his performance as the Joker brought a ton of hype to the film as well. It’s impossible to say whether or not the film would’ve receiver as much hype had that not have happened, but still this film was so good and made so much money that even Spider-Man’s reboot was marketed as dark and gritty. We’re only now coming out of the gritty for the sake of gritty-verse that this film’s success created way back in 2008 and while comic book movies begin to diversify it’s safe to say that The Dark Knight’s status as the best film in the genre is safe.

1. The Avengers $623,357,910

Speaking of game changers, The Avengers was a game changer. Before this film, the idea of movies that were related to one another (outside of sequels) was pretty much impossible. Starting with the post-credit scene from 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel essentially put in four years worth of work to build up and end up with 2012’s The Avengers (Also known as The Avengers Assemble in some markets). The reasons that it’s sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron had an impossible task was essentially based on the fact that many people stopped out to see the first Avengers simply to see something they hadn’t seen before. The reaction that the crowd had when Thor landed atop the SHIELD Quinjet was as amazing as it was heart-pounding and all of that universe building and excitement translated into dollars at the Box Office. Next year’s Avengers: Infinity War has a chance to beat Avengers as it will be the culmination of an entire decade worth of work, but even so, it’ll be a tall order.

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