When it comes to the box office, superheroes are king, and they have been for decades. Richard Donner’s Superman was the second highest grossing film in 1978, and Tim Burton‘s Batman was the highest grossing film in 1989. Since then, the dominance has not only continued but multiplied, breaking records left and right. That in mind, this list of the highest grossing superhero movies should be considered a living article as films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice continue to make money and the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad could make their mark in the coming weeks. So check it out now and check back here as our heroes continue to take movie theaters, and our wallets, by storm.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #15: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – $708.9 million
Despite being the final film in the franchise, and the reason the character ended up returning to Marvel Studios, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still managed to bring in bank at the box office. The film even opened to higher numbers than its predecessor with a a $91.6 million domestic opening compared to the first film’s $62 million opening. Despite its $700+ million draw, it remains the lowest-grossing Spider-Man film.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #14: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – $714.4 million
Just weeks before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released, Marvel Studios moved to new territory by opening their Captain America sequel in April, but the move proved to be a viable choice. The Winter Soldier opened to $95 million on its first weekend, $30 million more than its predecessor and setting the record for highest opening in April (which would be broken by Furious 7 the next year). It also out-grossed Captain America: The First Avenger nearly two-fold, with the 2011 franchise starter only bringing in $370.5 million.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #13: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – $747.8 million
Director Bryan Singer’s directorial return to the X-Men franchise was also met with some of the highest grosses of the series. “Days” brought in $110 million over the Labor Day weekend and though it couldn’t beat X-Men: The Last Stand at the domestic box office (being behind by less than $500k), it did go on to have the largest foreign gross of any X-Men movie with $513.9 million.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #12: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – $757.9 million
Rebooting a franchise is no easy task, so when Sony attempted to do it in 2012 with Spider-Man, all eyes were on the success of this new starting point. The film opened to a soft $62 million domestically in its first weekend, having opened on Tuesday, July 3 to capitalize on the July 4th weekend. It does hold one peculiar box office record with the highest Tuesday opening.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #11: Deadpool (2016) – $760.2 million
Many assumed that the Deadpool movie might never see the light of day, but it finally did and it made the biggest splash possible. Deadpool now has the distinction of being not only the highest grossing X-Men movie, but also the highest grossing R-rated movie, the highest President’s Day gross, and the highest February opener.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – $773.3 million
Another untested property that no one had heard of before, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be unstoppable at the box office. The film opened to $94 million at the domestic box office, setting the record for highest opening in August, and proved to be a bit of an anomaly by dropping to the number 2 position for two weekends in a row before leaping back to the #1 spot for three more weeks. The film also grossed more in its first day of release than director James Gunn’s previous two films (Super and Slither) made in their entire theatrical runs. Guardians of the Galaxy also became the highest grossing superhero movie of 2014.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #9: Spider-Man 2 (2004) – $783.8 million
Sam Raimi’s sequel was a highly-anticipated event before its release and the film went on to become the second highest grossing film of the year (behind another sequel, Shrek 2). Spider-Man 2 set a few records in its time as well holding the record of the highest Wednesday opening (which would later be broken three times over) and the highest Independence Day weekend gross (a record it would hold for seven years).
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #8: Spider-Man (2002) – $821.7 million
It’s hard to convey how big of a deal Spider-Man was when it was first released in 2002, but suffice to say it set a number of box office records upon release. The film was the number one movie of the year, outgrossing second place (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) by over $60 million and set a number of records upon release, including: largest opening day, largest opening Saturday, largest opening weekend, largest opening week, and largest May opening. All of these records would go on to be broken, but the webhead held a number of records.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #7: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – $851.6 million
Still in theaters, and still making money, Batman v Superman set a number of records upon release, including the highest March opening weekend and the highest Easter weekend opening with $166 million. The film also has the distinction of being the highest grossing of the seven Superman movies.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #6: Spider-Man 3 (2007) – $890.9 million
Despite being poorly received upon release, Spider-Man 3 remains the highest grossing Spider-Man film released to date. The film would go on to be the highest grossing movie of 2007, inching out Shrek the Third by just $14 million, and set the record for: largest worldwide opening, highest grossing Saturday, highest May opening weekend, beating out the first film in the franchise for all of them. The film also had the distinction upon release for having the widest release ever, opening on 4,324 screens. That record would stand for a whole week before Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End opened in 38 more screens.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #5: The Dark Knight (2008) – $1.004 billion
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was a monster upon release and spread like wildfire. The film set a number of records at the time, including breaking Spider-Man 3‘s highest opening weekend ever record. In addition it set the record for highest opening week, highest Friday and Sunday grosses, and the fastest film to reach $500 million domestically, reaching the mark in 45 days (a record quickly broken, and which Star Wars: The Force Awakens managed in just 10 days). The film also became the highest grossing movie of the year, sitting $215 million ahead of second place, the first Marvel Studios film, Iron Man.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #4: The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – $1.084 billion
Four years later, the follow-up would arrive in The Dark Knight Rises. Though the film would go on to become the highest grossing Batman film, it set very few records for opening weekend or specific days upon release.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #3: Iron Man 3 (2013) – $1.215 billion
When Marvel’s The Avengers came out it was a juggernaut, more on that later, but more importantly it left a year-long gap between the film and its follow-up, the start of Marvel’s Phase Two, Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. started the MCU with his take on Iron Man, and he quickly became the anchor that audiences attached to. Though it couldn’t quite break any of the records set by The Avengers, it did become the highest grossing solo Iron Man movie, outgrossing the second film by over $590 million.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #2: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – $1.405 billion
The 2015 follow-up to Marvel’s The Avengers wasn’t as well received critically as the first film, but that didn’t stop it from going wild at the box office. Though the film couldn’t quite catch up with the first movie, it did come within just a few thousand dollars of breaking the first film’s worldwide opening weekend.
Highest Grossing Superhero Movies #1: The Avengers (2012) – $1.519 billion
The big kahuna remains the king of superhero box office grosses. The culmination of five films, it was unclear if Marvel’s big screen plans would work, but it did and it paid off. Avengers broke Spider-Man 3‘s highest Saturday total record and The Dark Knight‘s highest Sunday total in its opening weekend, and would set the record for the highest opening weekend of all time (until 2015’s Jurassic World and then Star Wars: The Force Awakens both broke the record). One record the film still holds however is highest opening in May, an achievement considering the likes of Iron Man, Spider-Man and others that came before.