The Modern Age Comic Book / Super Hero Movie Box Office List

Earlier this year, in the midst of another crazy year of comic book movies, I had a thought: we get all crazy when a movie comes out, everyone goes to see it and obsesses over the opening weekend box office (“Let’s win the weekend!” – Chris Evans to the audience at the screening in San Diego) but before long our attention turns to the next big release. It got me wondering how all these big comic book releases had fared, box office wise, when all was said and done. I started looking up total grosses and then realized that I needed to adjust the grosses for inflation, otherwise it wasn’t fair to compare them. It yielded some surprising results (there’s a reason why Marvel Studios will never get those Spider-Man movie rights back from Sony).

To compile the list I did what I did when I ranked them last year: I went back to what I consider to be the start of all this comic book movie madness: X-Men in 2000. I’ve eliminated the pure dramas and kept mostly in the action genre. As for methodology, the box office numbers come from BoxOfficeMojo and I used The Inflation Calculator to get the adjusted grosses. I was only able to adjust the grosses up to 2010, so the list is not perfect, but that’s okay because it’s all in good fun.

Year Poster Title Domestic Box Office (U.S. & Canada) International Box Office Total Box Office Adjusted Box Office
1. 2008
The Dark Knight $533,345,358 $468,576,467 $1,001,921,825 $1,013,880,763
2. 2002 Spider-Man $403,706,375 $418,002,176 $821,708,551 $989,874,714
3. 2007 Spider-Man 3 $336,530,303 $554,341,32 $890,871,626 $935,762,262
4. 2004 Spider-Man 2 $373,585,825 $410,180,516 $783,766,341 $896,962,997
5. 2010 Iron Man 2 $312,433,331 $309,623,643 $622,056,974 $622,056,974
6. 2008 Iron Man $318,412,101 $266,762,121 $585,174,222 $592,158,861
7. 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand $234,362,462 $224,997,093 $459,359,555 $496,016,666
8. 2003 X2: X-Men United $214,949,694 $192,761,855 $407,711,549 $481,993,580
9. 2007 300 $210,614,939 $245,453,242 $456,068,181 $479,049,259
10. 2011 Thor $181,030,624 $268,295,994 $449,326,618 $449,326,618
11. 2006 Superman Returns $200,081,192 $191,000,000 $391,081,192 $422,289,657
12. 2005 Batman Begins $205,343,774 $167,366,241 $372,710,015 $412,513,762
13. 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine $179,883,157 $193,179,707 $373,062,864 $379,031,869
14. 2000 X-Men $157,299,717 $139,039,810 $296,339,527 $371,403,226
15. 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger $176,654,505 $191,750,151 $368,404,656 $368,404,656
16. 2005 Fantastic Four $154,696,080 $175,883,639 $330,579,719 $365,884,141
17. 2011 X-Men: First Class $146,408,305 $207,215,819 $353,624,124 $353,624,124
18. 2008 Wanted $134,508,551 $206,924,701 $341,433,252 $345,508,599
19. 2007 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer $131,921,738 $157,126,025 $289,047,763 $303,612,754
20. 2003 Hulk $132,177,234 $113,183,246 $245,360,480 $290,063,346
21. 2008 The Incredible Hulk $134,806,913 $128,620,638 $263,427,551 $266,571,822
22.  2005 Constantine $75,976,178  $154,908,550 $230,884,728 $255,542,175
23. 2007 Ghost Rider $115,802,596 $112,935,797 $228,738,393 $240,264,421
24. 2011 The Green Hornet $98,780,042 $129,037,206 $227,817,248 $227,817,248
25. 2011 Green Lantern $116,601,172 $103,250,000 $219,851,172 $219,851,172
26. 2003 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen $66,465,204 $112,800,000 $179,265,204 $211,925,999
27. 2003 Daredevil $102,543,518 $76,636,200 $179,179,718 $211,824,938
28. 2008 Watchmen $107,509,799 $77,749,184 $185,258,983 $187,470,234
29. 2002 Blade II $82,348,319 $72,661,713 $155,010,032 $186,733,496
30. 2010 Red $90,380,162 $96,191,551 $186,571,713 $186,571,713
31. 2005 Frank Miller’s Sin City $74,103,820 $84,650,000 $158,753,820 $175,708,011
32. 2011 Cowboys & Aliens $100,240,551 $74,581,774 $174,822,325 $174,822,325
33. 2008 Hellboy II: The Golden Army $75,986,503 $84,401,560 $160,388,063 $162,302,454
34. 2004 Blade Trinity $52,411,906 $76,493,460 $128,905,366 $147,522,721
35. 2006 V For Vendetta $70,511,035 $62,000,000 $132,511,035 $143,085,478
36. 2009 Surrogates $38,577,772 $83,867,000 $122,444,772 $124,403,888
37. 2004 Hellboy $59,623,958 $39,695,029 $99,318,987 $113,663,284
38. 2010 Kick-Ass $48,071,303 $48,117,600 $96,188,903 $96,188,903
39. 2004 Catwoman $40,202,379 $41,900,000 $82,102,379 $93,960,141
40. 2001 From Hell $31,602,566 $42,955,549 $74,558,115 $91,972,353
41. 2007 30 Days of Night $39,568,996 $35,936,977 $75,505,973 $79,310,686
42. 2005 Elektra $24,409,722 $32,271,844 $56,681,566 $62,734,901
43. 2004 The Punisher $33,810,189 $20,889,916 $54,700,105 $62,600,251
44. 2010 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World $31,524,275 $16,140,284 $47,664,559 $47,664,559
45. 2008 The Spirit $19,806,188 $19,225,149 $39,031,337 $39,497,215
46. 2010 The Losers $23,591,432 $5,788,291 $29,379,723 $29,379,723
47. 2001 Josie and the Pussycats $14,271,015 $595,000 $14,866,015 $18,338,210
48. 2009 Whiteout $10,275,638 $7,565,229 $17,840,867 $18,126,320
49. 2010 Jonah Hex $10,547,117 $356,195 $10,903,312 $10,903,312
50. 2008 The Punisher: War Zone $8,050,977 $2,049,059 $10,100,036 $10,220,590

 

Next year should be an interesting one for comic book movies, what with The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Marvel’s The Avengers coming out. I imagine that all three will end up placing highly on this list, though I don’t see any of them unseating The Dark Knight at the top spot.

 

Comments

  1. I loved Scott Pilgrim so much. Kinds hate seeing it so far down on the list.

  2. Josie and the Pussycats was so awesome.

  3. I wonder how superhero movies like The Incredibles and Hancock do compared to these…

  4. One trend I notice in this films, with a handful of exceptions, is that the best selling movies are ones that use comics as a loose foundation and then make them more practical. Movies like Batman and Spiderman and X-men eschew much of the traditional camp and cornball of comics. Taking themselves more seriously and presenting more ‘realistic’ worlds for the characters than movies like Captain America or Thor. It could certainly be my innate bias but I think the audiences will continue to drift away from the campy films and embrace the more serious films.

    • Spider-Man was pretty campy/corny.

    • Especially the third one.

    • Ignoring the 3rd film, which I believe only survived because the prestige of the previous two films, the films had very little camp. They had funny moments, but rarely strayed into the silly or inane. They also have a strong sense of being in the real world and a feeling of real consequence as opposed to the casually dismissed devastation of Thor or Captain America.

    • rewatch the first one. the first half of the movie is essentially played for laughs. there’s tons of camp all over the place. especially in willem dafoe’s performance.

    • .mark: Agreed about the first SPIDER-MAN.

    • The hospital scene in the second one alone is probably one of the campiest things I’ve seen in any recent film. I’m surprised Raimi didn’t try to squeeze an eye-gouge gag in there as well.

  5. I’m just happy to see there have been so many. I’ve seen like 45/50 on the list, but it’s thrilling to see them all in a list.

  6. Thanks for the list, Conor. I’m a sucker for these things.
    …and I agree with Blargo, Josie was great! The product placement is really funny.

  7. It would surprise me if DKR didn’t unseat Dark Knight. The sequels to wildly successful movies almost always do better than the previous one. Look at X3 & Spider-Man 3. Both not very good movies at best, but the one before it was.

    • Generally that’s true, but I will be amazed if it can top a billion again.

    • Whichever way you cut it, unfortunately a large percentage of TDK’s level of success was due to Ledger’s passing.

      Whether that made everyone who saw it into a genuine fan of the series will become clearer with the numbers for DKR.

  8. As much as I am not that big a fan of it, I think the biggest achievement on this list was 300. With the huge handicap of an R rating it’s still in the top ten.

    Also, according to Hollywood, all these movies lost money, haha.

  9. This is sort of geeky thing that interests me. I find it a little depressing that X-men Origin: Wolverine did better than the original film and that Spiderman 3 is so high, while Scott Pilgrim and Kick Ass are so low.

    • Yeah, I agree. There are some movies too high, and some too low. I loved Kick-Ass and X-Men First Class, wish they did better. Cap was better than Thor and is lower. Life ain’t fair.

  10. Or a “total profit” column.

  11. I hadn’t realized that Superman Returns made more than Batman Begins. Funny that BB got a sequel and SR didn’t when they performed about the same.

    • As hard as it is to believe, money isn’t everything all the time. Sometimes expectations, critical and fan response and initial budgets have to be taken into account. Comparatively, the expectations on Begins were pretty low. The last bat-film from only 8 years before didn’t leave a great taste in people’s mouths and the new version was banking on a darker, less kid-friendly vision. It was at best a minor tentpole and did surprisingly well. Whereas Returns was supposed to compete with Spider-Man and Pirates and did a miserable job against both. Plus, critical and fan reception was at best ‘meh’.

    • I think when it comes to the film industry, money really is everything all the time.

    • Superman Returns also cost a hell of a lot more than Batman Begins.

  12. I’ve seen 29 of these 50. Is that a good or bad number?

  13. By “excluding dramas”, do you mean “excluding independent comic adaptions? No American Splendor or Ghost World? Why ghetoize drama when Josie and the Pussycats, at best a ‘comedy’ not ‘action/adventure’, makes the list?

  14. I just sent Conor an email of an analysis I did of the budget (from IMDB adjusted for 2010 dollars) and a ranking of the movies accordingly.
    Hopefully he can share it with everyone.

  15. @Ratenef: Like I said in my email I really appreciate the analysis and found it very interesting, but it’s not what this particular list is about.

  16. No road to Perdition? hate to think that Punisher war zone had more viewers.
    It amazes me that there are 50 films right there made from Comic books, and there are a lot more. Seeing them right there brings it home. pretty amazing. Nice one C

  17. I’m glad you inflation adjusted these. I actually use box office mojo in class to highlight just how important that adjustment can be (for example, Gone With the Wind is the highest grossing movie of all time, after the adjustment.)

  18. truly great list Conor, but I think the modern super hero film era began with 1998’s Blade , because that was the first Marvel/Avi Arad film.

    • Some people claim that but I don’t agree–unlike X-MEN there was no wider cultural impact to BLADE whatsoever. Things changed after X-MEN.

    • Gotta go with Siuntres on this one, Blade really started it all and is the great dividing point, there would no way be an X-Men film without it, Blade showed that wider knowledge of a superhero wasn’t needed to sell a movie. That along with The Matrix paved the way for the black leather bound metallic X-Men

      Batman and Robin and Blade came out the same year but they aren’t of the same era.

    • If you’re not going to count X-Men as the starting point (and I agree with Conor that it IS what really started all this), I would pick The Crow over Blade as a starting point.

  19. Everything seems to be fair and make sense, then you hit Scott Pilgrim. What happened?!?

  20. I’m glad you listed the Int. sales as well, that made it even more interesting. I’m really surprised that both Scott Pilgrim and V did worse internationally then they did domestically, I would have thought those were both movies that spoke more to a broad audience, then our local one. I almost put Watchmen on that list too, but then I started thinking and it really is more deconstructionist of US centric comics, so maybe that is why not the broader appeal.

    Then you have TLoEG and that did almost double in International sales compared to US, and I would have never guessed it ( the Connery effect?). On second look, Wanted, Constantine, and Surrogates did the same thing, so apparently star power is a big driving force for the oversees numbers.

    Mind you this is all being said from someone born and raised in the US and who has never been to Europe or Asia.

    • I think in general it’s also how you market the movies… the marketing budget is not always equally diveded between US and the rest… not a critique mind you… it just seems when a movie kinda “fails” in the US and hasn’t started in Europe yet, they sometimes fuel the ads there to turn it over… and sometimes a movie does well enough in the US and mostly that’s enough commercial you need to get some revenue in Europe… without much investment… cuz it’s a lot harder to advertise a thing in Europe than in the US… language, Europes own movies and so on…

      of course there are movies that have a international marketing strategy from teh start (e.g. Superman Returns or Green Lantern) – but e.g. X-Men 1 it took some time to realize that this was a real big blockbuster and only then the marketing machine kicked in in Europe (despite the little viral internet thing they tried with this one)

  21. 45 comments (at the time I posted this, well actually 46 including mine) and NOBODY brought up the “astonishing” fact that Catwoman somehow made over 40 million dollars!?!?!?!

    • Hot chick in leather. No big surprise there.

    • If it’s marketed right, any piece of crap will bring in that kind of money. A lot of people don’t KNOW a movie is awful until they spend money for a ticket and sit through it. There is this wacky group of people who like to watch something before they judge it.

  22. Poor Watchmen…

  23. No Men In Black? Based on the Malibu/Aircel comic? The first one was 1997 (what I consider the real beginning IMHO over X-Men, Crow, Keaton’s Batman, Blade as it was the first megahit with a comic that came out of nowhere prompting producers to actually dig through comics for another gem) but Men In Black 2 was 2002.

  24. Some of you need to re-read the text, the ‘modern age’ criteria here is basically anything from year 2000 – Present. Its not a comment on WHEN the first ‘good’ comic film was made or which comic film ushered in the ‘new era’. Simply put, if it was made after 2000, it would be considered for this list.

    Though, like others pointed out… where is Road to Perdition? And A History of Violence? American Splendor? Art School Confidential? I know they probably round out the bottom of the list, but would be nice to see them on the list. Or were some of those pre-2000? I can’t remember and too lazy to look them up now.

    And dollars don’t mean much in regards to quality… the only thing to lament about is that low-grossing films won’t have a sequel. But just because a move didn’t make much doesn’t make it bad. Also need to realize that a high-grossing really comments on how good the previous chapter was. X3 is high because X2 was good, etc.

    You also have to consider screens… that would be the another good metric to look at… not total gross, but dollars per screen. Its easy for Superman to make more money than Scott Pilgrim when its played on 5x more screens.