Suicide Squad had a record-breaking first weekend, and continues to exceed expectations. It's not the first superhero film to perform well, though - since 1978, superhero films have been Hollywood superstars! Incredibly, when you adjust the raw worldwide box office performance for inflation, no less than ten superhero movies have broken the $1 billion mark! Here they are in all their glory...
10: Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,000,092,490
Viewed by many fans as one of the best superhero films of all time, Spider-Man 2 was the second in Sam Raimi's much-loved Spider-Man trilogy. It starred Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane Watson, his beautiful love interest; the villain, Doctor Octopus, was played by Alfred Molina.
The success of Spider-Man 2 is actually something of a surprise when you consider that the supervillain, Doctor Octopus, was previously viewed as something of a joke. Molina gives us a remarkable portrayal of Doc Ock, showing a fully fleshed-out character with a real emotional edge, while the chemistry between Maguire and Dunst is electric. The plot is tight and focused, drawing on an incredible amount of comic book history with ease, and the climax is tremendously satisfying. This film really doesn't put a foot wrong.
9: Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,035,650,833
Although tremendously successful from a financial viewpoint, Spider-Man 3 is generally viewed as disappointing. Where Spider-Man 2 was tight and focused, Spider-Man 3 simply has too many ideas (ranging from Thomas Haden Church's Sandman to Topher Grace's Venom). The action is still outstanding, but stylistically the film lacks the edge of Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. It didn't harm Spider-Man 3's box office performance, though; by this time, the franchise had a momentum that couldn't be denied.
The studio originally planned to continue the series, but Sam Raimi's departure led to Sony pulling the plug and instead choosing to reboot the franchise.
8: Spider-Man (2002)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,100,961,566
Adjusted for inflation, Spider-Man actually outperforms its two sequels! It had taken 25 years of behind-the-scenes negotiations before Sony agreed to bring Marvel's wall-crawler to cinematic life, and the results were beyond anything Sony expected. Director Sam Raimi showed a tremendous knowledge of the character, and produced a script that ran through the classic origin story in a breathtakingly creative way. This was the first time Spider-Man had hit the box office, and the result is a fan-favorite movie with classic portrayals; Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were perfectly cast as Peter Parker and Mary-Jane.
As The Hollywood Reporter put it at the time:
"The filmmakers' imaginations work in overdrive from the clever design of the cobwebby opening credits and Spider-Man and M.J.'s upside down kiss – after one of his many rescues of her – to a finale that leaves character relationships open ended for future adventures."
7. Superman (1978)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,109,876,543
Directed by Richard Donner, Superman is famous for introducing Christopher Reeve's iconic portrayal of the Man of Steel - a performance so locked in the popular imagination that every actor who takes on the role is automatically compared to Reeve. As with many of these best-performing superhero films, it's the casting - from Reeve's Superman to Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor - that really stands out.
The most expensive movie made up to that point, Superman's ground-breaking special effects won particular praise from critics. Oddly enough, though, Hollywood seems to have been almost desperate to excuse the film's success; Donner himself argued that it only performed as well as it did because it had little box office competition! The reality is that Superman is an all-time classic, fondly remembered by fans, and with a massive impact on popular culture. It deserves its place here.
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,124,632,533
Popularly viewed as the best of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight sees Christian Bale's strongest performance as Batman. It also benefits from Heath Ledger's anarchic portrayal of the Joker, which would undoubtedly have become iconic even without Ledger's tragic death prior to release.
There's something powerful and disturbing about The Dark Knight; even the way Batman triumphs - through the use of sonar technology - feels oddly uncomfortable, raising ethical questions about privacy. Ledger's Joker is brilliantly portrayed, and is easily one of the most effective supervillains of all time. The Dark Knight can stand proud in the superhero genre as one of the best examples of a quality superhero film.
5.The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,138,492,432
The finale in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is a dark, psychological film that pits Christian Bale's Batman against Anne Hathaway's Catwoman and Tom Hardy's Bane. It's a wonderfully made film, with all the depth and drama you'd expect from a Christopher Nolan movie, but it sadly suffers a little from a weak main villain.
Interestingly enough, critical response to The Dark Knight Rises was mixed - in a pattern that many DC fans will recognize, critics weren't all impressed by the film's darkness of tone. Rotten Tomatoes actually had to disable user comments due to a fan backlash, and some fans even threatened violence against critics who didn't like it.
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Worldwide box office: $1,151,314,869
This year's Captain America: Civil War shot straight on to this list, and I doubt that anybody's going to be surprised to see it here! 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is commonly viewed as the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, and fans and critics alike expected the sequel to do well. Marvel upped the ante by adapting the famous "Civil War" plot for the big screen, essentially turning Captain America: Civil War into "Avengers 2.5". As such, the film benefited from all the star power of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, who was brought into a head-on collision with Chris Evans's Captain America.
In early 2015, Marvel announced that the studio had reached a deal with Sony to effectively share the film rights to Spider-Man. As such, Captain America: Civil War introduced viewers to the newest version of everyone's favorite wall-crawler, played by Tom Holland!
3. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,257,602,155
It's strange to realize that when Marvel cast Robert Downey Jr. for 2008's Iron Man, the studio was viewed as taking a big gamble! The success of the MCU - with Iron Man as the flagship character - transformed Downey from a Hollywood problem child to one of the world's best-known superstars. Never is that more evident than in Iron Man 3, a fascinating movie that - while it has some real mis-steps (such as the Mandarin twist) - carries a lot of fan-pleasing moments.
There's a sense in which Iron Man 3 benefits from timing. The first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be based after 2012's mega-hit The Avengers, it benefits from all the hype and excitement that had built up around the Avengers franchise.
2. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,429,256,753
The sequel to 2012's The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron was probably the most significant film of Marvel's Phase 2. Where The Avengers assembled the team, Avengers: Age of Ultron disassembles them. The plot is much darker, highlighting the weaknesses of the various superheroes (most notably Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man). Unfortunately, Joss Whedon struggles to deal with an overstuffed cast, and his conflict with the Marvel Creative Committee led to some difficult compromises on the script. In spite of all this, the film's performance is remarkable, and testimony to the tremendous strength of the Avengers brand!
1. The Avengers (2012)
Worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation): $1,594,288,526
Ever since 2008's Iron Man, every movie based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had been headed for this - 2012's The Avengers, in which the various Marvel superstars teamed up to save the world. This was Marvel's biggest gamble; if The Avengers failed, then the whole MCU concept would fall down like a pack of cards.
It didn't fail, and the MCU stands tall and strong - as The Avengers proves just by virtue of its box office success! Joss Whedon secured his place in superhero history with this tremendous success!
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So there you have it - ten superhero films that (adjusted for inflation) broke the $1 billion boundary. They include some absolute classics of the genre - from Spider-Man 2 to The Dark Knight, from Superman to The Avengers. They also stand testimony to the strength of some of these superhero brands, most notably Spider-Man, Batman, and the assembled Avengers. Suicide Squad may be performing well, but personally I doubt that it'll hit this list. Still, time will tell - and with superhero films now all the rage (next year's superhero movies include Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, and Justice League), we're sure to see some more superstars!
Which of these was your favorite film? Let me know in the comments!