Superhero Films by the Numbers

Superman-molemenposterOnce again, I am called back to my obsession with number crunching. This time, I turn my powers on Superhero films. The following useless trivia may only interest me, but I hope you enjoy. Statistics are taken from the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia. The statistics reflect non-animated feature films only.

  • The first real superhero film arrived in 1951. Superman and the Mole Men.
  • Since 1951 there have been 8 Superman films and 1 Supergirl film.
  • Since 1966 there have been 8 Batman films and 1 Catwoman film.
  • The Superman franchise took a break from 1987 until 2006.batman_vs_superman
  • The Batman franchise took a break from 1966 until 1989 and then again from 1997 until 2005.
  • The memorable Superman series of films with Christopher Reeve had 2 good films followed by 2 bad films.
  • The memorable Batman series of films, which started with Tim Burton directing, had 2 good films followed by 2 bad films.
  • There is a Batman Vs. Superman film slated for 2015. Will this settle the score?
  • Since 2000 there have been 6 X-Men films. The 7th is slated for 2014.
  • Since 2002 there have been 4 Spider-Man films. The 5th, 6th, and 7th are slated for 2014, 2016, and 2018.
Stan Lee

Stan Lee

  • 1950s: 1 superhero film
  • 1960s: 1 superhero film
  • 1970s: 3 superhero films
  • 1980s: 14 superhero films
  • 1990s: 32 superhero films
  • 2000s: 45 superhero films
  • 2010s: 33 superhero films (planned until 2018)
  • In the 2010s, the film industry is averaging 6 films/year. At this rate, there will be 52 superhero films in the decade.
  • Stan Lee has appeared in 18 live action superhero feature films. He has more on the way.

In all cases, the box office numbers were rounded down to the nearest million. Actual totals will be much higher.

  • Since 1951, all superhero films have grossed much more than $22.447 Billion US.
  • Superman films have grossed approximately $1.583 Billion US.
  • X-Men films have grossed approximately $2.234 Billion US.
  • Spiderman films have grossed approximately $3.246 Billion US.
  • Batman films have grossed approximately $3.709 Billion US.
  • Avengers films have grossed approximately $5.010 Billion US. (Includes seven films, starting with Iron Man (x3), Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Avengers.)
  • The five franchises mentioned above make up 68.7% of the gross revenue from all superhero films.

Any discussion of superhero films is not complete without a top ten list. I have restricted the list to films I have seen that are feature films. Sequels are treated as one entry where more than one merits inclusion.

Top Ten Best Superhero Films of All Time

10. Mystery Men (1999)

This is a hidden classic for me. Ben Stiller and crew mock the superhero genre while making an engaging, well-executed, and humorous film. The superhero endorsements are awesome. I mean, in this new age of needing to make a buck, maybe Spider-Man could give up taking pictures, come out in the open like Iron Man, and sell ads on his Spidey costume. Now that would be an endorsement deal. I wonder if Spidey is a Nike or an Adidas guy? Which beer company could sign Wolverine?

9. Batman (1966)

Batman Villains 1966 You might be mocking me by now, but for me, this is one of the all-time greats. Batman and Robin are still comic book heroes, complete with the splashed on the screen sound effects. POW!! WHAM!!  The film brought us such iconic free-form phrases like, “Holy franchise, Batman.” The caped crusaders invaded our culture. The film was campy by intent and has a subtle humor that, for me, makes it watchable. The primitive special effects fit perfectly with the setting and the style of the film.

Now, here is a test. We all know many superheroes, but who has the most iconic villains in the land? You guessed it—Batman. Why is it that his rivals are the most memorable? What other film has the likes of Catwoman, the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler all in one film? Are there any super-villains that measure up to any one of these arch-criminals? The four of them together? Forget about it.

8. The Incredibles (2004)

Yes, I know, this is an animated movie, but I can’t help myself. I love it. The animated spoof on superheroes cut new ground with smart wit, rolling together the things I enjoy about old-school James Bond movies and superhero films, while poking fun of those elements that never make sense. Caped crusaders indeed.

7. Hellboy (2004)

He is a non-typical superhero with a fun personality and was wonderfully cast. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, it came as a refreshing take on saving the world. Regrettably, the sequel is not worth mentioning, though many find it quite entertaining.

6. X-Men (2000) /X2 (2003) /X-Men: First Class (2011)

x-men-first-classThe X-Men were always one of my comics. Like many other fans, Wolverine was always the most interesting to me. The first X-Men movie helped start the domination of Hollywood by Marvel and by superheroes in general. The first two films were very well done and enjoyable. X-Men: First Class set a new path for the franchise. It cut a more serious tone that made the X-Men feel more real. The X-Men are a powerhouse franchise boasting six films and counting.

5. Spider-Man (2002)/ Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Not all superhero movies can appeal to as wide an audience as Spider-Man. I was only a very casual fan as a kid, not very excited about the film, but when I saw it, I was swept away. Great acting. Great casting. Very well directed. The reboot as The Amazing Spider-Man is just as good, but in different ways. Many might say Spider-Man 2 is even better than the first.

4. Superman (1978)

superman 1978The film served as the benchmark for superhero films. It gave them life when there was none. It stood on an island for many years (with only a few Batman films) until the superheroes finally took over Hollywood. The characters are real. The story engaging. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor is brilliant. I still chuckle at some of his subtle lines. Superman 2 was also worth a view, but nothing after.

3. Batman Begins (2005) /The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman Begins was a another film for which I had very low expectations. More accurately, I had no expectations. The Batman franchise had been run into the ground, after Tim Burton had given it life, to the point where it wasn’t even watchable. On a whim, I went to see it with the guys. We were all amazed at how powerful it was, setting a new standard in superhero filmmaking. Sadly, I’m just not a fan of the third film in the set. Maybe the tragedy that I associate with it continues to taint it for me. The loss of Heath Ledger influences my view of the Dark Knight as well. Is this franchise now cursed with ill fortune more tragic than any box office numbers?

2. Iron Man (2008) /Iron Man 2 (2010)

I confess that when Iron Man first was announced I was a bit disappointed in the casting of Tony Stark. It took some prodding to get me into the theater. Once I saw the film, I recognized the pure genius. Jon Favreau is often an overlooked director, who did a masterful job with both Iron Man and Iron Man 2. (Yes, he also plays the chauffeur.) His role as executive producer on both Avengers and Iron Man 3 prevented him from directing either of these films. Maybe I would have enjoyed Iron Man 3 more if he had.

1. The Avengers (2012) 

The-Avengers-MovieThe build up for the Avengers movie spanned several years and multiple films. Most of the individual heroes starred in their own films, with Nick Fury and Shield sneaking around in the background. By the time the film bowed in the theaters, the anticipation had reached a fever pitch. I thought there was no way the film could possibly meet such lofty expectations, but I was wrong. It blew the roof off of it. Now how can Avengers 2 possibly live up? Joss Whedon and crew have their work cut out for them.

 

Please let me know what I left out or got wrong. Next superhero theater stop is Thor: The Dark World. Happy viewing.

R.K. Troughton works as an engineer, developing tomorrow’s high-tech gadgets that protect you from the forces of evil as well as assist your doctor in piecing you back together.  His passion for science fiction and fantasy has been fed through decades of consumption.  He is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy screenplays and short stories, and his debut novel is forthcoming. His articles appear every Wednesday morning on Amazing Stories.

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