Over the past five months, comic book movies have dominated the box office charts. First, it was Deadpool, riding a wave of goodwill, cockiness and dark comical humor to record breaking numbers. Not much later, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice burst onto the scene to a fantastic opening weekend cume while garnering polarizing opinions. And just this past weekend, MCU continued its dominance with Captain America: Civil War. The growing financial performance by comic book adaptations have made the extraordinary into everyday occurrences. Record-breaking numbers aren't wishful thinking anymore, they're the expected results.
The list of hits coming from the comic book world has grown quite long over the past decade. The trend isn’t stopping anytime soon either, with a plethora of films already in development by Marvel and DC. This list will probably change, given the sizeable intakes by three movies this year already, but we’re taking a look at the biggest opening weekends by comic book movies. The list dates back to 2002, giving a snapshot of the dominance of this genre.
Here are the 16 Biggest Opening Weekends for Comic Book Movies.
17 Guardians of the Galaxy - $94.3 million
Back in 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe consisted of the usual suspects, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow. But that summer, Marvel introduced some new characters that weren’t guaranteed successes. Before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel focused on building up its universe on well-known superheroes and expanding on them. This was the first they deviated from the successful formula, so naturally there was anxiety as to whether Guardians would indeed succeed or make them look stupid. To everyone’s surprise, it was a smash hit.
Opening to a gross of $94.3 million, Guardians of the Galaxy impressed even the harshest of critics and went on to become the biggest non-Avenger movie in the MCU. Tallying a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 91%, the movie rode a wave of positive reviews and is now seen one of the best movies out of Marvel. It’s record-breaking opening weekend still holds the title for biggest August opening ever. Not too bad for Star-Lord and company.
16 Captain America: The Winter Soldier - $95 million
In the early stages of the MCU, the only well-established star was Iron Man. Captain America, Thor and The Incredible Hulk had tepid, although still successful performances in their first outings. That was to be expected, as they were busy laying down the foundation for The Avengers. Coming into Phase 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was looking to reach new heights in the non-Avenger or non-Iron Man MCU movies and that it did.
Debuting with $95 million, Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened to the biggest April opening ever. That sum has since been eclipsed twice, but its opening still holds up well in the years since. Winter Soldier is now considered by many to be the best MCU movie and its storyline - the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the introduction of Bucky as the Winter Soldier - set the stage up for future Avengers movies and Captain America: Civil War.
15 Iron Man - $98.6 million
The idea of a unified comic book universe was something only possible in comic books and dreams not that long ago. The main formula in adapting comic books was to create a universe around the central character (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man). That all changed when Marvel got ahold of the rights to most of its characters. The plan of creating a unified universe sprung into action and the movie to incite the plan was Iron Man. That idea is considered genius today, but back then it was a massive risk. Robert Downey Jr. was considered toxic before his turn as Tony Stark. That all changed in 2008.
Iron Man opened with $98.6 million and changed the way comic book movies were done. The first of what is now 13 movies made a statement as the MCU’s first movie. The movie earned a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the highest rating on this list, and still holds up extremely well in the pantheon of MCU movies. Iron Man continues to be the most popular Marvel character since his debut and it all started one weekend in May 2008.
14 X-Men: The Last Stand - $102.7 million
The comic book world is now dominated by the MCU, but not too long ago, the scene was dominated by Spider-Man and X-Men. Those days are long gone, as the cinematic landscape has shifted towards built universes with millions of tie-ins and characters. At the peak of the X-Men glory days (a success they’ve sustained) was the conclusion of the original trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand. The first X-Men film was the first comic book movie to capitalize on the modern trend of mighty villains (Magneto) and CGI-driven conflict. That was sustained and improved upon in X2: X-Men United and crescendoed with The Last Stand in 2006.
The last chapter of the trilogy opened with a record-breaking $102.7 million over Memorial Day weekend in 2006. X-Men cemented itself as one of the premiere comic book franchises with the massive opening. Unfortunately, that was where the good news ended. The reviews weren’t too kind, especially of director Brett Ratner’s vision, which differed greatly from Bryan Singer - the director of the first two films in the series. Still, the hefty performance of The Last Stand laid down the foundation for what is now the new X-Men franchise set in the past, which even brought back some of the original stars in X-Men: Days of Future Past. It still ranks as second highest grossing X-Men movie.
13 Spider-Man (2002) - $114.8 million
Every movie on this list has one movie to thank for its success - Spider-Man. Before 2002, previous comic book movies were more conservative and grounded affairs. The scope of imagination was held back by technology, but that all changed when Sony adapted Spider-Man for the big screen. The new movie was given a free-range with what was (at the time) state of the art CGI and created a movie that captivated the minds of audiences around the world.
Spider-Man opened with $114.8 million in May 2002, that first movie ever to cross the $100 million threshold in a weekend. That feat was incomprehensible pre-2002, but the anticipation for the movie was so great it broke new barriers. The movie was carried by strong performances by Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. In the past 14 years, there have been five more Spider-Man movies and the first one still ranks as the second highest-grossing.
12 Man of Steel - $116.6 million
Superman has had a difficult relationship with movie adaptations. When Christopher Reeves first donned the red cape in 1978, it was a resounding success. But slowly over the three sequels, the quality decline precipitously climaxing with the utter embarrassment Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was. A planned reboot/sequel in 2006 didn’t go according to plan and Superman Returns was forgotten as soon as it arrived. Following the footsteps of the Dark Knight franchise, Warner Bros. decided to give it another go with a gritty reboot helmed by Zack Snyder. Expectations were through the roof and in 2013, Man of Steel debuted to a massive $116.6 million opening.
The movie is now polarizing for its portrayal of the Son of Krypton and his murderous ways, but prior to the film’s release, the hype was electric. The impressive opening weekend number broke the record for biggest June opening ever. Today, the backlash of the movie and the unofficial sequel Batman v Superman have only ramped up opinions about the movie, but the movie was a success from the get-go.
11 Iron Man 2 - $128.1 million
The early days of the MCU build-up consisted of only two titular characters: Iron Man and Hulk. Care to take a guess which one was a bigger hit? If you guessed Iron Man, then you are correct. This was the scene for the first three years of the MCU. As The Incredible Hulk fizzled, Iron Man dazzled with its incredible success that spun off the first sequel pre-Avengers. Iron Man 2 followed the incredible goodwill of the first film and upped the ante, adding Black Widow and War Machine. Opening to a $128.1 million weekend, it was another rousing success.
Robert Downey Jr. carried his signature suave charisma in full display and continued to build Iron Man as the foundation for The Avengers. The film's critical response didn’t quite match the level of its predecessor - which is considered one of the best comic book movies ever - but it still earned praise. Nabbing a 72% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Iron Man 2 continued the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe amid healthy audience response.
10 Deadpool - $132.4 million
For the better part of 50 years, comic book adaptations, whether big budget movies or small TV productions, were grounded and focused on the trauma behind the responsibility of being blessed with super powers. “With great power, comes great responsibility” is Spider-Man’s motto, and that doesn't necessarily sound fun. These movies had a level of seriousness - with minor comic relief moments - that carried most superhero adaptations. That was until the Merc with a Mouth came along in 2016 and altered the future of comic book movies. After years of speculation, Fox greenlit the project, given the response to the leaked test footage and the rabid fans who called for a movie.
Deadpool opened this past February to a record-breaking $132.4 million. That tally is the biggest February debut ever. The obscene character was perfected by Ryan Reynolds, who found redemption after Green Lantern. Debunking many superhero tropes, including a willingness to murder and having a prostitute for a girlfriend, Deadpool broke new ground, challenging the status quo. In an era saturated with comic book adaptations, having a new character breathe life into the genre like Deadpool did is nothing short of admirable. With tag-lines like “I’m touching myself tonight,” what’s not to like about the Merc with a Mouth?
9 Spider-Man 3 - $151.1 million
Spider-Man movies have gone through some ups and downs over the past ten years. The character is currently in the midst of a second reboot and the Web Slinger was just introduced to the MCU. But even with his newfound friendship with Iron Man and company, the peak of the character, financially, came with 2007’s Spider-Man 3. The third entry into the Tobey Maguire franchise was following the critical praise and overwhelming success of the first two movies. Anticipation was at a fever pitch with the introduction of Venom, Sandman and the insanely cool Symbiote costume.
Spider-Man 3 was released in May 2007 and grossed $151.1 million in its opening weekend. At the time, it was the biggest opening of all time and the first film to gross $150 million in a weekend. This proved to be the peak of the franchise as well as the culmination, as plans for a fourth movie were eventually scrapped and gave room for the first of two reboots. It’s still the highest grossing Spider-Man film to date.
8 The Dark Knight - $158.4 million
Superhero movies have always relied on the suspension of disbelief to deliver the experience. These movies are suspended in fantastical worlds where mere non-humans can possess superhuman powers. That principal was for the most part thrown away in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, as it tried to deliver a superhero grounded in reality. That paved the way for the visceral and unflinching look the Caped Crusader in The Dark Knight - the heavily anticipated sequel to Batman Begins.
The Dark Knight opened to a record-breaking $158.4 million dollars in July 2008. The massive response to the film was highlighted by Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker. It became the first movie since Titanic to gross over $500 million domestically and eventually earned over $1 billion globally. It’s also viewed as one of, if not the best superhero movie ever made. It currently has a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating (tied with Iron Man), which is the highest rating for a comic book adaptation. Ledger eventually took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously at the 2009 Academy Awards.
7 The Dark Knight Rises - $160.8 million
After Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight reached classic status after at great box office run and glowing praise from fans and critics, plans for a sequel were a given. The only challenge was to create a movie that could at least follow in the footsteps of the Batman lineage. After four long years, The Dark Knight Rises hit theaters in July 2012. Along for the ride were Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy.
Taking in a sizable $160.8 million, that was enough to top its predecessor. At the time, it was the third-biggest opening ever. The Dark Knight Rises eventually crossed the $1 billion mark and still ranks as the highest grossing Batman movie ever. Although it not reaching the same critical praise as its precursor, it was no slouch itself earning an 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating. The movie was the final chapter of The Dark Knight trilogy.
6 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - $166 million
The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe left many envious of the lucrative movie model it had crafted, but none more than Warner Bros. and DC Comics, who aside from the successful Dark Knight trilogy, failed to establish other comic book franchises. After Man of Steel, another movie on this list, the studio saw an opportunity to build upon its most lucrative assets and decided to greenlight a Batman-Superman project. The movie was supposed to set up future Justice League movie and other DC Extended Universe projects.
This past March, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice grossed $166 million during its opening weekend, shattering the March opening record. Much has been made of the critical response to the movie, but the success can’t be ignored. There is an audience built in and the idea of two major superheroes like Batman and Superman clashing certainly excited even the most ardent of fanboys. The movie ended up a success even amid much negativity, and the new iteration of Batman and introduction of Wonder Woman were well-received.
5 Iron Man 3 - $174.1 million
By 2013, the MCU was a well-established juggernaut that was earning boatloads of money by the billions with the success of its movies. The whole team was led by one singular character - Iron Man. The loveable “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” continued his dominance with the third entry into his solo outings. Iron Man 3 hit exactly a year after The Avengers and didn’t miss a beat. It grossed $174.1 million, which was good for the second-biggest opening of all-time.
Iron Man 3 continues to be the most successful MCU movie outside of the Avengers movies. It went on to gross over $1.2 billion globally. Although it did not receive the same critical praise as the first Iron Man, it still did relatively well with critics and fans. The success of the Iron Man films can easily be observed by this list, which includes every film in the trilogy. Although plans fourth movie haven’t led anywhere, Robert Downey Jr. has expressed interest in returning for another solo adventure. And who can blame him with the kind of money the role is bringing him.
4 Captain America: Civil War - $179.1 million
The newest addition to the list comes courtesy of another MCU movie. The biggest and most grand in terms of scope MCU movie outside of the Avengers is Captain America: Civil War. Truthfully, it should be called Avengers 2.5 with its long list of addition to the cast. After the events in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there are repercussions that our favorite superheroes must deal with. Those consequences drive the plot of Civil War. Every superhero - sans Hulk and Thor - returned from Age of Ultron for a battle against each other. The showdown pitted Team Cap versus Team Iron Man.
Captain America: Civil War opened last weekend to an impressive $179.1 million, good for 5th all-time. Technically, this is the biggest non-Avenger opening, but given the lengthy list of appearances - most prominently Iron Man - the film was carried by The Avengers-like line-up. The introduction of Spider-Man to MCU also had to help build the hype. Barely in its second week of release, Civil War is already on track to eclipse the $1 billion and beyond. Given the warm response it’s been receiving - with a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating - something tells us it’ll have long legs.
3 Avengers: Age of Ultron - $191.2 million
After the success of The Avengers, Marvel quickly went to work on Phase 2. The plan was to culminate the second chapter of the MCU with another Avengers movie. Iron Man 3 kicked off the phase and that was followed by Thor and Captain America sequels along with the introduction of Guardians of the Galaxy. Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters May 2015 to great fanfare like its precursor.
Age of Ultron gathered a total gross of $191.2 million during its opening weekend, which was second only to its predecessor. The impressive sum continued to cement the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the leading franchise-churning-machine. Although Ultron didn’t quite match the ultimate gross of the first movie, it still did very well, taking in $1.4 billion by the end of its run.
2 The Avengers - $207.4 million
The idea of joining multiple superheroes for an event-like movie is something that is becoming more prevalent for studios. Prior to the creation of the MCU, there were no plans for the unification of comic book worlds as studios opted to work on single franchises. That changed when Phase 1 of the MCU culminated with one of the biggest movies ever to be released - The Avengers. It brought together every character Marvel has the rights to, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye, and pitted them against the mightily charismatic Loki.
The Avengers opened in May 2012 to the record-breaking figure of $207.4 million. This marked the first time a movie has grossed over $200 million in a weekend and become only the third movie to gross over $600 million domestically. In total, the movie finished its box office run with over $1.5 billion. More importantly, the movie changed the way comic book movies were done. Sure, there will still be the individual hero outings, but studios are turning their sights on replicating the MCU’s formula and catching the same lightning in a bottle success The Avengers experienced.
Comic book movies are going to continue making obscene amounts of money. Early reports of fatigue have been soundly proven incorrect with the sheer number of movies breaking $100 million-plus in the opening weekend. With future Justice League and Avengers: Infinity War movies (along with many others) lined up over the next four years, those massive grosses will continue to be a steady presence.
What did you guys think? Are you surprise a particular movie didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below.
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