Over the years, fans of superhero movies have grown accustomed to the fact that the genre typically brings in a lot of money for studios, which justifies their big budgets, shared universes, and A-list actors. Looking back, one simply has to look at Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner’s DC Extended Universe, or Fox’s very successful run with the X-Men – all incredibly successful franchises that made billions of dollars and topped the box office around the world.
However, superhero movies haven’t always landed on top, even when they were expected to. Instead, there have been quite a few superhero movies – from Marvel and DC alike – that have failed to reach the number one spot on their opening weekend, losing to films that, by every other measure, were not necessarily expected to beat them in ticket sales.
10 DARK PHOENIX
Fox’s Dark Phoenix was released on June 7th, 2019 in the United States, which is after the Disney deal to acquire Fox had already gone through. Starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jessica Chastain, the film was a sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and intended to conclude this franchise, which started in 2000 with the first X-Men movie, once and for all. The path seemed clear for Dark Phoenix to crush its opening weekend, as it was premiering alongside the comedy Late Night and the animated feature The Secret Life of Pets 2 – both of which were expected to lose.
However, as audience reviews of Dark Phoenix started to come out and were mostly negative, the movie’s momentum slowed down. In the end, The Secret Life of Pets 2 came out on top, grossing $46 million on its opening weekend. Dark Phoenix finished in second, making only $32 million at the weekend box office.
9 SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE
Starring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent, the four original Superman films are often regarded as classics that changed the superhero genre on the big screen forever. All four installments were released between 1978 and 1987, with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace being the last sequel.
As the story goes, the fourth Superman IV had the very low budget of $17 million, which significantly impacted the movie’s special effects, and at least 45 minutes of the film were cut in an effort to achieve a 90-minute runtime. With so many technical and financial difficulties, it comes as no surprise that The Quest for Peace was not well-received by audiences.
Consequently, this became the first-ever movie starring Superman to not reach the number one spot during its opening weekend. Instead, Superman IV came in fourth place for that July 24th, 1987 weekend, reaching the low $5 million three-day gross at the box office. Fun fact: 1987’s Robocop took the top spot during that weekend, even though it was on its second week.
8 FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)
Many people enjoy criticizing the first Fantastic Four movies from the 2000s decade. However, no one can argue that those films still brought in a significant amount of money for Fox and both reached the number one spot during their respective opening weekends.
On the other hand, the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot did not do as well for the studio, despite being supposed to take this franchise more seriously and cater to fans and critics alike. Instead, the reboot opened to a $25 million weekend on August 7th, 2015, losing to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation on its second week out.
7 GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
The sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance had Nicholas Cage reprising his role as the title character, but seemingly nothing could stop the movie from becoming a bona fide box office failure. Released on the weekend of February 17th, 2012, this second Ghost Rider installment lost to both Safe House and The Vow on their second weeks, reaching the low $22 million three-day weekend gross.
What’s more, Spirit of Vengeance has an 18% score on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst superhero movies ever according to the critical reviews aggregator. As of today, one can argue that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is marked as Nicholas Cage’s last big-budget mainstream action movie ever.
Fresh off her Academy Award for Best Actress win for her work in Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry signed on to do Catwoman. Of course, the actress was no stranger to superhero movies, having already played Storm in 2000’s X-Men and 2003’s X2. And one cannot forget that Halle Berry was a Bond Girl in 2002’s Die Another Day, which solidified her place as a bona fide action star.
But things did not turn out all that well for 2004’s Catwoman. Instead, the movie was received with heavy criticism right out of the gate, which contributed to the fact that it only made $16 million during its July 23rd, 2004 opening weekend. The movie premiered in third place, losing to newcomer The Bourne Supremacy and the animated feature I, Robot on its second week.
5 THE PUNISHER
Starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta, 2004’s The Punisher is a fairly well-known box office flop among superhero movie fans. With a budget of $33 million, the film barely recouped its investment at the domestic box office over time.
During its April 16th, 2004 opening weekend, The Punisher (which made $13 million during its first three days) lost the number one spot at the box office to Kill Bill Vol. 2 (which grossed $25 million). In hindsight, it doesn’t feel strange that Quentin Tarantino’s second Kill Bill installment crushed its competitors, but let’s not forget that this was a grindhouse movie competing with a Marvel franchise.
4 PUNISHER: WAR ZONE
Hollywood took four years to gather up the courage to make Punisher: War Zone, which meant to reboot this character and completely ignore its predecessor, 2004’s The Punisher.
Starring Ray Stevenson and Dominic West, Punisher: War Zone opened in eighth (you read that right, eighth) place at the box office during its December 5th, 2008 opening weekend. It lost to movies such as Four Christmases, Twilight, Bolt, and even Australia, all of which were on their second or third weeks in the theaters. All in all, War Zone only made $4 million at the box office during its first three days.
3 BLADE: TRINITY
David S. Goyer, who is now better known for his writing credits on The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, got his start writing for big-budget superhero movies with the Blade trilogy that took place between 1998 and 2004.
However, the last installment in the series, Blade: Trinity, did not do as well as its predecessors. During its December 10th, 2004 opening weekend, the third Blade film only grossed $16 million at the box office, which is less than half of what Ocean’s Twelve – that weekend’s number one movie – made.
It is very unfortunate that 2005’s Elektra failed so significantly at the box office, coming right after the abysmal commercial and critical failure of 2004’s Catwoman. That is because, for years, Hollywood established the notion that female-led superhero movies would not work, using these two films as the ultimate proof. Thankfully, 2017’s Wonder Woman and 2019’s Captain Marvel have now smashed those unsubstantiated notions.
Elektra placed fifth during its January 14th, 2005 opening weekend, grossing only $12 million at the box office. It lost not only to newcomers such as Coach Carter and Racing Stripes, but also to Meet The Fockers and In Good Company, both of which had been out for weeks.
With 1995’s Judge Dredd – starring Sylvester Stallone as the title character – reaching some form of cult status, it came as no surprise that Hollywood wanted to reboot the franchise with 2012’s Dredd. However, things did not work out as well as the studios wanted them to work.
Instead, Dredd was released on September 21st, 2012 and only grossed $6 million during its opening weekend. Consequently, it lost to movies such as End of Watch, House at the End of the Street, and Trouble With the Curve. All in all, Dredd placed sixth during its first weekend, failing to reboot this franchise.