Top-Earning Superhero Movies

By Annie Mueller | July 21, 2011 AAA
Top-Earning Superhero Movies

Maybe it's the cape; maybe it's the secret identity; maybe it's just because we all wish we could fly or have x-ray vision or turn green and rip our shirts off. Whatever the reason may be, comic-book-based superhero movies grab our attention - no matter how predictable the plot lines may be. (To learn more about summer movies, check out The Economics Of Summer Blockbuster Movies.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

Top Earners for 2011
In the top 10 highest-earning movies for 2011, so far, superhero flicks have made quite a mark. The latest installment in the Transformers never-ending storyline of cars-turned-heroic-robots has transformed into $261 million in gross earnings. Further down the list, Thor has grossed over $175 million and the current X-Men movie (which one is this? third? fourth? fortieth?) has managed over $140 million.

Kung Fu Panda, while not a comic-book-based superhero movie, still gives us superheroes, albeit animated ones. Apparently, audiences will take superheroes in live action or animated form. Kung Fu Panda 2 has pulled in over $159 million in gross sales.

Highest Grossing Superhero Movies
Those are just the high earners for superhero movies produced in 2011. The highest grossing superhero movies have earnings that are staggering. Dark Knight made over $1 billion; all three Spider-Man movies made well over $700 million each, with the third reaching almost $900 million in earnings. And The Incredibles grossed over $600 million - another score for animation.

Not bad for the fan boys.

Those numbers are high, compared to movies of any genre. In 2009 the top-earning movies of all time, out of every genre, are all right around the $1 billion mark with the exception of Titanic (1997), which grossed closer to $2 billion. (For more on movies that make the most money, see Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)

Highest Production Cost Superhero Movies
So a high-earning superhero movie is just a high-earning movie, period. High-earning movies can also be high-budget movies, racking up millions in production costs. An average production budget in 2006 was around $100 million. Production costs for superhero movie can easily top that average. Green Lantern, for example, cost close to $200 million to produce, and Thor around $160 million. Iron Man reportedly tallied up a bill of $150 million to produce.

How Many Superhero Movies Are There?
There are anywhere from 400 to 600 Hollywood-produced movies per year. Since 1978, there have been only 85 superhero movies produced (by Hollywood); of those 85, 22 were sequels. 2008 gave us eight superhero movies, the most of a single year thus far, according to an infographic by CinemaBlend.

Superhero movies are a small percentage of all the movies coming out of Hollywood, which makes it perhaps even more significant that three (or four, if you count Kung Fu Panda) of the current top-10 earners of 2011 are superhero movies.

Superhero Stocks Can Fly, Too
The companies that own these superheroes (and accompanying villains) are hoping to keep the superhero love alive. Marvel Entertainment, which owns Spider-Man, the Avengers, Thor and Iron Man, was named a top stock pick in 2008. Good call - Marvel's stock jumped 9.42% on the release of Iron Man alone. So if you really want to win big with superhero movies, buy some stock before the next big release ... and then smuggle in your own popcorn...

What will they do when they run out of superheroes? It's a money-making business, so don't expect superhero movies to quit appearing, as long as we keep lining up to see them. Think sequels, trilogies, spin-offs ... maybe a whole series of "Children of the Superheroes" is in order. Clark Kent Jr, anyone? (To see which movies have been successful in the past, see Top 10 Successful Movie Franchises.)

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