Updated: Article now includes Opening Weekend box office numbers and information concerning Marvel and DC Comics sales figures
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Superhero films have been popular since Christopher Reeve donned blue spandex and a red cape in 1978's Superman movie. While there has been a steady stream of comic book-based superhero movies since then, 2000's X-Men release ushered in a whole new era for the genre.
Since 2000, Hollywood has released 61 superhero films that have captivated audiences as special effects and 3-D technology has improved.
This renewed interest in classic comic book characters on the silver screen has proved to be extremely lucrative for industry stalwarts Marvel and DC Comics. Marvel was purchased by Disney (DIS) five years ago for $4 billion and DC Comics has been a subsidiary of Warner Bros for nearly three decades.
The two company's dominate the superhero comic book market share with Marvel and DC Comics earning 35.42% and 27.22% of the dollars spent on comic books respectively.
The glut of releases in the genre is due mainly to the fact that the films are so profitable. Four out of the top ten highest grossing films of all time are superhero movies. The Dark Knight Rises (10th - $1.08 billion worldwide gross), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (7th - $1.12 billion), Iron Man 3 (6th - $1.21 billion) and Marvel's The Avengers (3rd - $1.5 billion) have all been released in the last four years.
Despite the overall success of these films, clearly not every superhero movie is created equally. While there have been some triumphs there have also been plenty of clunkers as well (Catwoman and any of the Transformers movies after the first one I'm looking at you). Superhero movies, much like the comic books that preceded them, strike a personal chord with fans of the genre that one may not get with a generic action or romantic comedy film.
This is a list of the 10 greatest superhero movies of all time.
The Dark Knight Rises
Production Budget: $250 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $160.88 million
Domestic Gross: $448.13 million
Total Gross: $1.08 billion
The finale of Christopher Nolan's take on the Caped Crusader was a fitting end to a brilliant trilogy. The film picks up eight years after the events of the Dark Knight film (more on this later) with a battered and broken Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) no longer fighting crime as his alter ego, the Batman. With the Joker defeated and the Falconi crime syndicate in jail, Gotham experiences a golden era void of criminal masterminds trying to destroy the city. However a new threat emerges when the evil Bane (Tom Hardy) decides that it is time Gotham paid for its sins.
What makes this movie great is the story of redemption as Bruce Wayne goes from uninterested in being Batman again to donning the mask and cowl only to be mentally and physically broken in half by a superior enemy in Bain, and finally reemerging from the depths to once again save his beloved city of Gotham. Despite being 20 to 25 minutes longer than it should (it is a Christopher Nolan movie after all) the Dark Knight Rises felt like a fitting farewell to one of cinema's most entertaining trilogies.
Production Budget: $200 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $88.15 million
Domestic Gross: $373.58 million
Total Gross: $783.76 millon
Sam Raimi's Spider-Man sequel was darn near perfect. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster as he laments the loss of his ability to live the life of a normal college student and subsequently loses his powers. However when the nefarious Docrtor Octopus threatens the love of his life, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), Peter dons the Spidey costume once again to fight for her.
The second film in Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy hit the delicate balance of in eye-popping in flight fight scenes, emotional depth and comedy that have drawn fans to the Stan Lee's Spider-Man character for decades. The film features one of the most intense battle scenes ever imagined when Spidey fights Doc Oc on top of a runaway train.
Production Budget: $54 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $32.52 million
Domestic Gross: $82.34 million
Total Gross: $155.01 million
*Channeling my inner Andy Rooney* Back in my day, movies about vampires involved the various ways to kill the undead not about falling in love with them, and there is no superhero better at killing a vampire while looking cool than Blade (Wesley Snipes). Guillermo del Toro took the reins of the Marvel character's second movie and turned a good story into a gory, action packed, satisfying bloodbath.
The story follows Blade as he teams up with the vampires he has dedicated his life to killing due to a new threat posed by a mutation in the vampire species. Never one to be shy with the gore, Blade II is certainly not for the weak of stomach and under del Toro's direction the action scenes in this movie are second to none.
Production Budget: $66 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $24.17 million
Domestic Gross: $59.62 million
Total Gross: $99.32 million
Guillermo del Toro knows how to make entertaining super hero movies and maybe none better than his work on comic book fanboy favorite, Hellboy. Del Toro co-wrote and directed this movie about a wise cracking, cigar smoking hell spawn who fights for the United States government under the banner of the U.S. Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. The film stars Ron Perlman (who also appeared as one of the main villains in Blade 2) as Hellboy and features some amazing makeup work for the paranormal characters.
X2: X-Men United
Production Budget: $110 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $85.55 million
Domestic Gross: $214.94 million
Total Gross: $407.71 million
X2: X-Men United is the followup to the widely successful original X-Men film. While going through this list it becomes apparent that superhero movies buck convention when it comes to their sequels as they are often better than the original. Original movies tend to spend a lot of time on backstory and don't have as much action in them, while superhero sequels focus more on action and story progression. X2 falls into this category as the level of action in this film is ratcheted up times 20 over its predecessor. The X-Men is one of Marvel's most iconic franchises and X2 satisfied both comic book fans and general movie goers alike.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Production Budget: $200 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $90.82 million
Domestic Gross: $189.10 million
Total Gross: $609.60 million
X-Men: Days Of Future Past got the X-Men franchise back on track after a series of duds like X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men Origins - Wolverine. 'Days of Future Past' was one of the comic's most poignant series and the silver screen adaption did the original story justice. Though it deviated slightly from the original story, the movie brought many of the story arcs that felt incomplete from previous movies full circle. Bryan Singer returned to direct the film after not having directed anything from the series since X2, a return that netted the franchise an excellent final product.
Production Budget: $54 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $14.10 million
Total Gross: $108.18 million
Christopher Reeve reprised his role as the Man of Steel in this 1981 followup to the 1978 blockbuster Superman. While it can be argued that the original movie, featuring Marlon Brando as Superman's father, is superior, the level of action and character development tells a better story in the sequel. Superman is having girl troubles, power troubles, identity troubles ... and he still has to save the world on a daily basis. No rest for the weary.
Batman (Tim Burton)
Production Budget: $35 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $40.48
Domestic Gross: $251.18 million
Total Gross: $411.34 million
Tim Burton's 1989 vision of the Batman character was a stark turn from the last time we saw the caped crusader in the 60's camp television show starring Adam West. This Batman was dark and brooding, matching the city of Gotham. Throw in a great soundtrack from Prince and a powerhouse performance from Jack Nicholson as the Joker and you have the makings of one of the greatest superhero movies ever. Burton's vision of the Batman universe returned the character to the status that it well deserved.
Marvel's The Avengers
Production Budget: $220 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $207 million
Domestic Gross: $623.35 million
Total Gross: $1.52 billion
Marvel spent years and multiple movies building up the 'Marvel Universe' to house its Avengers movie in, and the result was nothing less than spectacular. Marvel teased the movie in after-the-credits scenes in Iron Man, Thor and others, an unprecedented marketing strategy that foreshadowed just how epic this film was going to be. The buildup led to the largest box office opening weekend in history with the Avengers taking in $207 million, nearly recouping its massive production budget in just a couple of days. The Joss Whedon directed film mixed humor, action and eye-popping special effects into an enjoyable mix that impressed audiences around the globe. The followup to the film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is expected to hit theaters early next year.
The Dark Knight
Production Budget: $185 million
Opening Weekend Sales: $158.41 million
Domestic Gross: $534.85 million
Total Gross: $1 billion
The Dark Knight is the finest superhero movie ever made. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan followup to Batman Begins is perfect from start to finish. Buoyed by a powerhouse performance from Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight strikes all of the right chords for both fans of the comic and casual movie goer. The story continues from where the previous film left off, with Batman fighting crime in the city. However as the bad guys losses increase, they begin to get desperate and employ the services of the totally insane Joker. Hijinks and psychological warfare ensue. Ledger posthumously won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.