The Most Valuable Comic Book Characters in Film

Yeah, I know there are some movies in this that we don't talk about. But it's a pretty cool picture. So deal with it.

Yeah, I know there are some movies in this that we don't talk about. But it's a pretty cool picture. So deal with it.

Recently I was reading an article about the most lucrative comic book franchises of all time. It came up in my Facebook feed, as all nerd news stories today do, and quite honestly it felt like click bait. And it was. The premise of the article was completely off. They took the world wide gross of each movie in a franchise and just added them up. That’s it. And I’m sure they all thought to themselves, “Well this will be an easy way to tell which movies make the most money.” But it isn’t, not even by a long shot. So as I sat there fuming, I had all sorts of issues. “All this tells me is that Spider-man has made more movies than Iron Man,” I said sitting at my desk. What about average per movie? And honestly, Batman ’89 was a massive success, but it wont register as much because this article didn’t control for inflation either.

So I sat down, with a pen and paper, a calculator and an inflation calculator and made my own list. Is it definitive? No. But I think it’s certainly a better judge than anything else I’ve seen out there. So here is how it breaks down.

This is about the value of a single character. So we are throwing out The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy right away. I will have their values in the “Honorable Mentions” category, but as ensemble pieces, it’s really hard to judge the individual characters in each film. Also, at this time, Avengers 2 is still in theaters, and I wanted to make this about characters with multiple films. 

Next, we change all worldwide gross figures (not just domestic) to 2014 US Dollars. Even if a movie was released in 2012 or 2013, we adjusted for inflation. Just to make it fair. So each film has been altered for inflation, then their totals added together. That total gross is then divided by the number of films they produced. Get it? Got it? Good. Here is our list from 10 to 1.

 

Number 10 – Blade. 

Average per film: $209 Million

Number of films: 3

Blade is one of the few African American heroes in Comic Book cinema. And he does really well. Also, Ryan Reynolds shows up and tries to make it all about him...that will be a trend in comic book movies.

Blade is one of the few African American heroes in Comic Book cinema. And he does really well. Also, Ryan Reynolds shows up and tries to make it all about him...that will be a trend in comic book movies.

The original list did not include Blade, and I think it’s a disservice to the franchise. I included it because, when comic book movies were toxic, Blade was out there doing its thing. It was a very successful franchise for a little known comic book hero. It kept the world aware that there was still room for comic book movies to be made. Blade had a great cast, and ended up being some decent movies as well.

 

Number 9 – Hulk 

Average per film: $307

Number of films: 2

Ed Norton was a big name actor. Not large enough to support the weight of The Hulk.

Ed Norton was a big name actor. Not large enough to support the weight of The Hulk.

Here we included the 2 Hulk films, Hulk and the Incredible Hulk. Both were not the successes that Marvel had hoped they’d be. In today’s post-Avengers world, people keep asking about another solo Hulk film. And it’s in these numbers that you can see why Marvel wouldn’t be as interested as you’d think. While Mark Ruffalo has done a great job with the character, Marvel may feel that their isn’t enough interest to justify spending $250 million on a new project.

 

Number 8 – Fantastic Four

Average per film: $371 Million

Number of films: 2

The Fantastic Four was sneaky successful. Also, Jessica Alba was crazy hot, and if nothing else it made us give Chris Evans another shot.

The Fantastic Four was sneaky successful. Also, Jessica Alba was crazy hot, and if nothing else it made us give Chris Evans another shot.

Another movie left off the original list. Fantastic Four rode off the coattails of a lot of other successful franchises at the time. And looking back, many consider it a failure. But for its time, Fantastic Four was a moderately successful franchise. With the reboot on its way, it’s good to remember that The Fantastic Four has some room to grow, but more importantly that it does still have a recognized name.

 

Number 7 – Superman 

Average per film: $445 Million

Number of films: 6

Just because you were the biggest name in all of comics, doesn't mean all your movies did well.

Just because you were the biggest name in all of comics, doesn't mean all your movies did well.

This is the big surprise of the list. And one that I admit isn’t exactly accurate. I spent a lot of time searching for data on Superman 2, 3 and 4, and unfortunately there really aren't a lot of worldwide numbers, just domestic. So for those 3 movies, we are missing the worldwide data and as such only domestic were included. This is mostly because the worldwide release dates were scattered. But looking at the numbers we do have, you can see DC’s need for the character to grow. Superman is arguably the most famous comic book character of all time, and for him to be this low on a list is unfortunate and shows how far DC has left him fall.

 

Number 6 – The X-Men

Average per film: $492

Number of films: 7

We are calling this X-men, but we should call it Wolverine. Also, Ray Park is in the first one, and he's fantastic. More Ray Park casting is what I'm really saying...

We are calling this X-men, but we should call it Wolverine. Also, Ray Park is in the first one, and he's fantastic. More Ray Park casting is what I'm really saying...

X-men was a film that opened the door in a lot of ways. It was at a time when Batman and Robin had really made studios less likely to embrace comic books. But it was X-men that made a big leap back into that superhero franchise. In the X-men franchise, we have also included the two Wolverine films, because really all of those movies were about him anyway. Plus he was the only character to be in every film. X-men had its issues, mostly with the second and third movies, but the newest film, Days of Future Past, was actually the franchise's most successful movie ever made. That bodes very well for its sequels and for the franchise as a whole.

 

Number 5 – Captain America

Average per film: $555

Number of films: 2

I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that things worked out for Chris Evans. I mean, his best film is probably still "Not Another Teen Movie." But I guess these have been more successful.

I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that things worked out for Chris Evans. I mean, his best film is probably still "Not Another Teen Movie." But I guess these have been more successful.

Captain America at one point was Marvel’s most important property, and the legend lives on. Captain America has only made two films, but both were very successful. The interesting part here is that Cap 2 made much more than Cap 1, which bodes very well for the success of the franchise. Cap 3, for all intents and purposes, will be the biggest film in the series, and that will show out in the revenue. Cap may be one of Marvel’s most recognizable figures, but he is not their most valuable property when it comes to films.

 

Number 4 – Thor 

Average per film: $567 million

Number of films: 2

From afterthought to one of Marvel's biggest franchises. It also launched Chris Hemsworth into becoming People's Sexiest Man Alive. He narrowly beat out co-star Stellan Skarsgard. That is a joke...

From afterthought to one of Marvel's biggest franchises. It also launched Chris Hemsworth into becoming People's Sexiest Man Alive. He narrowly beat out co-star Stellan Skarsgard.

That is a joke...

This was probably the most surprising of all the franchises to me. Thor was never a franchise that I thought would really do well for Marvel, and it felt more like Marvel just needed it out there to create The Avengers. Thor 1 was a very good film, but Thor 2 felt flat. However, in the numbers, both were very successful, especially overseas. This is why Thor will get a third movie, and why it’s now considered one of Marvel’s biggest franchises.

 

Number 3 – Batman

Average per film: $695 million

Number of films: 7

While I did not include Mask of the Phantasm, mainly because it was only ever released on 1,500 screens and for only about 7 weeks, it was still the best Batman movie of all time and it deserves some recognition...

While I did not include Mask of the Phantasm, mainly because it was only ever released on 1,500 screens and for only about 7 weeks, it was still the best Batman movie of all time and it deserves some recognition...

Batman has had the most films made about him. In this list we did not include Batman 66 or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. So let me explain: Data is not easy to grab for Batman 66, and Mask was released on a very small number of screens. It wasn’t a full release at all. So we didn’t include either film. With Batman you run into two movies that drag the franchise down, Batman Returns and Batman and Robin. Both films pull the average way down here. Batman Begins wasn’t a massive success either, just a good moderate one. We can all agree that Batman hasn’t been done a lot of favors in his film adaptations, but recently he has become not only the most successful character (Just looking at money over the last 10 years), but the best critically as well.

 

Number 2 – Spider-man

Average per film: $778 million

Number of films: 5

Yes, I specifically used this image to make fun of Spider-man. Also to mention our podcast where we did audio commentary for Spider-man 3. Go check it out on the top of the page under podcasts...

Yes, I specifically used this image to make fun of Spider-man. Also to mention our podcast where we did audio commentary for Spider-man 3. Go check it out on the top of the page under podcasts...

Even with all Sony has done to hurt the franchise, it still stands strong. If you were curious why Marvel wanted Spidey back in fold so much, this is why. Spider-man is still an incredibly successful franchise. And while the Sam Rami run contributes a lot to this overall, the last two Spidey pictures were very successful overseas as well. They made a good chunk of their money abroad. So don’t sleep on Spider-man yet. He may still be the king of the comic book film.

 

Number 1 – Iron Man

Average per film: $856 million

Number of films: 3

 

There's a huge reason Robert Downey Jr made all that money. He's crazy worth it. Also, Terrence Howard was in this movie... did we all just forget about that?

There's a huge reason Robert Downey Jr made all that money. He's crazy worth it.

Also, Terrence Howard was in this movie... did we all just forget about that?

Is this a surprise? I can’t tell. We all knew Robert Downey Jr was the highest paid actor for a reason. We all knew that the movies did really well and laid the ground work for Marvel to build an empire. But just how well they did was a shock to me. Mostly because, critically, Iron Man 2 and 3 were considered awful, and were considered just moderately successful in the US. But around the world, Iron Man still reigns supreme as a franchise that is a must see. This is why it was so huge for Marvel to accounce that Iron Man will be in Cap 3, but not in his own film. How much money is everyone leaving on the table? Iron Man, for right now, has made more money per picture than any other hero. That is very telling on the incredible work at Marvel Cinematic, and Robert Downey Jr himself.

 

Honorable Mentions:

The Avengers: $1, 573 Million

The Avengers made a crazy amount of money but I don't know who to credit. Iron Man? Cap? Black Widow? Probably safer to give all the credit to Joe Quesada. 

The Avengers made a crazy amount of money but I don't know who to credit. Iron Man? Cap? Black Widow? Probably safer to give all the credit to Joe Quesada. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: $774 Million

I can't tell of GOTG is proof that comic book movies will always sell, or proof that we are definitely living in a nerd bubble that will pop any second now...

I can't tell of GOTG is proof that comic book movies will always sell, or proof that we are definitely living in a nerd bubble that will pop any second now...

 

I think their totals need to be mentioned here. Mostly because of the hard work Marvel has put in to each film, but also to see where we are going. Comic book films have become a very large part of our summer block buster season. They are often the most highly anticipated and biggest releases each year. 

Or are they? Coming up, I will detail these films when put next to the biggest movie franchises. How does Captain America stack up against Harry Potter? Batman vs. Twilight? What about Marvel vs. Star Wars? What is your favorite movie franchise? And how does it stack up against today’s behemoth, the comic book movie?

Marcus Miller