FEATURE: Nine Upcoming Superhero Movies That Could Gross $1 Billion at the Box Office

Feb 21, 2015

Grossing more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office is a rare feat accomplished by only nineteen films so far, four of which are comic book movies. The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) both surpassed this prestigious mark, cementing Batman’s status as a cultural icon. Meanwhile, Marvel’s The Avengers grossed a record-smashing $1.5B in 2012, while in 2013, Iron Man 3 made a whopping $1.2B worldwide.

Of course, with the dawn of a new age of superhero films upon us, there is a possibility - maybe even a likelihood - for several more movies to gross $1B. In this feature, I look at the upcoming comic book film schedule and list a few that I think might just have a shot at joining that prestigious club, as well as ones that could come close.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1st, 2015)

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This film, the sequel to the biggest comic book movie of all time, is inarguably one of the most anticipated of the year. With the growing popularity and good will of the Marvel brand, as well as a prime May release date, there’s no doubt that Age of Ultron will be a huge hit at the box office. Of course, the question everyone is asking is, how big?

The first Avengers is only the third movie ever to make $1.5B or higher, and when a film makes a particularly huge impact at the box office, it’s not often that a sequel will match that success. Examples include Spider-Man vs. Spider-Man 2 ($822M vs. $784M) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey vs. The Desolation of Smaug ($1B vs. $960M). However, there are exceptions - The Dark Knight Rises, for example, had a slightly higher gross than The Dark Knight. Maybe Age of Ultron will be another exception.

Either way, it will still be a huge success. Again, the Marvel brand is now a guaranteed draw, as well as the film’s established cast (particularly Robert Downey Jr., whose last two Marvel films both made $1B). Age of Ultron is also by far the biggest movie coming out this May, and its biggest competition, Jurassic World, won’t be released until over a month after Avengers. So, there’s little to no doubt that the film will make at least $1B worldwide.

Prediction - Avengers: Age of Ultron will make somewhere between $1.4 and $1.6B at the worldwide box office.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25th, 2016)

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Next, we have what is easily one of the most anticipated films of the decade. Dawn of Justice marks the first live action team-up of Superman and Batman, and that alone is a huge draw. Throw in the long-awaited big screen debut of Wonder Woman, as well as it being the film that officially kick starts the DC Cinematic Universe, and we have a serious juggernaut to anticipate. Not to mention, Batman by himself has made $1B each in his last two films.

On the other hand, Superman’s last movie, Man of Steel grossed $668M at the worldwide box office in 2013. While it’s an impressive amount of cash, especially for a Superman film, some felt like it could have made more money. Thankfully, the fact that the next film will pit Superman against Batman - in a crossover that fans have wanted to see for many years - all but guarantees that it will be more successful financially. Again, the question is, by how much?

Batman and Superman individually are more recognizable as brands than every other superhero, and putting them in the same film will draw in huge audiences. Batman v Superman has also drawn much anticipation online - there has particularly been plenty discussion, both positive and negative, over the castings for Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. So, there’s clearly much interest in what this film is doing.

Then there’s the release date. The movie won’t face any serious competition until Captain America: Civil War hits theaters a little over a month later. So, it has six weeks to itself essentially. While it may not make Avengers money, Dawn of Justice will easily make $1B worldwide.

Prediction - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will gross $1.3B at the worldwide box office.

Captain America: Civil War (May 6th, 2016)

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This movie, which kicks off Marvel Studios’ Phase Three, has generated much anticipation since its announcement last fall. The film adapts the groundbreaking “Civil War” comic book arc, which pits two groups of superheroes led by Captain America and Iron Man against each other in a, you guessed it, civil war. Civil War also serves as a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of Marvel’s most critically acclaimed films to date. Throw that in with Robert Downey Jr.’s return as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and we have what will be yet another smash hit for the studio. And let’s not forget Spider-Man, who is expected to make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in this film.

The Winter Soldier grossed nearly $715M last year, making it one of Marvel’s most financially successful installments. The fact that the same writers and directors are returning for Civil War is a plus, as well as the prime May release date. However, May 2016 will also see the release of Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass and X-Men: Apocalypse. The former is a sequel to a billion dollar grosser, while the latter is a follow-up to the most successful X-Men installment to date. Both films release three weeks after Civil War. While I do not think either film has a shot at making $1B, I believe both will slow Civil War down just a little, which could keep it from surpassing Batman v Superman. And that movie, again, has less competition in its first few weeks of release.

Still, Civil War will still be a huge hit at the box office. It has all the ingredients for it - the Marvel brand, a beloved cast of characters, and pitting two of the world’s most iconic superheroes against each other. Other characters, such as Black Panther, will make their big screen debut here.

And let’s not forget Spider-Man, who is by far one of the most popular superheroes of all time. Despite his own movies declining at the box office recently, he is still a big draw, and having him cross over with Captain America and Iron Man is something fans have demanded for a long time. While he may not have a huge role in Civil War, putting even a hint of him in the marketing will attract even more attention than the movie already has.

Prediction - Captain America: Civil War will make $1.2-1.3B at the worldwide box office. Possibly even $1.4B.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (May 5th, 2017)

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Next, we have yet another Marvel sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the biggest movies from last year; an extremely impressive accomplishment for a group of comic book characters that most never even heard of five years ago. Marvel did a terrific job turning this team into a household name overnight. Needless to say, anticipation is already high for the sequel, which once again is dated in the enviable first week of May slot.

The first Guardians made $774M at the worldwide box office. In addition to critical acclaim, it benefited from a time of year when blockbusters are rarely released. While May is usually a busy month for films, Guardians 2 is only one of two films dated for that month in 2017. And it has several weeks to dominate before big films like Toy Story 4 and Wonder Woman hit theaters. So, it will likely be yet another huge hit for Marvel, but will it hit $1B?

The surge in interest in this property will likely grow over the next couple years, similar to how interest continues to increase for other Marvel properties. The same cast and creative team returning for Guardians 2 is always a positive, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it includes some sort of lead-in to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. That will obviously increase more interest. So, it’s likely that the second movie will be even bigger than the first. However, I don’t think it will quite make a billion. I think it will come pretty close, though.

Prediction - Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will make around $930M at the worldwide box office.

Marvel’s Spider-Man (July 28th, 2017)

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Marvel Studios’ second film of 2017 is none other than a second Spider-Man reboot, in an unprecedented collaboration with Sony Pictures. Of course, last week’s announcement that Spidey is finally joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe was easily one of the biggest in recent comic book movie history. Like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I don’t think that this Spider-Man movie will quite reach a billion dollar gross. However, I can see it coming closer than the previous films in the franchise.

There has been a growing lack of interest in Spidey’s recent movies. Last year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 grossed $709M, which, while impressive for most films, is a bit disappointing for such an iconic franchise. However, I’d be shocked if interest in the property isn’t renewed following Spider-Man’s reported appearance in Captain America: Civil War and then his own film. And since the former movie will likely be a massive hit, it is a wise way to introduce a new Spidey. And putting the Marvel Studios name on it shouldn’t hurt at all.

As for the release date, Spider-Man has pretty much the entirety of August and September to itself following its late July launch, since those two months do not have any films dated yet. So, the lack of competition should really help it, especially since the last two installments both opened weeks before another comic book blockbuster (The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 and X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014). From there, it’s a little harder to determine, since we know next to nothing about this take on Spider-Man, as well as the film’s cast and crew. Although, the fact that this is yet another reboot within the past decade could be hold it back a bit, which has happened in other franchises such as Batman, Superman and even Spidey himself. Still, I believe that this new movie will be the highest grossing Spider-Man to date - again, however, it will likely fall short of a billion.

Prediction - Marvel’s Spider-Man will make around $900M at the worldwide box office.

Justice League Part One (November 17th, 2017) and Part Two (June 14th, 2019)

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After a decade in various stages of development, we are getting not only one, but two Justice League movies by the end of this decade. Fans have wanted to see the DC superhero team on the big screen for a long time. We’ll be getting a first look at this lineup in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before it is explored to its full potential a year later. As I said before, I believe Batman v Superman will be a massive hit at the box office, and it’s only naturally for Justice League to go bigger. Part One is more than capable of matching The Avengers‘ gross, if not surpassing it. Same with Part Two if the momentum keeps up.

November 2017 is a pretty crowded month. In addition to Justice League Part One, Marvel will release Thor: Ragnarok two weeks earlier. An untitled Pixar film and a new animated take on How the Grinch Stole Christmas are also dated for November. While this is a bit of competition, I believe that Justice League is able to overcome it. Thor has two weeks to itself before taking on DC’s finest. Justice League should then dominate until December, which will likely see the release of Star Wars Episode VIII. As for Part Two, it is currently the only film dated for June 2019. And obviously, its gross would depend largely on Part One‘s.

Both Justice League movies will feature some of the most iconic superheroes in history, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and others. I believe that both parts reaching a billion should be a given, and again, they should both be able to end with a box office total similar to that of The Avengers. Of course, if Batman v Superman is a financial dud for some reason, then that would put a damper on future DC films. But I honestly don’t see that happening. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Justice League Part One is the highest grossing movie of 2017.

Prediction - Justice League Part One and Part Two will both make $1.5-1.7B at the worldwide box office.

Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (May 4th, 2018) and Part 2 (May 3rd, 2019)

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Finally, we have what is sure to be one of the biggest cinematic events of the decade. Marvel’s Phase Three comes to a close with a two-part epic that will bring the Avengers - and likely the Guardians of the Galaxy, among other heroes - into their highly anticipated battle with Thanos, Infinity Gauntlet and all. Little else is known about plot details, which is understandable; after all, we haven’t even seen the second Avengers yet! Still, Marvel is sure to hype these two films up even more as we draw closer.

I don’t even need to again go over the advantages Marvel has when it comes to the box office. The studio has put out hit after hit after hit, and that trend only looks to continue as it concludes Phase Two and begins Phase Three. Then there’s the beloved brand name, popular cast, and proven track record. Even beyond the core Avengers franchises, Phase Three will introduce several new characters who could each hold their own series of films. Doctor Strange. Black Panther. Spider-Man. Captain Marvel. All of these characters could potentially cross over with the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War. And perhaps even the Inhumans could pop up, even though their movie is now releasing after Infinity War Part 2. The Netflix shows - featuring characters such as Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist - are also possible inclusions. Needless to say, the potential for all these franchises going into an epic cinematic crossover such as this is through the roof.

There is currently next to no competition for these two parts, and frankly, it is difficult to imagine a tentpole that could seriously take this on. In fact, I believe that one of these parts will become the first comic book movie to reach $2B at the box office. Marvel will have been building up to Infinity War for a decade by the time 2018 rolls around, and fingers crossed that this one lives up to the massive hype.

Prediction - Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 will both make $1.8-2B at the worldwide box office.

Honorable Mentions –  X-Men: Apocalypse (Prediction: $720M worldwide gross); Thor: Ragnarok ($715M worldwide gross); Captain Marvel (Prediction: $650-700M worldwide gross); Wonder Woman (Prediction: $650-700M worldwide gross); Doctor Strange (Prediction: $625M worldwide gross)

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