The Geek Beat: The Most -- and Least -- Successful Marvel Movies, by the Numbers

The Geek Beat: The Most -- and Least -- Successful Marvel Movies, by the Numbers

Apr 15, 2014

Avengers posterA month ago, I waded through the box office reports and aggregate reviews of all the movies based on video games over the years to find out how they ranked as far as ticket sales and overall approval from audiences. It was an interesting experiment that offered up some surprises as far as the relationship (or lack thereof) between a film's success at the box office and how it's received by fans and critics alike.

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier still enjoying a nice run in theaters after an impressive premiere, I thought it would be fun to look at how the latest installment of Marvel's cinematic universe stacks up against its peers.

Before I get number crunching, though, a brief note: given that The Winter Soldier is still in theaters, I decided to compare its opening-weekend ticket sales (according to Box Office Mojo) against those of the other Marvel projects in order to come up with something comparable across the entire line of movies. Oh, and just like with the video game movie rankings, I used an average of each film's approval rating on both and MetaCritic, the two most popular online review aggregators.

Now let's see how the Marvel movies rank...


Opening Weekend Revenue for Marvel's Cinematic Universe

1. The Avengers ($207,438,708)

2. Iron Man 3 ($174,144,585)

3. Iron Man 2 ($128,122,480)

4. Iron Man ($98,618,668)

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95,023,721)

6. Thor: The Dark World ($85,737,841)

7. Thor ($65,723,338)

8. Captain America: The First Avenger ($65,058,524)

9. The Incredible Hulk ($55,414,050)

It's no surprise that The Avengers occupies the top spot in this list, but I have to admit being a little surprised by how much Iron Man 3 leads the rest of the Marvel movies, given how polarizing the film was among my friends and colleagues. It's also worth noting that every sequel has raked in more revenue than its predecessor, making me feel a lot better about the assertion I made in last week's column that geeky movies often buck the trend when it comes to diminishing returns in a franchise.

The reviews, on the other hand, tell a somewhat different story...

Average Review Score for Marvel's Movies (% Positive Reviews)

1. Iron Man (86%)

2. The Avengers (80.5%)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (79.5%)

4. Captain America: The First Avenger (72.5%)

5. Iron Man 3 (70%)

6. Thor (67%)

7. Iron Man 2 (65%)

8. The Incredible Hulk (64%)

9. Thor: The Dark World (59.5%)

While this ranking contradicts my theory regarding geek-friendly films getting better the second time around, it doesn't offer up many surprises when it comes to the three films that most impressed audiences and critics. I've heard a few people argue that The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie so far, but I'm a big believer in The Avengers and Iron Man earning the top spots on that list. Given the remainder of the list, it's clear that soldier-turned-superhero Steve Rogers is a critical darling, as both Captain America films rank well above the rest of the Marvel movie-verse installments as far as reviews go.

Honestly, the biggest surprise (for me) is the presence of Thor: The Dark World at the bottom of the list, with a mere 59.5% approval rating. Was Chris Hemsworth's second adventure as Thor that much worse than The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man 2? The numbers say it was, but my heart tells a different story. (The brilliance of the “meow-meow” scene in The Dark World is clearly underappreciated.)

Incredible HulkComparing the two lists also reveals some noteworthy elements – such as the conspicuous difference between many of the films' box office success and critical response. Where Iron Man 2 and (to a lesser degree) Thor: The Dark World had no problem selling tickets, both films had a much rougher time impressing fans and reviewers. Meanwhile, Iron Man 3 doesn't seem nearly as invincible as its massive opening-weekend sales suggest when you look at its aggregate review of 70% approval – which places it right in the middle of Marvel's cinematic universe.

Still, the two lists offer plenty of support for the universal success of Iron Man and The Avengers, as well as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which ranks in the upper half of both lists and seems to live up to all the hype – at least as far as the data suggests. Of course, it's worth pointing out again that The Winter Soldier is still in theaters, and if it continues along the box office path it's on, it's expected to rank right below the Iron Man films in total revenue.

So there you have it, true believers! A brief look at how the Marvel movies rank according to each film's average review and opening-weekend revenue. While there are all sorts of factors that contribute to a film's success – release date, competition, etc. – looking at something as basic as these two rankings can still offer an interesting perspective on how the films compare.

If nothing else, the numbers seem to offer yet another reason to make The Winter Soldier a must-see movie for even casual fans of Marvel's movie-verse.


Question of the Week: What's your favorite film in Marvel's cinematic universe?

Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends,, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.




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