10 Biggest Lessons The Superhero Genre Can Learn From The MCU’s $1B+ Movies

Summary

  • Marvel’s success is due to building a larger cast and patiently constructing a connected universe.
  • The MCU maintains a balance between legacy characters and new stories, exploring different paths for its movies.
  • The MCU is able to create a world that is engaging for new and old audiences, and its selection of movies that have made over $1B proves that this approach works for a range of different tones and genres.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the most successful series in the history of cinema. At this time, 10 MCU movies have made $1 billion or more at the box-office. No other studio has seen this kind of success with a single franchise, and with that comes a number of lessons that can be taken, especially when reviewing the Marvel movie box office. While the studio has slowed down in terms of success following Avengers: Endgame, there is a blueprint for success that the franchise has built.

A $1 billion box-office gross is an incredible feat that only 54 movies have reached, with Inside Out 2 being the most recent. With ballooning budgets, however, it has become a benchmark for success in some contexts, especially as the MCU timeline takes on some grander storylines. Looking at the details, it seems that movies must follow a complex path to find success at the box office. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and films as diverse as Joker, Zootopia, and Avatar have grossed $1 billion, some consistent lessons can be learned from Marvel’s success.

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10 The Biggest Superhero Movies Take Decades To Fully Build

Time Allows Legacy To Be Established

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Culmination has been necessary for much of the MCU’s success. From the very beginning, the series was founded on building larger and larger, culminating with the significant release of 2012’s The Avengers. This team-up film not only grossed over $1 billion but also laid the framework for the future of the universe to follow, highlighting its significance to the MCU’s success.

Constructing a larger team and making the pieces of the universe build toward something must be done with patience. From the Multiverse Saga, which laid the first seeds of Thanos in 2012, through to its realization in Avengers: Endgame in 2019, or the original Spider-Man from 2002 leading into Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2021, the most successful components of the MCU have taken their time. Using that time well has led to great financial success for the studio.

The Avengers 2012 Poster The Avengers Where to Watch

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The sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers is an action superhero film that sees the heroes assembled across the franchise face off with a deadly galactic threat. With the arrival of Thor’s brother, Loki, heroes such as Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Widow are brought together to stop him from unleashing an alien race upon earth.

9 Marvel’s Television Shows Must Be Secondary

The Best Series Are The Ones That Have Felt Optional

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In recent years, Marvel Television has attempted to more directly integrate their television offering with their feature films. This has had some success and some failure, with The Marvels‘ disastrous box-office being perhaps the best example of the latter. Audiences do not want homework for their features, something that Marvel was surprisingly aware of early on.

With spinoff series like Runaways and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the MCU franchise was able to grow larger for diehard fans without sacrificing the low buy-in for the feature films. This allowed the franchise to build on certain storylines while ensuring more casual audiences weren’t alienated from the franchise, which proved integral to the MCU’s ability to blossom to its largest and most successful state yet. As such, keeping these projects at arm’s length was necessary for the series’ box-office success.

8 Superhero Legacy Movies Have The Most Box Office Potential

Legacy Is Difficult To Build But Has Led To Great Success

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Superhero cinema is in a complicated place right now, and it has become clear that the series that have significant legacies are the ones that will find the greatest success. Spider-Man: No Way Home is perhaps the best example of this, where enormous familiarity has led to enormous box office returns. Deadpool & Wolverine is tracking to break records because it uses nostalgia similarly, exploring multiple characters with a significant and poignant on-screen history.

While the legacy element for a lot of superhero stories tends to be the renown of the original comic story being adapted, there’s perhaps most real resonance when Marvel acknowledges the most successful aspects on its own movie past. This can be true even for shorter cameos, as the multiversal storytelling in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness nearly grossed $1 billion seemingly in part because viewers were curious to see elements like Patrick Stewart’s return as Professor X.

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7 There’s No One Way To Make A Hugely Successful Superhero Movie

Marvel Has Found Many Paths To Financial Success

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While there are certain details that better tend to larger grosses, as examined in this list, it is also important to remember that many Marvel films have told very different kinds of superhero stories and have still reached that $1 billion gross. For example, Iron Man 3 told a paranoid story of conspiracy over the backdrop of Christmas, while Captain Marvel was a period-set space-action movie.

Black Panther felt akin to an action thriller while examining larger cultural issues, and Captain America: Civil War was a large team-up feature. As such, it’s clear that Marvel’s main movie universe has found success through a number of different avenues. Following these different paths and being willing to do things differently has been key to the studio’s success.

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6 Superhero Movie Failures Can Be Redeemed

Good Stories And Bad Stories Are All Part Of The Same Universe

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Marvel has had its share of failures over the years, but they have never allowed those setbacks to significantly alter their entire direction. Conversely, after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice underperformed at the box office, Warner Bros. immediately changed the tone and feel of their already-in-production Justice League to align better with Marvel projects, even hiring Avengers director Joss Whedon to step in and finish the film.

Marvel has instead looked at their disappointments, like Thor: The Dark World, and have spent time over the years making the film seem better and more successful in retrospect. By using scenes from that film in Endgame, Marvel was able to make their whole universe more cohesive, contributing to Endgame‘s critical and financial success. In doing this, nothing from the past is left behind, and failures only lead into greater options for the future.

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5 Superhero Movie Sequels Do Not Guarantee Box Office Growth

There Appears To A Ceiling For Success For Many Marvel Franchises

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For a while, especially after the record-breaking success of No Way Home, it seemed that sequel growth was something almost guaranteed in Marvel storytelling. However, this has recently slowed down, showing that there is a seeming cap of sorts that can be met on some of these franchises. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels are both strong examples of sequels grossing less than their predecessors.

However, these movies were not as well-liked, leading some to believe they could be anomalous to this situation. This idea is somewhat debunked by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a beloved conclusion to the trilogy that shrank from the second film’s total gross despite excellent reviews. As such, while keeping iconic figures around is key for the franchise, this also underlines a need for new growth to ensure the MCU can manage things accordingly.

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4 Having More Superheroes Does Not Always Mean Success

Sometimes Less Is More In Marvel’s Movies

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Following The Avengers, it seemed that the key to larger grossing releases was to include more characters and crossovers in successive films. While this was true to an extent, and certainly bolstered the success of films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, it has more recently become clear that bringing in additional characters does not necessarily contribute to box office success.

Spider-Man: No Way Home featured three leads and was enormously successful, while The Marvels failed when doing a similar thing. The key difference here is the audience’s investment in the characters, as viewers must have a significant investment in the core figures involved before their larger team can have any true significance.

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3 Beloved Characters Are Key To Success

Building Relationships With Those Heroes Can Take Time And Effort

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Superhero franchises naturally hinge around how invested the audience is when it comes to core characters. While the MCU retrospectively seems like it was always set to be a surefire success, it appeared far more of a risk in the early days, as building a universe around the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor meant that a disconnect with them was a massive hit to the franchise. How Marvel addressed this, however, was by slowly building strong, empathetic, relatable characters that were a pleasure to watch on screen.

For some heroes this path appears more straight forward – such as is the case with Spider-Man, who has long been one of the most consistently adored superheroes in Marvel and the genre in general – and for some this is more a case of providing enough screen time to solidify their reputation with viewers. Either way, once established, movies like Iron Man 3 are able to build immense box office success because of this bond with the audience, leading to some truly stellar results.

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2 Good Word Of Mouth Must Last In The Weeks After Release

A Strong Opening Can Only Take A Movie’s Box Office So Far

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Quality in Marvel films has been incredibly important in ensuring a film’s success. While Marvel films have tended to open large and to fall off quickly after, taking a look at some of the most successful entries over longer periods attests to their quality. Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy are two prime examples of this.

Spider-Man: Far From Home had an incredible multiplier, and grossed more than $1 billion dollars after a $92 million domestic opening. This is notable when compared to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which instead made only $467 million worldwide after an excellent $102 domestic opening. This underlines how much the quality of a film is important when ensuring total box-office success.

1 Movie Stars Make Less Of A Difference When it Comes To Superhero Movies

The Draw Is In The Characters More Than It Is The Performers

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Marvel is bigger than its stars, and being aware of how the culture receives their films is the most important thing. The Avengers was built around lesser performers as newly iconic characters, and it made an incredible amount of money at the box office. While the talents of the actors involved in the MCU’s biggest successes do play a crucial role, it’s also clear the focus is to be placed on their acting capacity rather than any star power, keeping the franchise grounded in a specific and consistent way.

Stars are forged in the MCU. Bringing successful performers like Brie Larson, Angelina Jolie, and Paul Rudd has been an asset to the series, but their films have not consistently been the most profitable. Edward Norton, one of the best-known stars of the 90s and 2000s, was even recast in the universe just as it was getting underway. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is bigger than any of its stars, and recognizing the importance of the series over the individual has been a major component in that.

MCU Franchise Poster Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a multimedia superhero franchise that began in 2008 with Paramount’s Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. The franchise quickly grew in popularity, with Disney eventually buying out Marvel Entertainment in 2009. The MCU consists of dozens of movies and TV shows, most notably Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision, and Loki.

Created by Kevin Feige First Film Iron Man Upcoming Films Deadpool & Wolverine , Captain America: Brave New World , Thunderbolts (2025) , Blade (2025) , The Fantastic Four (2025) , Avengers: The Kang Dynasty , Avengers: Secret Wars

Upcoming Marvel Movies

Release Date

Deadpool & Wolverine

July 26, 2024

Captain America: Brave New World

February 14, 2025

Thunderbolts*

May 2, 2025

The Fantastic Four

July 25, 2025

Blade

November 7, 2025

Avengers: The Kang Dynasty

May 1, 2026

Avengers: Secret Wars

May 7, 2027

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