Stan Lee created a monster. Well, quite a lot of them to be exact, as well as a plethora of powerful superheroes.
There was no predicting what the Marvel Cinematic Universe would one day turn into, eventually producing more money-making movies than just about any other studio out there. Consider the many, many billions of dollars the galaxy of Marvel films have amassed in less than two decades time. Some of them have grossed more than $1 billion all on their own. It’s a staggering thought, particularly where the biggest box-office winners are concerned.
Marvel’s highest earners
These numbers don’t necessarily equate to the best Marvel movies of all time, as the cumulative effect of storylines, character buildups, introductions of new heroes, and wrapping up timelines allows some movies to naturally draw a larger audience. Still, these flicks are nothing if not impressive, and the added perk of being supremely high earners only makes them more spectacular. All reported lifetime gross earnings of these films are informed by Box Office Mojo by IMDB Pro.
15. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11, 2022)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $859,208,836
One of the MCU’s more recently-released flicks, it’s not overly surprising Wakanda Forever isn’t the top earner on this list. A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic — which soured many audiences to packed public spaces — and the string of disappointments surrounding it weighed Wakanda Forever down as it headed into theaters, and it shows in the film’s earnings.
With all that considered, the more than $859 million the film earned is particularly impressive. The loss of Chadwick Boseman, paired with the factors above, could have doomed Wakanda Forever, but instead the film pulled in more money than mega-popular hits like Thor: Ragnarok. Color us impressed.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5, 2017)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $863,756,051
Considering the massive popularity behind the Guardians franchise, it’s a bit surprising to see this entry so far down the list, but considering its competition Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still in great standing. The 2017 release is at least as good as its predecessor, and — by some fans’ estimation — it’s even better. Bringing the same delightful cast, witty barbs, and killer soundtrack back for a second round, James Gun proved he’s one of the behemoths of the superhero genre. He knows what people want, and the $800 million this flick earned is proof.
13. Spider-Man: Homecoming (June 28, 2017)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $880,166,924
The first official outing of the MCU’s Spider-Man — post-Civil War, of course — had plenty stacked against it, but it still managed to reach remarkable heights. It was, after all, the third attempt to bring Peter Parker to the big screen in less than two decades, and many audiences were growing tired of the same old origin story.
That’s likely why the MCU decided to skip it completely. Instead, Homecoming focuses in on elements of Peter that are far too often ignored, and created a hit in the process. Somehow, this flick didn’t pull in quite as much as the far-inferior (fight me) Spider-Man 3, but it still made an eye-watering amount of money.
12. Spider-Man 3 (May 1, 2007)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $894,983,373
We must admit, this one came as a surprise. This flick’s surprising supremacy isn’t only spurred by a recent uptick in at-home viewing before and after No Way Home, either, since the original finale of Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy brought in more than $100 million on opening weekend alone.
Sure, we have a much better Venom character now (thank everything that’s holy), but it’s well-established that just about any Spider-Man or Batman film will get eyeballs no matter what, so it’s not too surprising that fans were clamoring to see what happened after Spider-Man 2.
11. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6, 2022)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $955,775,804
Released in the midst of the MCU’s most broadly-criticized era, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness‘ impressive earnings are made all the more notable. It’s certainly not the strongest MCU film out there, and it’s earned plenty of pushback from viewers, but that didn’t stop them from buying up tickets. There was simply too much to enjoy in watching a bloodthirsty Wanda tear her way through various universes full of our favorite heroes.
10. Captain Marvel (March 6, 2019)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,131,416,446
Captain Marvel certainly earned more than it garnered in fanfare, but the introduction of a (far beyond due) female-led Marvel movie made history in more than one way. The flick actually takes place before the majority of the existing MCU timeline — set as it is in the 1990s — and it provided a welcome divergence from the Avengers-heavy releases of the time.
Considering it was first announced in 2014, there was plenty of time for fans to get excited about Captain Marvel. It certainly took awhile for Marvel’s promise of a female-led MCU flick to come to fruition, but it was well worth the wait. Particularly if its upcoming sequel, The Marvels, lives up to high fan expectations.
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home (June 28, 2019)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,131,927,996
Technically, Spider-Man: Far From Home served as the final Phase Three film, despite the broad misconception that Endgame actually capped off the iconic MCU era. Each of the MCU-era Spidey flicks have pulled in remarkable returns, thanks in no small part to their delightful twist on the established superhero format. Every one of the Tom Holland-led films work a surprise or two into their runtimes, and every one elevates the resulting release to new levels.
The film’s success is likely helped along by the prominence of Endgame, which — while conclusive — still left audiences with plenty of questions. At least some of those queries were answered in Far From Home, and even if they weren’t, the delightful storyline, engaging villain, and sheer fun of the film made it well worth the cost of a ticket.
8. Captain America: Civil War (April 27, 2016)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,155,046,416
The premise of Avengers fighting amongst themselves was already a baked-in element of the MCU’s format, but there’s a big difference between in-fighting and all-out combat. And the latter is exactly what Civil War offered up by pitting two of the franchise’s most iconic characters against one another. The film accomplished a staggering amount in its brief runtime, not only allowing Iron Man and Captain America to duke it out, but also introducing the MCU’s new Spider-Man, drawing lines between the bulk of the Avengers, and fleshing out Winter Soldier as a character. That’s a lot to pull off in only two and a half hours.
7. Iron Man 3 (April 24, 2013)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,215,577,205
Kicking off Phase Two on the heels of the epic success that was The Avengers, the third Iron Man movie in just five years’ time proved that audiences were desperate for more of Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic style. He brings Tony Stark to life with effortless ease, adding charm, ceaseless wit, and no small amount of arrogance and condescension to the flagship MCU character. Iron Man 3 didn’t quite live up to the films that came before — or many that came after — but it’s still a staple of the MCU’s early years, and a vital element of Tony Stark’s history.
6. Black Panther (Feb. 13, 2018)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,349,926,083
Black Panther came at a time when people were demanding more from the world of cinema, and the MCU delivered. Their response to demands for more diversity came in the form of Black Panther, and it absolutely dazzled. Gorgeous visuals paired with a stellar, grounded storyline, intruiging characters, and the fantastical prospect of Wakanda left audiences buzzing as they traipsed out of theaters.
Black Panther was released right in the midst of what many consider a high point in the MCU, nestled between beloved releases like Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War. The tragic loss of lead Chadwick Boseman only makes this film more special, and provides it with a special place in all his fans’ hearts.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (April 22, 2015)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,405,018,048
Arguably the worst of all the Avengers films, Age of Ultron still brought in eyeballs and dollar bills. It still provides plenty of vital worldbuilding, of course, and lays out the groundwork for one of the franchise’s most prominent love stories — that between Wanda Maximoff and Vision.
It also gave its heroes an opportunity to stumble, and recognize the dangers in their own growing power. Tony’s hubris was always a bit of a drag on the team, but Ultron really drives home just how awry good intentions can go.
4. The Avengers (April 25, 2012)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,520,538,536
The closure of Phase One was an absolute dandy, with four new MCU superhero titles (and a sequel) introduced in the run-up to the original Avengers flick. The 2012 film was exactly the ensemble fans envisioned when Iron Man came out in 2008, and it absolutely deserved its position as the third-highest grossing film of all time back in 2012. These days, it’s slowly getting edged out by its fellow MCU money-makers, but that doesn’t make the first Avengers film any less of a victory.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 15, 2021)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $1,921,847,111
When No Way Home hit theaters in late 2021, the buzz was louder than a swarm of hornets. The first official multiversal flick in the MCU, paired with the not-so-secret arrival of three separate Spider-Men in the same film, saw audiences heading into the film with sky-high expectations.
And, for most of us at least, those expectations were matched — and, in some cases, exceeded. No Way Home blends that classic MCU action and wit with genuine heart, jaw-dropping nostalgia, and the same delightful surprises we’ve come to expect from the MCU era of Spider-Man.
On top of everything else, Far From Home ended on a massive cliffhanger, setting Tom Holland’s Peter Parker up to juggle an exposed double life. Add several returning Spidey villains into the mix — along with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange — and no wonder this film is still regarded as one of the MCU’s best.
2. Avengers: Infinity War (April 25, 2018)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $2,052,415,039
The Avengers series has two of the top five, three of the top nine, and four of the top 12 grossing films of all time.
After a three-year wait following Age of Ultron, fans were anxious to see what was next for the Avengers, particularly in the wake of rife story-building across films like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Captain America: Civil War, among others. We were practically drooling for Thanos’ big entrance by the time Infinity War finally arrived, and man was the wait worthwhile.
It’s no wonder this movie pulled in the returns it did, once word of mouth started to spread. Even non-MCU fans were curious about the dire direction Infinity War took the MCU in, and audiences absolutely flocked to theaters to witness the carnage for themselves.
1. Avengers: Endgame (April 24, 2019)
Worldwide lifetime gross: $2,799,439,100
That curiosity only escalated once Infinity War‘s final credits rolled, and audiences were forced to wait an agonizing year before learning the fate of their beloved heroes. The Snap stuck with us those long months, and prompted a massive surge in theater visits from eager fans.
As such, the big finale to the Avengers saga brought in more than $357 million in its opening weekend and finally brought closure to viewers. It even claimed the position of highest box-office earner of all time, before it was once again unseated by Avatar, and Endgame continues to pull in views from its home on Disney Plus.
It’s all but guaranteed to be one of many bafflingly lucrative MCU flicks, as more hits release over the next half-decade. The franchise has seen a notable dip in quality in recent years, leading to broad superhero fatigue, but another hit like Endgame could easily change all that.