Summary

  • Superhero movie budgets are soaring beyond belief – from $250 million to $495 million and higher.
  • The massive budgets are evident in epic scenes, CGI effects, star-studded casts, and global locations.
  • Despite blockbuster success, high budgets come with high risks, with net profits not always soaring.

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While there are economical movie studios like A24 that can stretch a tiny budget so far, almost the opposite is the case when it comes to superhero movies. Budgets for comic book films are inflating more and more with each passing year, especially as the DC Universe and Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline continue to expand and films crossover with other series.

While there are huge, spectacular event movies that unsurprisingly cost hundreds of millions to produce, there are some older films with astronomical budgets that may come as a surprise. Between several team-up movies and one film that sits outside of any shared universe, it’s almost shocking how much money goes into blockbuster films, especially since many upcoming superhero movies are sure to cost even more. All of these budgets are according to Box Office Mojo, unless stated otherwise.

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The Dark Knight Rises – $250 Million

2012

Bane in front of Blackgate in The Dark Knight Rises

The 10 most expensive superhero movies of all time are mostly part of the MCU or DC Extended Universe, but The Dark Knight Rises is the only exception. The third and final movie in Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy is a whole $70 million more expensive than its predecessor, The Dark Knight, but every single dime is accounted for on-screen.

It’s easy to see why the movie cost so much, as while the opening of The Dark Knight is a riveting bank heist, the opening of The Dark Knight Rises is a meticulous kidnapping in the sky involving three aircraft. And as the film borrows heavily from the Batman comic book No Man’s Land, the whole of Gotham City is in ruins, and Nolan does everything he can to portray that as practically as possible.

Captain America: Civil War – $250 Million

2016

Captain American and his allies rushing into battle in Civil War.

There was a huge increase in budgets between the Captain America movies, especially when comparing the cost of The First Avenger, which had a budget of $140 million, with Civil War. However, the budgets were used in very different ways, as The First Avenger is a period war drama just as much as it’s a superhero movie, and those 1940s facades on buildings wouldn’t have been cheap.

Civil War, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different in terms of location, as its centerpiece takes place at an empty airport landing strip. Instead, the bulk of the $250 million clearly went to the talent, as it’s essentially Avengers 2.5. Ant-Man, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and so many others all have major roles in the film, and Tony Stark is just as much of a main character as Steve Rogers.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – $250 Million

2016

Knightmare Batman walking through his desert base camp in Batman V Superman Dawn Of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a huge event when it was first released, as Warner Bros. had been teasing the movie for years, and it features so many epic action sequences thanks to the huge budget. But because of its budget, Dawn of Justice wasn’t actually all that much of a success.

The film is the highest-grossing Zack Snyder movie, as it made $873 million at the worldwide box office, which sounds like a huge number, but also makes sense given it contained DC’s two biggest stars. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie’s budget may have even been closer to $300 million, and prospectively needed to make $800 million at the box office to break even due to the addition of promonal costs. As such, the film left movie theaters in the green, but not by much.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 – $250 Million

2023

Peter Quill, Drax, Rocket, Gamora, Groot, Nebula and Mantis heading to fight the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The cost of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 making it one of the more expensive MCU movies of all time isn’t that surprising, given that the first installment cost $232 million by itself, and the franchise has only grown more expansive and action-packed since then. With the third movie also being a sendoff to the original team and a welcoming of the new Guardians of the Galaxy group, making it an explosive finale was crucial, and the plot itself focuses on Rocket and his origin story – which also involves other CGI-heavy animal characters – it would’ve perhaps been difficult to not have the movie cost a considerable amount.

Mercifully, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is also one of the most well-received MCU Phase 5 installments. This is also something reflected in its box office, which saw it make $854 million in its worldwide box office, proving a fine return to form for Marvel both financially and critically.

Man Of Steel – $258 Million

2013

Henry Cavill in metropolis in Man of Steel

It comes as a shock that Man of Steel actually had a larger budget than its sequel, as the follow-up is a team-up movie full of CGI and introduces both Wonder Woman and Batman. However, the budget of the 2013 movie is all accounted for in the final 30 minutes of the film alone. Of all the superhero movies that destroy entire cities, which is many, Man of Steel might be the worst offender.

The movie features General Zod, one of the best villains in the DCEU, and the entire final act of the movie is a giant fight sequence between him and Superman, which leads to the destruction of the entirety of Metropolis. The inflated budget might have something to do with why Warner Bros. has been so hesitant to develop a sequel to the movie, even though it’s something that has been campaigned about for many years.

The Marvels – $270 Million

2023

Captain Marvel using her power to save the Kree in The Marvels

The Marvels’ box office is a perhaps inevitable aspect of so much of the movie being based in space, and involving extensive, VFX-heavy depictions of awe-inspiring otherworldly landscapes. Unfortunately, the investment placed into the movie didn’t return as much in terms of box office success, with The Marvels making a worldwide total of $199.7 million.

However, it is also worth noting that a portion of The Marvels was filmed in studios just outside of London and thus benefitted from the United Kingdom’s Film Tax Relief, which resulted in a return of $55 million. This technically means that the cost of The Marvels was closer to $215 for Disney, which may go some way to softening the blow of its lackluster financial results.

Justice League – $300 Million

2017

Bruce tells Barry his superpower in Justice League

Regardless of what fans think of the movie, the development, production, and release of 2017’s Justice League was convoluted from start to finish. The movie switched hands from Zack Snyder to Joss Whedon – two directors who have extremely different styles and had vividly different visions for the team-up movie – leading to an unnecessarily high budget for the overall movie by the end of its production.

According to Variety, there were countless reshoots for the movie too, so the film likely cost even more than the reported $300 million. It was almost as if Warner Bros. couldn’t catch a break in 2017, as the studio even had to spend tens of thousands of dollars digitally removing Henry Cavill’s mustache, which he grew for his role in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Avengers: Infinity War – $400 Million

2018

Captain America leading the heroes in Avengers Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War is an absolute spectacle. It’s full of almost every MCU superhero that has appeared over the past ten years and more and amazing action sequences too. But all of those movie stars come with a huge price tag, and the thousands of digital effects artists have salaries too.

However, while the movie was a huge success, making more than $2 billion, given the production cost, the marketing budget, and the movie theatres’ cut, according to Deadline, Infinity War actually had a lower net profit than Joker. It just goes to show that tightening the purse strings can make a significant difference and that a movie doesn’t have to have a budget of nearly half a billion dollars to make a billion.

Avengers: Endgame – $400 Million

2019

Iron Man hugs Spidey on the battlefield in Avengers Endgame

It’d seem like the stars of the MCU would have the upper hand in this situation, as Marvel Studios needed Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and about 20 other movies stars, all of whom had imperative roles in the final movie of the Infinity Saga. The actors could have negotiated whatever they wanted, and it’s a surprise that Endgame‘s budget didn’t escalate to double what it is.

To keep the budget down, Disney offered back-end points to the actors, which means a percentage of the movie’s gross profit. That meant that, according to Indiewire, Downey earned a huge $75 million for the movie. That method still doesn’t mean the budget was low, as $400 million is an unimaginable amount of money, even for a movie production.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron – $495 Million

2015

According to Forbes, Avengers: Age of Ultron had an outrageous budget of $495 million. It comes as a huge shock that Age of Ultron had a higher budget than Infinity War and even Endgame, not to mention that it was almost a whole $100 million higher. Where there’s a clear jump in scope from Age of Ultron to Infinity War, there wasn’t such a jump between the first two movies.

And while watching Ultron, it isn’t clear where that money went, especially given that its predecessor looks and plays much better. However, though all of the most recent MCU movies are shot on soundstages, saving millions, Ultron was shot on location all over the world, including Italy, the UK, and South Africa.

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