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Adjusted for Inflation, How Did the Other 5 Superman Films Stack Up Against the Massively Successful Man of Steel

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | June 16, 2013 | Comments ()


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Zack Snyder's Man of Steel absolutely dominated the box-office this weekend, breaking the June record for best opening and generating the second biggest opening of the year, behind only Iron Man 3, which had the second biggest opening of all time, behind only The Avengers. Man of Steel's $125 million opening weekend, in fact, eclipsed the total box-office for the second through fourth films of the Christopher Reeve era, and nearly matched the box-office total of the original Superman box-office of $134 million back in 1978. It also more than doubled the $52 million opening of Brandon Routh's Superman Returns back in 2006, and will likely surpass that film's $200 million box-office within the first ten days of release.

It is an unmitigated success, and those that enjoyed Snyder's Superman will undoubtedly get to see more of him. I'm quite looking forward to them, although I am bummed that future installments may not feature who I thought was the best part of Man of Steel, and the guy that anchored the film's emotional core, Kevin Costner. Without Costner, I don't think I liked Man of Steel half as much as I did because, even with very limited screen time, he managed to humanize Clark Kent more than anything else in the film.

Given the massive success of Man of Steel, however, I was curious as to how it stacked up against earlier Superman entries, once inflation is accounted for. It looks like, even adjusting for inflation, that Man of Steel is likely to eventually surpass all the entries except the original, which tapped out at $455 million adjusted, good for the seventh highest grossing superhero movie of all time. It says something about The Avengers ($609 million) that, even adjusted for inflation, it holds the top spot among superhero films, ahead of The Dark Knight ($591 million, adjusted), the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man ($551 million), and Tim Burton's 1989 Batman ($499 million).

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Granted, Man of Steel -- if word of mouth is outstanding -- still has an outside chance of beating the original Superman, but it should have no problem at all grossing more than Superman II ($308 million, adjusted) and Superman Returns ($200 million, adjusted).

It's interesting to remember, however, that back in the day, sequels almost always failed to live up to their predecessors at the box office (Stars Wars, excepted). It's why sequels used to not be as common as they are today, an era when the sixth Fast and Furious movie just became the most successful in the franchise, passing Fast Five over the weekend. In fact, Superman III and Superman IV were practically bombs. Superman III put up an only OK $153 million (adjusted for inflation), while the bottom dropped out with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which made only $31 million adjusted for inflation, or $15 million actual. I've never seen The Quest for Peace and judging by its box office, I am not alone. Critics were not kind, either; "one of the cheesiest movies of all time" holds a meager 9 percent on the Tomatometer.

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In fact, adjusted for inflation, Superman IV fared even worse than Supergirl's $33 million, adjusted for inflation, and that film I do remember. It was awful, even to a 10 year old. That is fairly evident from the trailer.

Let us hope that Warner Brothers doesn't let the success of Man of Steel go to its head and make the same mistakes twice.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • F'mal DeHyde

    I don't really care if I see the movie or not but I lust for his cape in the header photo. It's velvet, right? Tell me it's velvet.

  • Maguita NYC

    Don't think it's velvet, but surely it is some kind of very heavy material. Heavy touchable material. That bloody red suits him very well!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Supergirl is on my Top 10 of delightful terribad movies. I anticipate having a viewing series of these. Zardoz, I'm looking at you too.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    On the other hand, only about 55-58% of critics think it's good.

  • space_oddity

    I think this is a movie where you are generally a fan of superhero movies, you can safely ignore the critics. I wish it had been about 40 minutes shorter, but otherwise, it's pretty great.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Isn't fandom generally where the problems begin? Fans let things slide that other people don't, and vice versa. I'd rather watch a good movie than one which only fans of the franchise think is good.

  • Robert

    A quick glance suggests that some of the negative critics wanted the focus on the romance between Lois Lane and Superman. Others are asking, "Why so serious?" complaining about the lack of joy or humor in a superhero movie. Oddly enough, a lack of levity and mirth didn't stop the Dark Knight trilogy from getting good reviews.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    The Dark Knight Trilogy had Michael Caine as well as some antics Wayne pulled as part of his cover for levity. It wasn't much, but it is noticeable.

    And then there is Superman, a character whom many people can't accept as non-ridiculous. A gritty version will fail in their eyes.

  • Maguita NYC

    That's what scares me. I want to love that movie so badly, I'm trying very hard to find "reasoning" behind the below average rating.

    Because I'm one of them saps for big superhero movies with big noise and beautiful men with hairy chests, that easily gets submerged into the emotional experience of it all. So much so, that for the Dark Knight Rises after crying my eyes out in the theater, and screaming for all to give Michael Cain an Oscar already, it embarrassingly took me 2 more viewings at home before realizing how uneven the story was, and really, why did I cry so much.

    Well I'm watching Superman this coming Thursday, so we'll see if the critics' ratings will hold true and ruin the experience. And the beautifully hairy chest.

  • JJ

    I don't understand how critics' ratings would ruin the experience. Because if they are down on a movie, you will come into it thinking that it's probably not good and therefore not think it's good regardless?

  • Maguita NYC

    Actually, quite the opposite would happen: I would not let myself settle in too deeply in my chair while slurping down an Olympic-sized Slurpee, and would definitely not be easily immersed and submerged by the big boom-boom experience.

    Rather every now and then I would go "Oh yeah, that's what so-and-so meant by that", and "I see the bad CGI now". Not a fun movie companion.

  • JJ

    So either don't seek out the critics' ratings or try to remember that critics are fallible with different tastes and preferences that may or may not agree with yours. If you want to enjoy a movie, stop overthinking it and just go watch it.

  • Maguita NYC

    I love how much you seem invested in my emotional state and opinions over a movie, on a movie review site no less. Thank you!

  • JJ

    It's not a criticism. We'll can get through this together, Maguita.

  • Cazadora

    On Rotten Tomatoes the critics are at 57%, but the viewers are at 82% (that's with 81,000 respondents), So you should be ok unless your opinion patterns are more closely aligned with critics.

    BTW, I've often thought that there's a predictive model in that gap between critics and viewers. Any graduate students out there? Have it and let us know.

  • Maguita NYC

    I would be interested to know too. For there were movies where audience got it very wrong. I believe The Green Lantern was very high the first week of its release with audience reviews (not critics), and Avatar... Which I still don't get what all the hoopla was about?

  • Cazadora

    All good questions and it would take a lot of investigation and data cleaning to get at the answers. I've spoken to the research director at Rotten Tomatoes, but (at least right now) they don't gather the data in a way that is usable for this type of analysis. FWIW, here's a general takeaway for Green Lantern -- I'm not sure that it's possible for an audience to "get it wrong" as they love what they love, but the current percentages are 26/47 critics versus viewers. Both are below average.

    Avatar? It's just in a league of it's own and would probably need to be thrown out out of any research study. Your guess is as good as mine of that one.

  • Maguita NYC

    Never understood Avatar at all. It was a crazy hype for a while that made Cameron a few more hundred millions dollars, with a very poorly written script.

    As for the Green Lantern, it was trending quite favorably with the public the first 2 weeks, then downhill it went and caught up to the critics. Sadly, I believed the public and went to see it the first week it came out.

  • NateMan

    Bah, critics downgraded it because it wasn't a Dark Knight or Avengers movie. And it wasn't. It was darker than Avengers, not as dark as TDK, and it was just a great, bombastic tale.

  • Maguita NYC

    I CANNOT WAIT! Now you got me truly excited for the movie. Will let you know if I ugly cry (I easily ugly-cry during superhero movies, and Ikea commercials, don't know why), or rolled my eyes at the screen.

  • NateMan

    Gotta say, I loved Man of Steel. I liked it much better than the first and last Dark Knight movies, better than Iron Man 2, better than any of the Spider-Mans. Snyder got the characters' powers perfectly, and did not do bad at the emotional core either. Loved it.

  • Maguita NYC

    I'm truly hoping to love it as much as you did. Some of the critics' ratings are trying to turn me off from watching it.

  • NateMan

    Don't listen to them. Go into it with no expectations and you'll really enjoy it. It's not a perfect movie and it dragged a little at parts, and some of the dialogue wasn't the best. But there was only one badly done example of CGI, and the whole cast did a great job. Costner, Crowe, and Cavill especially. I'm hoping to see it again in theaters, and it'll be a first day Blu-Ray purchase. And I've never been a HUGE Superman fan, though the New 52 Action Comics did a pretty good job with him.

  • ViciousTrollop

    I would kill for Helen Slater's hair in Supergirl. So. Beautiful.

  • e jerry powell

    True, but even that pales due to the existence of Linda Hamilton. Two super-hero-ish women, only one slot. Sarah Connor won 1984 (even with a three-month head start for Supergirl) and just kept going.

  • e jerry powell

    Supergirl ruined Helen Slater's life. Faye Dunaway got out of it largely unscathed on the strength of her career to that point (likewise for Peter O'Toole, Mia Farrow and Matt Frewer [!]), but Helen Slater has never really recovered.

  • WestCoastPat

    Supergirl was post-Mommie Dearet. How much more damage could Dunaway do at that point?

  • e jerry powell

    Dunaway will always have the goodwill from Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Little Big Man and Network to fall back on.

    And if you look at her body of work, she's taken on some real dogs in there (including a rather overwrought episode of Grey's Anatomy), but she can still always fall back on those four.

  • Three_nineteen

    Fair is fair! Crap, wait. I guess I don't remember anything about Supergirl.

  • ViciousTrollop

    I love you for your reference to The Legend of Billie Jean.

  • sean

    You have to watch Supeman 4. It is so cheap and horrible that it needs to be seen. Drunk, if possible. Just to watch the look of humiliation on Reeve's face. He didn't have nearly enough skill as an actor to hide his feelings.

  • Joey.blowey

    Haha. I actually did see Superman 4 in the theater, and I was drunk at the time too. It really does suck. and that's an insult to the word "suck"

  • e jerry powell

    DEATHTRAP. Reeve was able to suck it up and kiss a fish-lippy, uncomfortably heterosexist Michael Caine and make it look almost realistic. I'm thinking Victor Garber might have been a better choice for the Clifford role (having played it on the stage), but Reeve wanted the challenge.

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