By the Numbers: Highest & lowest grossing Avengers MCU films (Pre-Endgame)


At this moment, there are a total of 21 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU contains many of Marvel's most popular superheroes. "I like how all the movies come together to create one big franchise," Carlin Garey (10) said.

Franchises are what rule the box office these days. A film that is attached to a major series of movies, such as the Star Wars  films or the Harry Potter films, are basically guaranteed to print money.

In a marketplace overcrowded with film franchises from all the major film studios, Disney seems to be on top. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest grossing film franchise in history, with a total of 21 films grossing over 18 billion dollars when put together. The MCU is miles ahead of its rival, Star Wars, which is at a little above 9 billion in 2nd place. The MCU has a lot of things going in its favor, with a wide catalog of heroes and movies, and a wide fan base of both comic book readers and average moviegoers. Each of the 21 films in the franchise have done well at the box office, but as with all movies, some did better than others. So, I thought it would be an interesting question to ask: which one is the most successful? Before the release of the highly anticipated “Avengers: Endgame” that will bring the current storyline to a close, here are the highest grossing films of the MCU, from the lowest worldwide gross to the highest.

21. The Incredible Hulk

Worldwide gross: $265, 573, 859

The second film of the MCU to be released to theaters, “The Incredible Hulk” was released a month after Iron Man on June 13, 2008. The movie follows scientist Bruce Banner (played by Edward Norton), who is seeking a cure for gamma radiation after a test gone wrong. Banner’s gamma radiation turns him into the Hulk, a giant green monster, when he becomes angry, which forces him to live as an outcast, away from his true love, Betty Ross (played by Liv Tyler). Banner comes close to finding a cure, but all is lost when the Abomination (played by Tim Roth) rises, a creature matching the Hulk’s strength.

“The Incredible Hulk” is one of the only films on this list that I think can be called a disappointment. Coming off a production budget of $137, 500, 000, the film just barely managed to make a profit. It was a low point after “Iron Man,” a movie considered to be a massive success,

The film’s failure at the box office had some lasting impacts on the MCU. Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner in “The Avengers,” and has been playing the character since. The film has also never received a sequel, although that is largely in part to copyright issues between Disney and Universal. Overall, “The Incredible Hulk” is the lowest point in the MCU at the box office.

20. Captain America: The First Avenger

Worldwide gross: $370, 569, 776

Released in July 19, 2011, “Captain America: The First Avenger” introduced viewers to Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), who is a leading man in the franchise today. In 1942, Rogers wants to join the armed forces as the country enters World War 2, but the military rejects him because of his small structure. Rogers is finally able to join the forces when he is accepted into an experimental program that turns him into a supersoldier. Donning the name Captain America and joining forces with Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell), Rogers must take out the Nazi-backed HYDRA organization.

For a phase one film introducing a superhero to the big screen for the first time, “Captain America: The First Avenger” was able to draw in a good bit of money. It is nowhere near as big as the future Captain America films, but it was still profitable. The film was also able to benefit from “The Avengers”, the film released after “The First Avenger”, and still one of the most successful films in the MCU. “The First Avenger” did modestly well, and was just a stepping stone for the massive success Captain America will see later on.

19. Thor

Worldwide gross: $449, 326, 618

“Thor” introduces the god of Thunder, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth), and shows audiences his home world of Asgard. Thor is cast out of the realm of Asgard by his father, Odin (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) for his arrogance, and is sent to Earth, losing all of his powers and the ability to wield his hammer unless he proves himself to be worthy.

“Thor” serves as an introduction to the more mythological side of the franchise. While previous films like “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” focused on normal, albeit extremely intelligent humans on Earth, “Thor” takes viewers away from Earth into the mythical Norse realm of Asgard. The film showed that the MCU could tackle both realistic themes on Earth and more fantasy-like themes without too much trouble.

As with Captain America, Thor’s first outing is nowhere near the height of success he will experience later on, which will be a continuing theme with each heroes first movie for the most part. But for what it was, “Thor” did its job.

18. Ant-Man

Worldwide gross: $519, 311, 695

A more light hearted film in the franchise, “Ant-Man” follows Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a master thief just released from prison. Lang is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) to become the next Ant-Man, donning a super suit that gives him the ability to shrink, possess superhuman strength, and the ability to control an army of ants. Ant-Man must pull off a heist to stop the Yellowjacket (played by Corey Stoll) from using the same shrinking technology for his evil purposes.

“Ant-Man” really shows the power that the Marvel brand has with the public. Before the movie, Ant-Man was not known by the general public. The idea was dumb to many people. But then, the film went on to gross over half a billion dollars, solidifying Ant-Man’s place in the MCU. The film had unique action with its shrinking sequences, and a nice and emotional father-daughter relationship between Scott Lang and his daughter, Cassie (played by Abby Ryder Fortson). The movie is a fun and “small-scaled” journey (pun totally intended).

17. Iron Man

Worldwide gross: $585, 174, 222

The first film released in the MCU, “Iron Man” is about billionaire industrialist and inventor Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr). While conducting weapons tests overseas, he is kidnapped by terrorists who attempt to force him to build a devastating missile. Instead, he builds a suit of armor and escapes the camp. Upon his return to America, Stark perfects the iron suit technology, using it to combat crime and terrorism.

Although it is relatively low on this list today, “Iron Man” was a massive start for the MCU. As one of Marvel’s directors, Joe Russo, said,  “When you talk about Marvel’s rise, “Iron Man” set the tone of all of it.” Iron Man went from a B-list superhero in comic books to a ticket selling blockbuster that outperformed expectations. If the film had failed at the box office, the franchise would not be the billion dollar franchise it is today. The film cemented Robert Downey Jr. as a star and provided the foundation for the rest of the franchise.

16. Iron Man 2

Worldwide gross: $623, 933, 331

“Iron Man 2” comes right above its predecessor in terms of worldwide gross. The film follows Stark after the first film. With the public now aware that he is Iron Man, Stark faces pressure from the press, public, and government to share his technology with the military. Stark is reluctant to share his technology with the rest of the world, fearful that it will fall into the wrong hands. Stark is forced to form new alliances when rivals Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke) enter the scene, desperate to upend Stark’s company.

If “Iron Man” was a success, “Iron Man 2” proved that Marvel did not just have a one time shot. Marvel had something profitable on their hands. Iron Man has proven to be a character well liked by the mainstream, with his first movie starting the MCU, and his second movie saving it after the disappointing worldwide gross of “The Incredible Hulk”.

15. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Worldwide gross: $622, 674, 139

The sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man”, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” follows Scott Lang once again as he is grappling with his life choices as both a superhero and a  father. While struggling to balance his home life with his superhero responsibilities, he happens to meet up with Dr. Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly) once again. With a new urgent mission, Lang must suit up and fight alongside The Wasp as the team works to uncover secrets from their past that are beginning to come back.

So, most discussion about the previous films grosses has been positive. But, while “Ant-Man and the Wasp’s” worldwide gross is nothing to shrug at, it is slightly disappointing for a 2018 MCU film. Massive numbers were expected for this film, as it came out a few years after the first one, and in that time span, Ant-Man was featured in other films. However, the audience did not grow very much from the first movie, especially if you adjust the first one for inflation. While it made a profit, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” could have done a lot better as a sequel.

14. Thor: The Dark World

Worldwide gross: $644, 571, 402

A year after the events of “The Avengers”, “Thor: The Dark World” sees the return of Thor, along with his Asgardian warrior friends. On Earth, Thor’s girlfriend, Jone Foster (played by Natalie Portman) discovers a mysterious fluid-like weapon called the Aether that takes over Jane and awakens the evil Malekith (played by Christopher Eccleston) and his army of Dark Elves. Upon Asgard’s darkest hour, Thor reluctantly forms an alliance with his nemesis and brother, Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) to save Jane and stop Malekith from bringing total darkness to the universe.

“Thor: The Dark World” was a massive jump from the first film at the box office. All the films that were sequels to ones released before “The Avengers” saw this effect. Thor went from a small hero only really known through Norse mythology to a popular superhero in the MCU. Although this movie is not as well remembered today, it still did really well in theaters.

13. Doctor Strange

Worldwide gross: $677, 718, 395

While Thor introduced viewers to the mythological side of the MCU, “Doctor Strange” opens up the magical side. Dr. Stephen Strange’s (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) life goes awry after a car accident takes away his ability to use his hands. Looking for a way to heal and any form of hope, Strange makes his way to a mysterious enclave, which happens to be on the front lines of a battle against dark forces bent on destroying reality. There, Strange must choose between his life of fortune or to leave it all behind to become the most powerful sorcerer in existance to defend reality.

For an origin story, “Doctor Strange” did great at the box office. Marvel took a risk adapting one of its more less known characters to film so late in the MCU, but it paid off. “Doctor Strange” differentiated itself from the other MCU films with a unique visual style that showcased the magic of the movie.

12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Worldwide gross: $714, 264, 267

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” follows Rogers after the events of “The Avengers”. Roger struggles to embrace his role in the present day. When a threat from his past, the Winter Soldier, comes to hunt him down, Rogers teams up with fellow Avenger Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson and his new friend the Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie).

If “Thor: The Dark World” was a massive jump from its predecessor at the box office, “The Winter Soldier” is even more so. The success of this sequel is really what helped solidify Captain America as one of the leading figures of the Avengers. The movies fresh and interesting political thriller plot that contrasted from the previous films resonated with audiences.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy

Worldwide gross: $773, 328, 629

2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” takes audiences to a new corner of the MCU, going cosmic. After stealing a mysterious orb in outer space, Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) becomes the main target of Ronan the Accuser (played by Lee Pace), who desires the orb for himself. As Ronan huts Quill down to retrieve the orb, Quill finds himself lumped with a group of other outlaws and misfits, a talking tree named Groot (played by Vin Diesel) a talking raccoon named Rocket (played by Bradley Cooper), an alien named Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), and an alien warrior named Drax (played by Dave Bautista). The group must learn to work together in order to stop Ronan and save the galaxy.

This movie was a huge risk for Marvel, diving into a more strange science fiction world that has not yet been covered in the movies. It could have easily been a failure, but they managed to pull it off with an entertaining story and likable characters. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun adventure that drew audiences in. It is a nice pallet changer for the MCU.

10. Thor: Ragnarok

Worldwide gross: $853, 977, 126

The final film in Thor’s trilogy, this movie finds Thor imprisoned on the other side of the universe on the planet Sakaar. He, along with fellow avenger the Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo in this film), finds himself in a race against time to prevent the powerful Hela (played by Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard.

The three Thor movies just managed to outdo each other. “Ragnarok” sits at the top of the trilogy. And it is well deserving. Many find this one to be the most enjoyable film in the trilogy. The film makes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor a much more likable and charming character. Marvel hired new director Taika Waititi, a director from New Zealand known mainly for indie films, to add some color to Thor’s character. As Waititi said, he was told by the leaders at Marvel that “we don’t want to continue with what we’ve done. We want to do something very fresh and new.” The film plays off more like a comedy in some scenes than an action movie, and that works to its advantage. “Thor: Ragnarok” is a fun and light addition to the MCU.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Worldwide gross: $863, 756, 051

The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a fan favorite among its release, with its charming set of characters, humor, music, and personality, so its sequel was always bound to pull in a a lot of money. After stealing some valuable batteries in the middle of a mission, the Guardians end up crashing on a planet, where they happen to meet Quill’s father, a man who calls himself Ego (played by Kurt Russell). Ego takes the group to his home planet and reveals his secret godlike powers, powers that Quill has too. Ego’s planet seems like paradise to Quill, who has been longing for his father ever since he was a child, but upon investigation, Gamora discovers Ego’s greatest secret, a secret that will shake Quill to his core.

“Guardians Vol. 2” is another fun space adventure like the first movie. The characters, music, humor and everything still work. Those who enjoyed the first movie went out to see this one when it released. It is a fun ride for fans of the team of space outlaws.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Worldwide gross: $880, 166, 924

Spider-Man’s first solo film in the MCU, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” follows a high school aged Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland), who is beginning to work with his newfound identity as Spider-Man. Thrilled by his previous experiences in “Captain America: Civil War”, Peter longs to be more than a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”, but Tony Stark, a mentor figure for him, keeps a watchful eye on him. When the Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important is threatened.

“Homecoming” has an interesting history behind it. Despite Spider-Man being a character that originated from Marvel comic books, Marvel studios does not technically own the film rights to the character, as they sold the rights to Sony years ago. With the film rights, Sony produced the popular Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, as well at the Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. However, after failing to create their own cinematic universe with Garfield’s Spider-Man, Sony and Marvel studios made a deal. Marvel studios would have the ability to use the character of Spider-Man, and Sony would earn a portion of the box office revenue from his solo films. From that deal, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man was born. And judging from the box office number here, it was a good decision for Sony.

7. Captain Marvel

Estimated worldwide gross as of today: $1, 089, 526, 133

Taking place in the 90s, “Captain Marvel” follows former Air Force pilot Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) who, after crashing an experimental aircraft, is found by the Kree and trained to be a member of the elite Starforce Military under the command of her mentor, Yon-Rogg (played by Jude Law). Six years later, Danvers escapes to Earth while under attack by the Skrulls, a race of aliens with the ability to shapeshift into anyone. Her memory is now faded and fragmented, but she begins to discover that there is more to her past. With the help of a young Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson), they set out to discover the truth.

The first movie on this list to gross over 1 billion dollars, “Captain Marvel” was the latest MCU film to be released, coming one month before “Avengers: Endgame”. Since the film is still out, the worldwide gross listed above is just an estimate and may be off by a few hundred, and it will change over the coming weeks. Captain Marvel as a superhero was hinted at at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and was heavily implied to be a key player in “Endgame,” which was a smart decision by Marvel. With “Endgame” coming out just a month later, fans knew they had to go see “Captain Marvel” before “Avengers: Endgame” released, which launched “Captain Marvel” to over 1 billion dollars.  

6. Captain America: Civil War

Worldwide gross: $1, 153, 304, 495

The final film of Captain America’s trilogy, this movie finds all of the Avengers having to pick sides. With fear of the actions of superheros growing in the public, the government pushes for a law that will limit a hero’s actions, resulting in a division among the Avengers. Iron Man stands with the act, claiming that their actions need to be kept in check to keep cities from being destroyed, while Captain America feels that no law should get in the way of saving the world and they they cannot rely on the government to protect the world. Differences erupt into violence between Iron Man and Captain America, as a new villain emerges in the background.

Despite being a film centered around Captain America, it has a wide ensemble cast consisting of the heroes from the other movies, which probably helped boost its box office numbers. The movie has some of the best action in the franchise, the airport fight sequence between the Avengers being a notable example. And the ending packs an emotional punch that resonates.   

5. Iron Man 3

Worldwide gross: $1, 214, 811, 252

Starting off the top five, “Iron Man 3” follows Tony Stark after the events of the first Avengers film. After the massive battle from “The Avengers”, Stark buries himself into his work, building and renovating new Iron Man suits, doing that and more to distract himself from his constant nightmares and anxiety attacks he suffers from following his experiences as an Avenger. Deep in the shadows, a menace called the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) orchestrates a series of terrorist attacks around the world and effectively demolishes Stark’s house and collection of suits. Stark sets off on a personal journey to find out who the Mandarin actually is, meanwhile facing questions that haunt him.

“Iron Man 3” was the next film in the MCU released after “The Avengers”, so that played a key role in it box office performance compared to the previous two Iron Man films. Fans were eager to see where the MCU was going after the event that was “The Avengers”. A massive new audience was built up from ”The Avengers,” and they were all ready to see “Iron Man 3.” “Iron Man 3” caps off the trilogy exploring Tony Stark as a character.

4. Black Panther

Worldwide gross: $1, 346, 913, 161

“Black Panther” introduces viewers to the land of Wakanda, a fictional technologically advanced African nation secluded from the rest of the world. After the death of the king, prince T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) rises to the title of king of Wakanda. T’challa soon faces a challenge for the throne from Erik Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan), an American with Wakandan heritage who has come to take the role of king and has plans of revenge against other nations on his mind. T’Challa must come to terms with the title he carries and take on Killmonger to prevent Killmonger from becoming king and sending Wakanda into war with the rest of the world.

Upon its release, Black Panther was praised by critics and audiences. The film made $202, 003, 951 alone domestically on its opening weekend. The film was heralded by many to be a landmark in film-making for its portrayal of African-Americans in a major blockbuster release. The movie even went on to be nominated for 6 Oscars, including best picture. “Black Panther’s” publicity helped it draw in a large crowd in theaters.

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Worldwide gross: $1, 405, 403, 694

In the second Avengers movie, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program named Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Plans go awry when Ultron views the human race as a threat and goes rouge to destroy the Avengers. It is up to the team of superheroes to stop Ultron from causing mass extinction.

“Age of Ultron,” although not as well liked as the other Avengers movies, introduces a lot to the MCU. The film introduces Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (played by Paul Bettany), who go on to be major heroes in the franchise. And it still managed to be a massive success at the box office, so as a sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time, the movie is no loss for Marvel.

2. The Avengers

Worldwide gross: $1, 518, 812, 988

The first team up movie in the MCU, “The Avengers” sees director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury starting up the Avengers Initiative, a team of heroes consisting of Iron Man, the Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo in this film), Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow. When Thor’s brother, Loki, arrives on Earth and threatens global security, the Avengers are assembled to take him down.

“The Avengers” was the first big stepping stone for Marvel. It created the formula the franchise would continue to follow, building up superheroes in their own solo movies, and assembling them in a larger storyline. With the massive crossover of multiple movies, “The Avengers” was able to draw in a massive audience. For the longest time, “The Avengers” has been the most successful film in the MCU. However, that all changed in 2018.

1. Avengers: Infinity War

Worldwide gross: $2, 048, 359, 754

Number one on this list, “Avengers: Infinity War” follows the Avengers, along with other heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange. They have all protected the world from mayhem for years now, but a new danger emerges from the cosmic shadows: Thanos, a villain who, despite never facing off as a main antagonist in any movie until now, has always been lurking in the background. Thanos has a goal to collect all six Infinity Stones, ancient artifacts that, when all brought together, contain unlimited power. With the stones, Thanos wants to change reality to what he thinks is best for all of mankind. Everything the heroes fought for has led to this battle against Thanos. The fate of the universe is on the line.

When “The Avengers” came out in 2012, it was viewed as the most ambitious crossover in cinematic history, bringing together 6 different heroes from different films into one huge blockbuster. “Avengers: Infinity War” tops its predecessors, assembling over 40 different Marvel characters. With 20 other films released behind it, “Infinity War” had a lot of buildup leading up to it. Fans were ready to see what the MCU was leading up to. And the box office numbers show that they came out in droves to watch their favorite heroes battle against Thanos. The film is the only superhero film in history to gross over 2 billion dollars.

“Infinity War” left off on a big cliffhanger, so that will probably affect how “Avengers: Endgame” does at the box office this week. Fans will definitely come see how everything plays out, but can it top the 2 billion dollars “Infinity War” made? That is a question only time will tell.