Box-Office Superheroes: An Extraordinary Data Story

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Batman. The Avengers. X-Men. The superheroes of our time—magnified in cinemas all over the world. Have you ever wondered which superheroes are the most popular among film lovers? With the growing number of movie franchises churning out instalment after instalment every year, who hold the true power over global box office profits?

These are just a couple of the questions that come up occasionally at lunchtime, at the office watercooler, or in the precious few minutes before the movie starts at the cinema. This time around, we decided to try answering these questions by grabbing some data from and, then visualising them using our shiny and powerful tool: SAP Analytics Cloud.

The undisputed leader at the moment? The extraordinary men and women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). You know, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Thor, and the swashbuckling team from the Avengers.

Cinematic Universe Total Box Office Performance, adjusted to billions of 2018 USDCinematic Universe Total Box Office Performance, adjusted to billions of 2018 USD

Heroes of the Hour

The kickass MCU superheroes have raked in some US$18.48 billion in box office sales over the last 10 years, pushing the Star Wars movie franchise—who has been at it for the past 41 years—to second place, with profits of US$15.03 billion.

A different kind of “superhero,” Harry Potter, comes up third, with US$10.53 billion in box office profits worldwide. The relatively new kid on the block, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), is catching up fast with accumulated box office profits of US$3.94 billion.

This leader board is by no means constant. A glance at the trending data suggests that although the MCU shows no signs of slowing down in terms of box office profits, the Star Wars, Harry Potter, and DCEU franchises have levelled off and are slowing down somewhat. Just for fun, we also tried using the Force SAC’s predictive modeling capability to try to anticipate future movie performance. The models show the MCU’s next movies will make more than its last movie; the Star Wars, Harry Potter, DCEU franchises show mixed performances in the upcoming year.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Individual Movie Performance adjusted to 2018 USDMarvel Cinematic Universe Individual Movie Performance adjusted to 2018 USD

Star Wars, Harry Potter, DCEU Individual Movie Performance adjusted to 2018 USDStar Wars, Harry Potter, DCEU Individual Movie Performance adjusted to 2018 USD

As with most blockbusters, all these movie franchises have gone global, with international box office profits approaching twice that of domestic US takings. Star Wars is the exception with international profits on par with domestic earnings. Had its early instalments been more widely distributed outside of the US, the franchise might still not have been overtaken by MCU yet.

International Box Office Performance and US Box Office Performance across all Cinematic Universes adjusted to 2018 USD

So who is the overall champion amongst the superheroes? The latest data shows Black Panther is the runaway leader of the pack, followed by Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman.

Individual Superhero Performance adjusted to 2018 USDIndividual Superhero Performance adjusted to 2018 USD

Who’s Winning in Southeast Asia?

Is the latest data reflective of the vote closer to home, right here in Southeast Asia?

Not really. Although Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are fans of Black Panther, Spiderman is the favourite in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. Singapore loves Thor while in The Philippines, woman-power reigns supreme with Wonder Woman dominating in box office profits. Note that the data is derived from single-hero movies and does not include profits of the crossover movies, such as The Avengers where multiple heroes star in the same film.

Top Superhero Performance by SEA CountryTop Superhero Performance by SEA Country

The “popularity distribution” shows the superhero darling of each country with their representative icon, with the size of the icon indicative of the size of the box office profits for that superhero. The global popularity stakes for each superhero is displayed as a simple bar chart for comparison.

MCU vs Other Blockbusters

So how do the movies in the franchises fare when compared with the top movies of all time? Well, they can certainly hold their own! From the bubble charts, you can see that “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the Star Wars hit that started it all, was as successful as the “Titanic” and the “Avatar.” The more recent “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” are not far behind.

Top Movie Performance from each Franchise versus the Top Movies of All Time, larger is better, adjusted to 2018 USD

And if you normalise the performance by dividing the box office profits by the budget spent on producing the movie, you’ll see that most of them are on the same level. The classic Star Wars Episode IV, however, stands out as the clear leader, dwarfing all the others in terms of profit efficiency. The Force is certainly strong in this one!

Top Movie Profit from each Franchise, larger is better, adjusted to 2018 USD

In terms of average profit per movie (chart below), the Star Wars franchise is again the lead, followed by Harry Potter, MCU and DCEU. But in terms of overall profits as a franchise, MCU remains the undisputed winner at the moment.

Average Profit per Movie adjusted to 2018 USDTop Movie Profit from each Franchise, larger is better, adjusted to 2018 USD

Will MCU Continue to Reign Supreme?

Perhaps the most asked question among MCU’s challengers is whether it can be dethroned, given its rampaging momentum. One of the reasons for its success is the sheer number of movies in the franchise; it has already hit 20.

To surpass MCU, the challengers will have to make many more movies and work at growing their fan bases and profits in the coming years. It’s an uphill task, because MCU shows no signs of slowing down. It is now churning out three instalments a year, up from one or two each year in the past decade.

Either way, superhero fans are in for a treat, as these movie franchises fight it out to win the hearts and minds—and money—of fans worldwide.

Marvel(lous) Analytics Tools

If you would like to explore this data set on your own, you can download the dataset The Greatest Movie Franchise of All Time Outline and your free SAP Analytics Cloud trial here.


1.) Movie Performance Data: and
2.) More detailed Singapore Movie Data:
3.) USD Inflation Calculator (Consumer Price Index, accessed 12 September 2018):


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