How does Batman stack up?

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Over 73 years and dozens of movies, TV shows, and comic-books, the Batman story has proven itself to be among America's most enduring pop-culture franchises. But is it the greatest?

It's our theory that to be "great," a franchise can't just sell tickets or please critics—it needs to do both. In November 2010 (for the seventh Harry Potter film) we compiled a list of the 50 greatest film franchises films of all time, weighing financial and critical success equally. Here's how we did it:

  1. To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released. We then ranked each franchise by its average commercial gross.
  2. To determine critical success, we ranked the franchises by the average Rotten Tomatoes' critics' score for their films.
  3. We then found the average between the commercial and critical rankings for each franchise and then ranked by those averages.

We've crunched the numbers again, factoring in a few recent new releases, in anticipation of eventually including the total box-office haul and final critical score for The Dark Knight Rises:

Currently, without The Dark Knight Rises factored in—the film will remain in theaters for months to come—the Batman franchise ranked No. 13 on our list of greatest movie franchises, behind comic-book hits like Spider-Man and the films of the Avengers superheroes, but ahead of X-Men and Superman. The third installment pulled in $160.9 million in its opening weekend, making it the biggest-ever debut for a 2D film. The stellar reviews for the film—Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times called it "more than an exceptional superhero movie, it is masterful filmmaking by any standard"—have earned it an impressive 86-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, second in the franchise only to The Dark Knight. By the time the film leaves cinemas, it could propel the Batman franchise ahead of the Jason Bourne, Jurassic Park, and even the Avengers series and into the Top 10.

The past few years have shown how rebooting and revisiting previously dormant film franchises—as Nolan did in 2004 with Batman Begins—can sometimes help and sometimes damage a pop-culture brand's overall standing. Last year's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, for example, was by far the best-reviewed of the Ethan Hunt franchise and out-grossed M:I 3, propelling the franchise from No. 19 to No. 14 on the current list. The recent relaunches of the Spider-Man and Men in Black franchises, however, weren't so lucrative. The Amazing Spider-Man scored respectable reviews, but its $217-million box-office haul is nowhere near the mark of the three Spidey predecessors, causing the franchise to cede its previous No. 3 slot to the Star Wars films. The release of MIB:3 is more of a good news/bad news situation. The critical response to the movie was a lot better than the reaction to the second Men in Black film, but audiences were less enthusiastic, as totals for the film so far are less than half that of the first Men in Black smash.

Read a fuller analysis, posted when the seventh Harry Potter film hit theaters: "The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time." The gallery in this post has been updated to reflect current rankings.

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