If there's one thing this summer has taught us, it's that superhero movies are here to stay.
"Marvel's The Avengers" lived up to all expectations, becoming the third-highest-grossing film worldwide, and "The Amazing Spider-Man" broke a domestic record for a Tuesday opening, pulling in $35 million. Next up: Christopher Nolan's Batman finale, "The Dark Knight Rises," which opens Friday, which is expected to outperform its predecessor's staggering $158.4-million opening, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
All of which means the next couple of years will bring superheroes aplenty, though it remains to be seen which ones will fly. Here's a look at several crusaders heading our way:
'IRON MAN 3'
Robert Downey Jr. returns in the title role, of course, along with Gwyneth Paltrow as his assistant, Pepper Potts. Jon Favreau still plays driver-bodyguard Happy Hogan, despite bowing out as director; he's replaced by "Lethal Weapon" screenwriter Shane Black. Most intriguing for fans, though, is Ben Kingsley as archvillain The Mandarin. The release date is May 3.
'MAN OF STEEL'
Warner Bros.' Superman reboot, directed by Zack Snyder ("Sucker Punch") and scheduled for June 14, has a terrific cast, including Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as the evil General Zod. Henry Cavill, a Brit, seems an odd choice for the ultimate American hero (Andrew Garfield and Christian Bale might disagree), but the real question is whether audiences will still care after 2006's disappointing "Superman Returns."
The title isn't much of a grabber, but it's certainly more succinct than 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Hugh Jackman returns as the bearded-and-bladed mutant with a cast that so far includes Japan's Hiroyuki Sanada and Asian-American actors Will Yun Lee and Brian Tee. (Apparently, there's a samurai theme.) Little else is known; the release is set for July 26, 2013.
The story concerns biochemist Hank Pym, who creates a size-altering formula as well as a device that helps him communicate with insects. Casting has not yet been announced (the movie is reportedly scheduled for 2014), but the director is Edgar Wright, best known for oddball comedies like "Shaun of the Dead" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." -- RAFER GUZMÁN