Christian Bale? You're no match for Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man 3 entered the weekend as the top grossing single-character superhero film of all time with $1.11 billion at the global gate, according  to figures from Box Office Mojo.

Last summer's The Dark Knight Rises earned $1.08 billion worldwide after 147 days in theaters. Iron Man 3 took just 22 days to break the record.

Fans want Downey Jr. back for another go in the armor, and with two consecutive billion-dollar performances, so should Marvel Studios parent Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS). No one else has demonstrated such wide box office appeal playing what had been a niche comic book character.

Can anyone top him? Actor Henry Cavill will take a shot, as the title character in next month's Man of Steel, a reboot of DC Comics' Superman franchise from director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and DC parent Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL).

Official movie poster for Man of Steel. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment.

There's a lot riding on Man of Steel, and not just for Warner. RealD (UNKNOWN:RLD.DL) gets a cut of box office receipts for showings in its 3D format, a strategy that has worked well in years past. A big gate could mean a big payday here as well.

IMAX (NYSE:IMAX), meanwhile, will be counting on a rush of fans paying for early access to its large-format screenings. That approach set records around the world with Iron Man 3. (China, in particular.)

But for Warner, Man of Steel kicks off what investors should hope is a new superhero megafranchise that builds up to a planned "Justice League" film in 2015. More than 81,000 at reviews site Rotten Tomatoes already say they want to see the film. Judging from the latest action-packed trailer, I can understand why:

General Zod gives the people of Earth a warning. Sources: Warner Bros, YouTube.

Just don't expect Man of Steel to get within spitting distance of Iron Man 3. DC may rule the console, but at the cinema, Marvel is still king. Superman won't change that.

Do you agree? Please vote in the poll below, and then leave leave a comment to let us know whether you plan to see Man of Steel in 2D, RealD 3D, or IMAX.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Time Warner and Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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