Avengers: Endgame officially unseated Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time in July 2019, the most recent harbinger of Marvel Studio's complete big screen takeover. Walt Disney Studios is the most profitable distributor in the world, with the MCU, Lucasfilm, and Frozen under its belt, but the cinematic landscape wasn't always this way. Looking at the twenty most successful films of all time, you can trace our collective history from when Gone with the Wind caused a national frenzy to Universal Pictures's box office domination in the not-to-distant past. These stats aren't just fun facts to bore your friends with at parties — they're our living history.
We knew the penultimate entry in Marvel's Phase 3, Avengers: Endgame, would be Robery Downey Jr. and Chris Evans's swan songs in the MCU. Maybe its nostalgia for the end of an eleven-year era that made the film a record-breaker, or maybe it was just a deep, worldwide sense of FOMO, but with a $2.8 billion gross (and growing!), Endgame became the highest-grossing film of all time in July 2019. One of the most expensive films ever made, with a $356 million budget, Endgame surpassed its predecessor Avengers: Infinity War's entire theatrical run in only eleven days.
20th Century Fox
James Cameron's Avatar was the highest-grossing film for nearly a full decade before being dethroned by Avengers: Endgame. Grossing $2.789 to Endgame's $2.793, the 2009 film drew crowds because of its technological advances more than its plot, which followed an alien race whose existence is threatened by human colonization. Gentrification: But With Blue People! used new motion capture filming techniques, and its stereoscopic filmmaking was hailed as a breakthrough in cinematic tech. Some South Korean theatres even had a 4D viewing experience. Props to Zoe Saldana, who has managed to star in the top two most profitable films in history.
After twelve years on top, James Cameron beat James Cameron when Avatar overtook Titanic as the world's highest-grossing film. The epic romance starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is vastly different from the blockbuster films we see today. There weren't any buff dudes in lycra, no aliens, and no epic leaps in 3D technology. It was just a really, really good movie that made everyone really, really sad. Titanic was the first film to reach a billion-dollar gross, and its re-release in 2012 commemorating the centennial of the sinking made an added $343.6 million, pushing Titanic to become the second film to gross more than $2 billion after Avatar. Its grand total of $2.187 still makes Titanic the third highest-grossing film of all time.
You'd think the horrible prequels would have deterred the massive, worldwide excitement of Star Wars returning for yet another trilogy, especially since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars film without any involvement from creator George Lucas. After ten years away, the franchise returned to a $2.068 billion welcome, making it the highest-grossing film in North America at that time and the third highest-grossing film of all time, behind Avatar and Titanic. Endgame's ascent has pushed it to fourth place, but with the final installment in the Star Wars franchise set for a December 2019 release, anything could happen.
It's weird that Avengers: Infinity War is all the way down here in fifth place when its direct sequel, Avengers: Endgame, is occupying the top spot. Did this many people decide to wait for the Netflix release, or were most of Endgame's audiences just really, really confused? Infinity War's $2.048 billion gross is nothing to scoff at — this was the first superhero film to gross over $2 billion worldwide, it broke tons of box office records, and it set the stage for Marvel's ultimate domination.
Adjusting every movie on this list for inflation would be exhausting, but there are some oldies-but-goodies that made such a splash back when gas cost a quarter that leaving them off this list would just be dishonest. Gone with the Wind is one of the most popular films in American history, and even though it only made $200 million when it was released in 1939 and during its two following re-releases, CNN's calculated inflation skyrockets the film's actual total gross to $1.82 billion. Gone with the Wind has aged poorly, but its cash money hasn't.
Jurassic World made $1.672 billion against its $150 million budget, making it the highest grossing film in the Jurassic Park franchise and a huge W for Universal Pictures. Chris Pratt is another A-Lister who appears on the highest-grossing list multiple times due to his roles in the MCU and at the helm of Jurassic World, with four total films on the top 20 list. Business Insider reports that Jurassic World also broke records as the first film to gross over $500 million during its opening weekend.
Another ~historical~ entry adjusted for inflation by CNN, the OG Star Wars film that started it all, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, technically made $460 million during its three releases, but its adjusted total hits the $1.6 billion mark, making it the seventh-highest grossing film of all time. If these totals reflected things like merchandising, you know Star Wars would have these other suckers beat, although Star Wars, Jurassic World, the MCU, and the 12th place finisher Harry Potter all boast their own theme park worlds. There's nothing like a franchise to get the bag.
Walt Disney Pictures
Of course, 2019's "live-action" remake of The Lion King broke the top ten — it's Beyoncé. The film is technically considered a photorealistic computer-animated film, making The Lion King the highest-grossing animated film of all time ahead of Frozen and the seventh-highest of all time with a $1.601 billion box office gross. We're assuming a good chunk of the film's $260 million budget, the 15th-highest of all time alongside Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, went towards compensating its all-star cast. Queen Bey stars alongside Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, and Keegan Michael-Key, with music by the inimitible Hans Zimmer.
The first time MCU's Mightiest Heros assembled was arguably an even bigger deal than the ~last~ time our original Avengers shared the stage, making $1.519 billion at the box office all the way back in 2012 before we knew just how important Marvel would become to Hollywood's economy. It started off as the third biggest gross of all time but has since fallen to seventh place after being beaten out by two of its own brethren. Marvel's The Avengers was the first Marvel film to generate $1 billion in ticket sales and set or tied innumerable box office records.
We're not sure what's more surprising, that the Fast and the Furious franchise didn't break into the top twenty until its seventh installment or that they've made more than seven Fast and the Furious films. Frankly, we're surprised the franchise recovered from Tokyo Drift, but it's likely that the untimely death of franchise star Paul Walker drove Furious 7 to break $1.516 billion at the box office. Furious 7 became a memorial to Paul and his legacy, with Deadline first reporting that the actor's brothers were stepping in to help complete Paul's final Furious film.
The final Avengers title on the list is the only Avengers film left, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even moviegoers' least favorite Avengers film managed to reach $1.405 billion at the box office, definitively proving that the combined powers of Stan Lee, Marvel, and Walt Disney Studios cannot be beaten. Ten of the twenty highest-grossing films of all time were produced by Disney or Disney-owned properties, while five are distributed by Universal Pictures, in case anyone was wondering if motion pictures are ruled by an oligarchy.
The only standalone MCU hero to make the list, King T'Challa raked in $1.347 billion dollars against a $200 million budget. Black Panther was the first MCU film to win an Academy Award after a decade of Marvel blockbusters taking over the box office, and it's the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination. It's also the highest-grossing film by a black director, which speaks more to the fact that we need more black directors and how diverse casts and production teams are the future of Hollywood. 23 Marvel films and only two directors that don't look like members of the GOP? #MarvelSoWhite
Harry Potter is, arguably, the second biggest franchise of the century, behind the MCU. Sure, Star Wars's influence is inarguable, but for anyone born after 1990, Harry Potter's books and movies were a phenomenon like we had never seen. It's shocking that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 was the only film of the eight-installment series to crack the top 20 highest-grossing films and the highest-grossing film in the franchise with $1.342 billion gross. It was the end of an era, but it's not like Dealthy Hallows was the best film in the franchise — or book, for that matter.
The second installment in Star Wars third and (probably) final trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
, comes in at number fourteen on our list with $1.333 billion in box office revenue. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and is the second-highest-grossing Star Wars film (before inflation). With nostalgia reaching an all-time high and a 42-year legacy (probably) taking its final bow, we can only imagine how crazy the crowds for 2019's three-quel Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be.
Can someone tell us what people see in the Jurassic World films? Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet it's managed to become the 15th highest-grossing movie of all time with $1.309 billion at the box office. A third sequel is scheduled for a 2021 release, and with Universal Studios completely remodeling their Jurassic Park ride to become ~Jurassic World~ and Chris Pratt's star rising through his role in Guardians of the Galaxy, this seems like a roller coaster that only goes up.
We are so ready for Frozen 2 in November 2019, if only so our little cousins will have something to scream that isn't "Let It Go." Frozen made $1.276 billion at the box office and is the third top-grossing film helmed by a female director after Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman and Anna Boden's co-directorial effort Captain Marvel. Frozen is the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time and the highest-grossing musical film, with the New York Times hailing it as the best Disney animated feature since its renaissance era in the '90s.
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
The Sound of Music is so universally beloved, fans might be surprised to learn that critics hated the 1965 film during its original release. Like, this sh*t The Daily Beast found is even worse than what people said about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, completely ripping the musical film apart for being too sweet and "mawkish." Adjusted for inflation by CNN, the film and its singular re-release made $1.28 billion in today's dollars (and $159 million when it was first released over fifty years ago). Sometimes, people just want to feel good.
Kids today just don't understand how adorable E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is. This wrinkly little monster is the corgi of aliens, and Drew Barrymore is the corgi of tiny child actresses. The Steven Spielberg masterpiece is another older film whose $435 million box office gross was tszujed by CNN to account for pesky inflation making our money worth less, bringing it to an actual gross of $1.27 billion. E.T. led the box office for 16 weekends, which was a world record at the time.
We're chalking this one up to the power of Emma Watson. The only live Disney remake to break the top 20, 2017's Beauty and the Beast made $1.264 against a projected $200 million budget. The musical film had a star-studded cast with Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson, and Sir Ian McKellen joining Emma Watson alongside broadway legend Audra McDonald, Frozen star Josh Gad, and Stanley Tucci. Only time will tell when if the Beyoncé-led Lion King remake will surpass Beauty and the Beast's record.
It's fitting that this list begins and ends with a Disney film. Using the power of nostalgia, Incredibles 2 made $1.243 billion and was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2019 Golden Globes and Academy Awards, losing both to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which only made $375.5 million at the box office despite being a much better film. This sequel was released fourteen years after the first Incredibles film, a beloved Pixar classic that no one really expected to get the franchise treatment. Hopefully, Incredibles 3 will come before 2030.
Who's still watching Fast & Furious movies? No, seriously, we've never met a Fast & Furious fan, but with its most recent iteration grossing $1.236 at the box office, they must be out there somewhere. Instead of ending the Fast & Furious franchise following Paul Walker's death, Universal released The Fate of the Furious to the third-biggest worldwide opening weekend in history, surpassed only by Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War. Now, we have to deal with a spin-off series Hobbs & Shaw, at least two more sequels, an animated Netflix series, and (finally) a female-centered feature film that's still in development.
Iron Man was the linchpin of the MCU's first three phases, with Marvel's eleven-year box office takeover largely following Tony Stark's evolution from 2008's Iron Man through his [spoiler] in 2019's Avengers: Endgame. It was Iron Man and Captain America's world, and we were just living in it. Surprisingly, the only solo Iron Man film to crack the top 40 was the third in the Iron Man trilogy. Following Iron Man's $585.2 million (that's right, million with an "m"!) and Iron Man 2's $623.9 million grosses, Iron Man 3 finally cracked a billion dollars with a $1.215 billion box office success.
Another film adjusted for inflation by CNN, 1956's The Ten Commandments only made $122.7 million during its initial release, back when a gallon of gas was 18 cents, a new car cost $1,510, and the median income was $3,216 per year. Today, that measly $122.7 million looks more like $1.18 billion, making Cecil B. DeMille's Easter staple one of the most profitable films in history. The Ten Commandments has been aired on network television during Passover every year since 1973, and as recently as 2008, AFI counted the movie as one of its Top Ten "Epic" films. At the time of its release, The Ten Commandments's $13 million budget crowned it the most expensive film ever made, featuring one of the largest sets ever created for a movie.
Universal's Minions movie is the fourth highest-grossing animated film of all time, undoubtedly a seal of the apocalypse that fits in somewhere between pestilence and those pesky horsemen. The $1.159 billion grossing movie outdid each of the Despicable Me films that came before it, and we don't want to imagine the stacks of cash Universal made selling Minions merch. Minions's $593 million advertising campaign, as reported by Bloomberg, found big box office returns, but the campaign was so aggressive that it had the unintended side-effect of making the Minions brand universally hated on social media. Oops!
Jaws $470.7 million box office gross looks more like $1.154 billion after CNN calculated its post-inflation success. While the titular shark doesn't look too terrifying by today's standards, without Jaws, we wouldn't have Shark Week, the traditional summer blockbuster season, or Steven Spielberg. In addition to launching the career of one of the more prolific directors in cinematic history, Jaws's chilling score has been stuck in our collective consciousness since we first heard it in 1975 and the thriller has been credited with establishing the modern Hollywood business model that prioritizes high-concept, high-return action and adventure films.
Chris Evans's third "solo" film with the MCU adapted one of Marvel Comics' most popular series, 2006's Civil War, pitting Chris's Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man against each other in an epic battle featuring basically every Avenger except Thor, including standalone heroes like Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the newly-introduced Spider-Man. Spiritually, Captain America: Civil War was another Avengers team-up film, and it had the box office success to prove it with a $1.153 billion worldwide gross. Civil War was the 12th highest-grossing film of all time for a hot second, but now, it's sitting pretty in the 21st slot before adjusting for inflation.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Finally, a DC Comics property breaks into the top 40. Warner Bros. likely had Jason Momoa's abs to thank for its $1.148 billion success story as Aquaman became the highest-grossing film in the DCEU, the highest-grossing film based on a DC Comics character, and the 20th highest-grossing film of all time before adjusting for inflation (and, naturally, before Endgame, Infinity War, and The Lion King bumped Aquaman into the top 25). Just imagine the records George R. R. Martin could break if we got a Khal Drogo solo film.
Captain Marvel's 2019 success was nearly six years in the making, with development on Marvel's first female-led superhero film beginning as early as May 2013. Its $1.128 billion box office gross made Captain Marvel the first superheroine movie to pass the billion-dollar mark, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed a sequel is in the works during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, as reported by The Verge. Captain Marvel is only the second Marvel film to feature a female screenwriter, with Captain Marvel's Anna Boden and Geneva Robertson-Dworet following in Nicole Perlman's footsteps from five years prior on Guardians of the Galaxy. Anna was also the first female director for an MCU film, but both Black Widow and The Eternals in Phase Four have women attached to direct. It only took them 21 movies to start hiring female directors, but better late than never!
Sony Pictures Releasing
Poor Tom Holland. Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man made a major box office splash in 2019 with Tom's second solo film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, but its $1.127 billion worldwide gross wasn't enough to convince Sony Pictures to continue their partnership with Marvel Studios. We don't know if Tom's Spidey will be able to continue his story as a Sony property — sans any mention of his MCU co-patriots like Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, and his mentor, Tony Stark — but the British heartthrob has been vocal about his love for the character. We can assure him the feeling is mutual.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon made $1.123 billion at the box office, and no, that's not a typo. Paramount really titled a movie Dark of the Moon and thought no one would question it. The third installment in Shia LaBeouf's Transformers franchise no longer featured Megan Fox after a falling out with director Michael Bay, with Victoria's Secret Angel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley stepping into the film's stereotypical "hot girl" role alongside newcomers (to Transformers) John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, and Frances McDormand. When you've got Steven Spielberg executive producing your film, even Marge Gunderson will show up to fight some robot cars.
New Line Cinema
Only one of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epics broke a billion dollars at the box office, with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King grossing $1.120 billion against a $94 million budget, although The Two Towers came close with a $926 million gross. Return of the King was the second highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release in 2003, and it won all 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for in the highest clean sweep in Oscars history. With over three hours of footage, audiences really got their money's worth.
The final entry in the top 40 highest-grossing films of all time that came from the days when a dozen eggs cost 57 cents and people were mad about it, CNN estimates that Doctor Zhivago made $1.11 billion after inflation. The 2014 Guiness Book of World Records claimed over 248 million tickets were sold worldwide, which is roughly 54 million more people than the population of America in 1965 when Doctor Zhivago was released. The British film split its Academy Award wins with the comparatively popular Sound of Music, showing that the mid-1960s were a good era for prestige cinema.
One of only three foreign films that made the top 40 cut — all of which were British, by the way — Skyfall is the most successful of the 24 James Bond films produced by Eon since the early 1960s with a $1.108 billion box office gross. James Bond is a historically problematic franchise, but with Dame Judi Dench as M and Ben Whishaw as Q, it's hard to turn up our noses at Daniel Craig's tenure as the M16 killing machine. Good luck getting Adele's titular song out of your head today.
This standalone sequel to Transformers: Dark of the Moon saw Shia LaBeouf leave the franchise to become an actual cannibal and do some weird sh*t with performance art. Michael Bay replaced one occasionally unhinged white dude with another, older occasionally unhinged white dude, Mark Wahlberg, former racist felon and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch frontman. Like Pete Davidson said, the full sentence should be, "Mark Wahlberg beat up an old Asian dude, and I would like one ticket to Daddy’s Home 3, please." National treasure Stanley Tucci also starred, which must be why Transformers: Age of Extinction made $1.104 billion.
The Dark Knight may be the most beloved of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy for the inclusion of the late Heath Ledger, but its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, out-earned The Dark Knight by a teeny tiny $80 million, making $1.085 billion at the box office compared to its predecessor's $1.005 billion. Reddit rumor has it that Christopher Nolan was hesistant about returning for a third and final film until developing its story with his brother and David S. Goyer, confident that The Dark Knight Rises would be a satisfactory conclusion for the series.
Get ready to cry. Toy Story 3 is the sequel our inner child never knew it needed, coming over a decade after Toy Story 2 was released in 1999. The franchise's original fanbase had aged alongside Andy, who loses track of his childhood toys while preparing to leave for college. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack among others returned to their roles for the nostalgia-bait blockbuster, which road Randy Newman's throwback score and our collective desire to be 7 years old again to a $1.067 billion run.
We miss the days when it was cool to love Johnny Depp. Back before Orlando Bloom was engaged to Katy Perry, when Keira Knightley was at her period peace peak, Disney blessed us with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The most successful film in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, Dead Man's Chest made $1.066 billion against a $225 million budget. Not bad for a film series based on a 50-year-old theme park ride. The Pirates movies were so popular that Disneyland's ride of the same name briefly featured giant octopus man Davey Jones and still has an animatronic Johnny Depp that pops out at inopportune times.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the standalone epic space-opera that began Lucasfilm's Star Wars anthology series. The franchise prequel followed Felicity Jones and her companions before the events of A New Hope on a rebel quest to steal the plans for the Death Star. Rogue One outsold 2018's Han Solo prequel Solo by about $600 million, grossing over $1.056 billion worldwide. Let it be known that all we ever wanted was a female-led Star Wars film, followed by many, many more female-led Star Wars films.
Nine years after Toy Story 3 broke our hearts, Pixar was at it again with 2019's Toy Story 4. Instead of following Andy on his journey to become a finance bro living in New York City, the toys now live happily with Bonnie, and Woody makes it his life's mission to save a suicidal spork named Forkey from throwing himself in the garbage. It sounds crackhead-y, but it's actually a beautiful story of self-sacrifice, self-worth, and new beginnings that will make you want to call your mom and all of your childhood best friends to tell them you love them. Toy Story 4 made $1.053 billion during its summer box office run.