Movies are a unique art form. Yes, especially these days, anyone can make a movie with few resources. But movies truly require an audience to work effectively. And to get an audience, a movie has to be commercially viable. Thus, it is a medium that works at the intersection of art and entertainment. And those two roads meet at the box office, where a movie’s success or failure, at least in terms of one important metric, can be determined.
Success at the box office is all relative. Paranormal Activity remains one the most profitable movies in history because it was made for mere thousands. But with this list, we’re here to look at the biggest of the big. The titans of entertainment when it comes to putting meat in seats and raking in billions around the world. From Spider-Man to Endgame and from Lord of the Rings to Avatar, here are the highest-grossing movies of all time at the box office.
25Spider-Man: Far From Home – $1.13 Billion
Spider-Man movies have always done quite well at the box office but Spider-Man: Far From Home had so much going for it. Not only was it following up Tom Holland’s first MCU solo turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it had the advantage of coming out mere months after Avengers: Endgame. It turns out serving as a prologue of sorts to one of the biggest movies in history is good for business. Far From Home earned $390.5 million during its domestic run, with an impressive $741.3 million internationally. All told, the movie raked in $1.13 billion worldwide. It still ranks as Sony’s highest-grossing release ever, topping Skyfall.
24The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – $1.142 Billion
There are few movies that are, in every sense of the word, as big as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It concluded Peter Jackson’s epic LOTR trilogy. It won Best Picture at the Oscars. And, it was a truly huge global blockbuster. Earning $1.14 billion worldwide during its run, it remains the biggest entry in the Middle Earth franchise to date.
23Aquaman – $1.148 Billion
Perhaps no other movie on this list illustrates just how far superhero movies have come in the last decade or so than Aquaman. The DC hero was once at the wrong end of many jokes. Yet, thanks to star Jason Momoa and director James Wan, he is now the subject of a $1 billion franchise. Released in 2018, the character’s first live-action solo feature earned $335 million domestically, while bringing in a tidal wave of cash overseas to the tune of $813.4 million All told, the movie earned $1.148 billion making it the highest-grossing DC movie ever. Yes, even more than The Dark Knight.
22Captain America: Civil War – $1.15 Billion
It is almost unfair to classify Captain America: Civil War as part of the Captain America trilogy. While it certainly is that, it more or less works as Avengers 2.5. It also had the benefit of introducing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a winning formula. Becoming the highest-grossing movie of 2016, it earned a stellar $1.15 billion globally. That includes a $408 million domestic haul.
21Minions – $1.159 Billion
The Despicable Me movies proved to be hugely profitable for Universal Pictures. But the breakout stars of those movies, the Minions, were given their own movie in 2015, and that’s where the real money was made. Minions, released in 2015, took in $336 million domestically but international audiences ate it up, with $823.3 million coming from overseas. All told, it made just shy of $1.16 billion.
20Iron Man 3 – $1.21 Billion
By the time The Avengers came out in 2012 the MCU had established itself as a global powerhouse.Iron Man 3 had the task of kicking off Phase 2 of the MCU, and it proved to be a smart move on Disney’s part. Robert Downey Jr.’s third solo installment in the franchise was a mammoth hit, kicking things off with a $174 million opening weekend. All told, it earned $409 million domestically and $805.7 million internationally for a $1.21 billion global finish. That helped set the tone for the MCU moving forward.
19The Fate of the Furious – $1.23 Billion
When The Fate of the Furious hit theaters in 2017, the franchise had firmly established itself as something far greater than what it started life as. This was no longer a mere Point Break rehash centered around street racers. This was, and still is, an action powerhouse with tremendous global appeal. To that point, the eighth entry in the series brought in an eye-opening $1.23 billion in total during its run in theaters. This includes more than $1 billion from international markets alone.
18Incredibles 2 – $1.24 Billion
Fans waited a long time for Disney and Pixar to make a sequel to 2004’s beloved The Incredibles. When that sequel finally came in the form of 2018’s Incredibles 2, audiences turned up in droves to see it. Returning director Brad Bird delivered a true crowd-pleaser that brought in the big bucks. What is perhaps most impressive is its split, with $608.5 million coming from domestic ticket sales and the other $634.5 of its $1.24 billion global haul coming from international markets. Rarely do movies this big have such an even split. Either way, this was a home run for Disney in every way.
17Beauty and the Beast – $1.26 Billion
Disney has made a lot of hay by revisiting its animated classics, a trend kicked into high-gear by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland remake. While some of these have fared better than others critically, 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast remake fared terrifically well at the box office. Kicking things off with a stellar $174.7 million opening weekend, with Emma Watson as Belle leading the way, it earned $504.4 million domestically alone. All told, it stockpiled $1.26 billion in ticket sales, making it one of Disney’s most successful non-superhero live-action releases in history.
16Frozen – $1.28 Billion
Disney may be the best in the business when it comes to working with pre-existing IP for the sake of generating movies and TV shows with wide appeal. That said, it is hard to overstate just how big of a hit Frozen was when it arrived in 2013. Especially for an original movie. Aside from taking in a staggering $1.28 billion globally, making it the biggest animated movie in history up to that point, its soundtrack was, itself a pop culture phenomenon. In particular, the song Let It Go propelled the soundtrack to multi-platinum status. Needless to say, this proved Disney could still get the job done with something new.
15Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – $1.31 Billion
The Jurassic Park franchise had been dead for 14 years before Jurassic World kicked that door back open in a big way. The follow-up, 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, kept the ball rolling for Universal Pictures, at least from a financial standpoint. While the critical response was certainly mixed, the fifth entry in the dino-filled series took in a huge $1.31 billion at the global box office. That includes $892.7 million from international markets, accounting for more than 68 percent of the total gross.
14Star Wars: The Last Jedi – $1.33 Billion
If the internet is to be believed, it would be tough to find a more divisive movie on this list than 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The second entry in Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, and the eighth entry in the Skywalker saga overall, director Rian Johnson’s turn behind the camera was held up as one of the best entries on the franchise to date by many. While many others, on the other side, reviled it. Divisive though it may have been, it was also a big hit. Episode VIII opened to a stunning $220 million domestically, on its way to $1.33 billion overall. While the movie’s legacy is, to say the very least of it, complicated, it was certainly a financial win for Disney and Lucasfilm at the time.
13Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – $1.342 Billion
After nearly a decade of following Harry Potter through his journey at Hogwarts, the saga came to a close in 2011 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The series, based on J.K. Rowling’s hugely successful books, had already earned billions at the box office since The Sorcerer’s Stone kicked things off in 2001. With that, audience turned up in droves to see how it all came to an end. With $381.4 million domestic and $960.9 million internationally, the second Deathly Hallows chapter earned $1.34 billion overall. That makes it the biggest earner in the Harry Potter franchise to date. A record that will likely never be broken, given the current trajectory of the Fantastic Beasts spin-offs.
12Black Panther – $1.347 Billion
Chadwick Boseman made his debut as T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War. While that movie was a huge success in its own right, it set the stage for Black Panther, which became something even more substantial. With Ryan Coogler behind the camera, the character’s first live-action solo feature went on to earn a downright hard to believe $1.34 billion worldwide. More than that, it became a cultural phenomenon, earning near-universal praise. It even scored a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. While other MCU movies have earned more money, in some cases a whole lot more, this remains one of the most important and impactful superhero movies ever released.
11Avengers: Age of Ultron – $1.4 Billion
Following up The Avengers was no easy task. We can argue until the cows come home to what degree 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was a success as a movie. What cannot be argued is that it was, indeed, another win for Marvel Studios and Disney. Kicking off its run with a gigantic $191.2 million opening weekend, the second go-around for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes finished with $459 million domestically, while also taking in $943.8 million overseas. All told, it brought in $1.4 billion worldwide. That is almost enough to put it in the top ten all time. But it was more than enough to help ensure the MCU could live on for at least another handful of years successfully.
10Frozen II – $1.45 Billion
An argument can be made in regards to this record thanks to another movie on this list in a minute but Frozen II is the highest-grossing movie ever made. It was always expected that the sequel to Frozen would be huge. We had every reason to expect it would be. But nothing is guaranteed in this business. Especially on this leve. But audiences flocked to see Anna and Elsa once again when the follow-up arrived in 2019. Taking in $1.45 billion overall, no other animated feature in history (at least not any movie billed as an animated feature) has earned more. Expect the Frozen franchise to continue in some way, as Disney knows how to juice a squeeze.
9Furious 7 – $1.51 Billion
In 2011, Fast Five helped transform the Fast & Furious franchise into a global action spectacle centered around cars. By 2015 when Furious 7 arrived, it had finished its unlikely transformation into one of the biggest franchises in history. Period. With James Wan directing, the seventh entry in the series soard to $1.51 billion globally. While it is generally considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise, Paul Walker passed away during production. That made this a must-see for fans. And, to his credit, Wan managed to craft a shockingly heartfelt finale and send off for Walker’s Brian O’Connor. In any event, it now stands as one of the biggest movies in history, and arguably the most unlikely one, on paper, to have cracked the top ten.
8The Avengers – $1.518 Billion
This had never been attempted. This was the proof of concept for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Could several individual franchises be brought together for a major crossover blockbuster? The Avengers answered that question with an emphatic yes. Building on the backs of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, the 2012 superhero flick paved the way for a new era in Hollywood. It earned $207.4 million in its opening weekend alone, a record at the time, on its way to more than $1.51 billion worldwide. Few superhero movies, two to be precise, have ever made more money. And they wouldn’t have been possible without this movie.
7The Lion King – $1.65 Billion
Much can be said about 2019’s The Lion King. It was a remake of one of the most beloved Disney animated movies of all time. It was billed as live-action even though it was technically animated since everything was done with CGI. It received a mixed response critically. What it definitely did, though, was make a whole bunch of cash for Disney. With director Jon Favreau at the helm, The Lion King made a stunning $1.65 billion at the box office. It is Disney’s highest-grossing remake ever. And the highest-grossing Disney movie ever without any superheroes or lightsabers in it. No matter how necessary or unnecessary one thinks this may have been it was unquestionably a major financial success.
6Jurassic World – $1.67 Billion
So many recent blockbusters have capitalized on nostalgia. But perhaps no movie has done a better job of that than Jurassic World did in 2015. The Jurassic Park franchise had been dormant for a long time. This wasn’t a full-on reboot. It was continuing what Steven Spielberg had started all of those years ago. And man, did it pay off in spades. With director Colin Trevorrow guiding the ship, Jurassic World shattered expectations, opening to a dino-sized $208.8 million on its opening weekend. The movie finished with $652.3 million domestic and more than $1 billion internationally for a grand total of $1.67 billion. It was nothing shy of impressive and unexpected.
5Avengers: Infinity War – $2.04 Billion
As we enter the top five, these numbers jump up in a big way. The MCU, as this list has established, truly dominated the box office over the last decade or so. But connecting all of these stories together paid off in spades when Avengers: Infinity War arrived in 2018. Thanos had been built up as the big bad in these movies ever since that famous post-credits scene in The Avengers back in 2012. The Mad Titan finally arrived in Infinity War and audiences were ready to see him wreck shop and get those Infinity Stones. Few movies (arguably only the few that made more money than this one did) have ever felt like such must-see pop culture moments. As such, Infinity War became one of the only movies in history to crack the $2 billion mark worldwide. And it also set the stage for something much larger to come.
4Star Wars: The Force Awakens – $2.06 Billion
With the exception of perhaps one other movie on this list (we’ll get to that in a minute), perhaps no other movie in recent history, if not ever, felt as big as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. At the time, it truly felt like the biggest deal on the face of the planet. There was an energy surrounding this movie that simply hadn’t been felt in decades, if ever before. Star Wars was making a very unexpected comeback. Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and, in 2015, under the direction of J.J. Abrams, they made good on their promise to bring audiences back to a galaxy far, far away. The Force Awakens took in $247.9 million on its opening weekend, on its way to $936.6 million domestically. That still ranks as the highest domestic total in history. Internationally, it notched $1.13 billion, bringing its total to $2.06 billion. Star Wars was, and still is, back.
3Titanic – $2.2 Billion
Despite all of the franchise fare that has come to dominate Hollywood, James Cameron has managed to build a hugely successful career on original ideas. Yes, 1997’s mega-blockbuster Titanic was based on a historical event, but there was a fictional story at its center. And this wasn’t based on some flashy IP. Cameroon managed to turn world history into box office history. Years before movies would regularly cross the $1 billion mark at the box office, Titanic managed to bring in more than $2 billion. Over its lifespan, the movie has earned $659.3 million domestically and $1.54 billion overseas. With $2.2 billion to its name, it is one of the most successful movies ever released. Not to mention that it also went on to virtually sweep the Oscars that year, including a Best Picture win.
2Avengers: Endgame – $2.79 Billion
Avengers: Infinity War left audiences with one of the biggest cliffhangers in history. Half of all life in the universe, including many beloved Marvel heroes, were snapped to dust by Thanos. A bold move for a PG-13 movie aimed at the masses. What it did was tee up the ball for Avengers: Endgame to become an even larger must-see event globally. Be that as it may, directors Joe and Anthony Russo had to deliver the goods. And boy did they ever. Even though it clocked in at three hours,Endgame was a crowd-pleaser in every sense, which helped propel it to box office heights the likes of which the world had never seen.
Beginning with a record-shattering $357.1 million domestic opening, Endgame earned $858.3 million domestically and a humongous $1.93 billion overseas. All told, it hauled in $2.79 billion. For a time, albeit a short one, it was able to take the title as the highest-grossing movie in history.
1Avatar – $2.84 Billion
It is remarkable that, despite all of the franchises and remakes that dominate this list, it is an original sci-fi movie about blue aliens that holds the title as the highest-grossing movie of all time at the box office. Indeed, James Cameron’s Avatar has defied the odds at every turn to hold the title. Multiple times, as it turns out. And it did so in a way that had never been seen before and probably never will again. It is the very definition of an outlier. A one-of-a-kind experience that simply cannot be replicated.
Avatar didn’t open to a monstrous total in 2009. It brought in a solid $77 million. Yet, week after week, in country after country, it just kept going and going. And then going some more. It eventually clawed its way to more than $2.78 billion. Considering that only one other movie, Titanic, had ever made it past $2 billion up to that point, it was a genuinely staggering achievement. But then Avengers: Endgame came along and just barely managed to top Avatar in the summer of 2019.
Yet, Avatar wouldn’t surrender the record for long. Thanks to a re-release of the movie in China as the pandemic began to recede, it earned just enough to retake the record, with its total now standing at $2.84 billion worldwide. And, with Avatar 2, as well as the other sequels, set to be released in the coming years, further re-releases are likely to come. It is not inconceivable that Avatar could become the first (and likely only) movie to make $3 billion at the box office.
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