Movies cost a lot of money to make. That’s especially true of the big blockbusters that you head out to the multiplex to see. Some of them cost over $300 million, and that’s without factoring in marketing. As such, movies also need to make a lot of money in order to be profitable. The rule of thumb is that a film needs to bring in about double its budget to break even. That can be tough.
But it wasn’t too difficult for these movies, which are the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time (worldwide, unadjusted for inflation).
A list bookended by James Cameron-directed films, Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time, taking in a worldwide total of approximately $2.8 billion. It topped its closest competition by $600 million dollars. As of writing, it’s also one of only three non-franchise films to make the list, although Cameron claims to have several sequels coming – something he’s said since Avatar was released in 2009. We’ll see if they ever come to fruition. One of the others also has sequels planned.
The culmination of four years of build, The Avengers was a groundbreaking superhero movie that, for better or worse, wound up setting the bar for franchises – superhero or not – for years to come. Everyone wanted to make cinematic universes, but most weren’t willing to do the proper buildup to make them successful. Marvel did with The Avengers, and it was rewarded with a worldwide gross of $1.5 billion.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Sequels don’t always make more money than their predecessors, and that wound up being the case for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which took in $1.4 billion, just shy of its predecessor’s mark. By most accounts, it wasn’t as good of a movie (I’d concur), and it didn’t have a history-making premise like The Avengers did. The next Avengers movie comes out in 2018, and we’ll have to see whether or not it’s able to top either previous film.
Frozen, the Disney movie with the catchy “Let it Go” song that, even at its mere mention is now stuck in your head, grossed $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office. While it hasn’t had an official sequel at this point, it has had a couple of shorts – one of which was attached to Coco in 2017 – and there is a sequel in development. It’s worth noting, too, that while this is just the box office take, some of these movies make a ton more from merchandising. We don’t get numbers for those, but you can bet Frozen is one of them.
The Fast and Furious movies, especially since Dwayne Johnson joined the franchise, have done really, really well overseas. Furious Seven is easily the highest grossing of the franchise, bringing in $1.5 billion total at the box office. Why? Well, it was the best critically received movie in the franchise, and it was the last Fast and Furious to include Paul Walker, after he passed away in a real car crash during production – but it’s important to note that it did not happen on set.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Conclusions to long-running franchises often see a bump at the box office, and that happened with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the eighth Harry Potter movie, which brought in $1.3 billion at the box office. Its closest in-franchise competitor is actually the first film, which brought in $974 million. That’s a pretty big gap.
It had been over a decade since the previous Jurassic Park movie, and in the interim there hadn’t really been any great dinosaur movies, so Jurassic World was guaranteed to do big money. How big? It wound up making $1.7 billion worldwide, which easily blew away predictions. The next one, due for release in 2018, probably won’t top its predecessor, but anything is possible in this crazy world of ours.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Most of us can agree that the Star wars prequels are varying degrees of “not good,” I think. It had been a long time since a good Star Wars movie had been released. Star Wars: The Force Awakens fixed that, both by being good and by playing on the nostalgia of the original trilogy. It took in approximately $2.1 billion, good enough for third all time. It was followed by another not-good prequel/side-story which didn’t do exceptionally, but its direct sequel is Star Wars: The Last Jedi which…
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
…made a lot of money, although not as much as its predecessor. It’s the middle film in a trilogy, which is typically where the drop at the box office occurs. It still took in $1.3 billion and, as of writing, is still in many theaters, meaning that number could rise (although not significantly). So, for all the whining online about how the franchise is ruined, it still wound up in the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time.
I told you that this list would be bookended by James Cameron movies. Titanic is the second highest grossing movie of all time, clocking in at $2.2 billion in box office gross. That was #1 for over a decade prior to the release of Avatar. It’s also the only film on this list around which no sequels have either been planned or have been released. And, no, the Asylum movie Titanic II doesn’t count – it’s not a franchise film if it’s not actually attached to the franchise.