An iconic superhero, childhood toy, classic book or even a movie with mind blowing stunts can transform a standalone film into a movie franchise. These series draw fans into the theaters for decades – with sequels, prequels and reboots – as they seek something familiar, beloved, or wildly exciting.
Since 2000, franchise movies have dominated at the box office, typically being the highest grossing films of the year. With series like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Star Trek and James Bond, what are the top grossing film franchises worldwide? Well, the numbers have been run and here’s what’s been found.
Now, keep in mind these numbers are for a film’s unadjusted gross sales. This means that these numbers are not recalculated for inflation nor the change in movie ticket prices over decades. For instance, franchises like Star Wars and James Bond might rank lower in this list – because a majority of their box office profits came from decades prior to 1990 when ticket prices were much lower. To illustrate, the average movie ticket price in 1983 was $3.15 compared to today’s movie tickets price of $8.17 – plus gross doesn’t take into account the addition of 3D tickets (which were not available in previous decades).
Without further adieu, here’s the 10 highest grossing worldwide film franchises.
It is only right to kick off the countdown with one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, Batman. The iconic film franchise has seen countless iterations and several reboots – both in live-action and animation. Yet, setting straight to DVD animated releases and TV mini-movies to the side, Batman really began to hit it big at the box office with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 starring Michael Keaton (which earned $411 million worldwide at the time on $35 million production budget). Since then Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale have suited up in the cape and cowl – to varied critical reception but solid theater ticket sales.
In 2016 the franchise will get its biggest reboot yet, with Ben Affleck set to appear as the Dark Knight in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice; however, until then the highest grossing film in the franchise is Christopher Nolan’s 2012 entry, The Dark Knight Rises, which earned over $1 billion worldwide.
Pirates of the Caribbean
With Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm, there is no stopping this ship as it sails into box office glory. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack is a proven draw – pulling kids and adults into movie theaters. To date, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has grossed over $3.7 billion. Not bad for a movie franchise based on a Disney theme park ride.
Initially planned as a trilogy, producer Jerry Bruckheimer re-envisioned the series with addition of Sam Claflin and Penelope Cruz in 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite underwhelming reviews, the film went on to gross more than $1 billion, coming close to the revenue of 2006’s, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which is the largest grossing film in the franchise. That success drove momentum for a fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Men Tell No Tales, due to hit theaters in 2017.
Transformers is more than meets the eye – when it comes to the partnership between Hasbro and Michael Bay. Bay’s interpretation of the beloved ’80s toy line has spelled out big box office success. The blended live action stunts with special effects and 80s nostalgia has raked in just under $4 billion globally across four films. However, it is the third installment, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, that was the highest grossing in the series.
The last film to feature Shia LaBeouf took in over $1.12 billion alone. The sequel (and quasi-relaunch) Age of Extinction starring Mark Wahlberg wasn’t far behind (with $1.104 billion worldwide) – paving the way for an entire shared movie universe. Transformers 5 is expected to hit theaters in 2017 but, currently, Michael Bay is only slated to produce the film – though he could still return as director.
Fast and the Furious
It’s only fitting that Fast and The Furious takes the number seven spot on our list. The latest installment, Furious 7, has been smashing records and continuing to shift the series away from street racing to action-heisting. Furious 7 is the first film to make over $1 billion in only 17 days worldwide and, until Jurassic World began breaking box office records, was the highest grossing movie in Universal Studios history.
It’s success inevitably lead the studio to greenlight Furious 8, due out in 2017. Furious 7 is not only action packed, but serves as an emotional sendoff to Paul Walker (after he was tragically killed in a car accident, while the film was in production). Where exactly the film series will go in the future, without one of its brightest stars remains to be seen; yet, there’s no doubt that Fast and Furious is positioned as one of Hollywood’s biggest action brands.
While spiders themselves might send people running, Spider-Man knows how to spin an amazing web that keeps fans lining up at theaters. Sam Raimi’s early 2000’s Spider-Man trilogy itself was a box office draw. That trilogy took in more than $2.5 billion before the curtains closed. But when you add in 2012’s reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man along with its sequel, the series has earned just shy of $4 billion.
Nevertheless, 2007’s Spider-Man 3 overshadows all other spider-movies as the largest grossing – taking in $890 million worldwide. Of course the web-slinger isn’t stopping there either. There is plenty more money in the pipeline as Marvel and Sony team-up for another Spider-Man reboot, coming in 2017.
Sure to change by year’s end when JJ Abrams unleashes Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens on the world. But the franchise’s seven previous films haven’t done too shabby either. The original legendary trilogy earned just under $2 billion unadjusted for inflation. Add in the revenue from George Lucas’s prequels plus the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated film and this franchise has earned just under $4.5 billion worldwide.
Still despite an overwhelmingly negative reception from fans, the highest grossing film of the franchise remains Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, which took in just over $1 billion worldwide. As mentioned, with a fresh (and seemingly “back to the franchise roots”) sequel scheduled to hit theaters in less than a year, with a round of spinoffs and sequels already in pre-production, Star Wars is poised to add a lot more money to its collective coffer.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings
Maybe one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film franchise has not only garnered box office gold, but critical acclaim. The movie series is comprised of three films from The Lord of the Rings series, as well as three films from The Hobbit series. All films are based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels of the same name.
All combined Jackson’s foray into Middle-earth have grossed almost $6 billion worldwide. Additionally, the franchise was not only a commercial success, but considered groundbreaking for visual effects. To that end, the movies have seen plenty of critical success – nominated for thirty-seven Academy Awards (and taking home eighteen wins). While The Hobbit series was successful, none of them matched the final Lord of the Rings chapter: 2003’s The Return of the King, which secured $1.19 billion.
Arguably the most iconic, and classiest, movie franchise of all time, 007 is the longest running film series in history. With twenty-three films under his belt James Bond has been going strong since 1963’s Dr. No. Based on Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Service agent, this franchise has taken in over $6 billion to date and is the single most successful film series – when adjusted for inflation. When talking 007, the common question is always which is your favorite Bond? Played by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig, everyone has a favorite.
But it is Daniel Craig’s 2012’s Skyfall, which gave the franchise its highest grossing earnings to date with more than $1.1 billion worldwide. This fall Bond will make his 24th film appearance in Spectre and one can only imagine how that chapter will seduce the box office. Unlike other franchises, which have been passed around as Hollywood studios grew and closed, all twenty-four Bond films have been produced by a single company, Eon Productions, over the past five decades.
No one can deny the power of Potter. Harry Potter and his wizarding ways has meant box office magic for Warner Brothers. Based on the books by J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter film series was launched back in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and, since that time, the young wizard has churned out eight fantasy films culminating with 2011’s highest grossing entry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
The final Harry Potter-centric film raked in more than $1.34 billion worldwide – helping the Harry Potter movies secure a spot as the second highest grossing film series of all time (with under $8 billion worldwide). Of course, even though Potter’s story has ended, Warner Bros. isn’t done with the Wizarding World – meaning that when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits theaters in 2016, the film series will get another shot of box office income.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
No surprise here. What other franchise could take the top spot and dazzle the world other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Ever since the release of 2008’s Iron Man, which grossed more than $500 million worldwide, Marvel has been a juggernaut at the box office. The franchise incorporates some of the most colorful and iconic comic book characters in Marvel’s history – bringing Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and their collective team, The Avengers, to the big screen.
Released in 2012, The Avengers, grossed more $1.5 billion worldwide – securing a spot at the top of Marvel’s box office takes as well as breaking numerous records. In total the franchise has grossed more than $8.69 billion worldwide, so it’s no wonder that Marvel will be rolling out more films in the coming years (including a Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, the arrival of Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel as well as more Avengers team-ups).
Those are our the top 10 most profitable film franchises. Which film series do you think will knock a few of these out of the top 10 in the coming years? Be sure to share your picks in the comments section below.