Only a select few films are destined to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Usually, access is mostly restricted to superhero films, franchise film and other mega-budget monoliths. In fact, the average production budget of films that have reached the $1 billion mark is a little over $186 million, with the lowest total being $63 million – though that total belongs to 1993’s Jurassic Park, and adjusting for inflation would bring the budget of the dino-movie to just under $107.4 million. Nonetheless, reaching such a global total, no matter the genre, is an incredible achievement.
Just because a film reaches $1 billion worldwide, however, it does not mean that it is worth remembering. But these movies are. Here are The 15 Best Movies That Have Earned $1 Billion At The Box Office.
15 Avatar (2009)
The list begins with James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time. Perhaps appropriately arriving at the end of the decade, Cameron’s film became a cultural phenomenon unlike any other. Its ambitiously high production costs – for the time – were met with equally absurd advertising expenses, signaling a promotional barrage that endlessly reminded you of the technical and visual splendor you could witness on the big screen.
Even in spite of its story’s familiarity, the special effects wizardry, including but not limited to photorealistic CGI and motion capture technology, had encapsulated every frame from first to last, making for one of the more enjoyable movie experiences of the year and ending the decade on a high note. Avatar gave us much to marvel at, including Ben Stiller’s complete Na’vi get-up as he presented the Academy Award for Best Makeup in 2010.
14 Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014)
There was a lot to live up to with an Avengers sequel, once again written and directed by nerd fandom favorite Joss Whedon. Expectations were pretty high, and though it couldn’t completely live up to them, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a thoroughly agreeable sequel.
Much like the first film, Whedon’s script for Ultron often attempts to engage in the heroes’ humanity in between each set piece, and though the attempt is admirable, sometimes they feel more like unnecessary diversions. But don’t worry, a relatively weaker script this time around is pretty easy to forgive when the typical one-liners and fight scenes provide more than enough entertainment throughout its two and a half hour runtime. It helps that James Spader’s Ultron makes for, arguably, the most compelling villain the Avengers have yet faced, as well.
13 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Once audiences had been fully captivated by The Dark Knight – the second chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – no one could wait until they caught a glimpse of the final installment. Though The Dark Knight may have been a benchmark that simply couldn’t be repeated, there isn’t any doubt that The Dark Knight Rises was a suitably thrilling conclusion.
What made The Dark Knight so compelling wasn’t its hero, but its antagonist. Just as The Dark Knight was tough to top, so was Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. Fortunately, Tom Hardy provides his own villainous charm as Bane, almost carrying the picture with every line, using that notorious accent. What made it all possible, however, was Nolan’s consistency in delivering a grittier, more realistic superhero film throughout the trilogy. In an age when most superhero films are predicated on computer-generated pomp and circumstance, the Dark Knight trilogy was a welcome diversion, and Rises was a satisfying end.
12 Furious 7 (2015)
The Fast & Furious franchise is loaded to the brim with many things, with cool cars, objectified women and stupendously incredulous action sequences and crashes chiefly among them. Rarely, if ever, has a heavy, pervasive sense of melancholy and mourning been involved. We find Dom and Brian’s gang back in the States, mourning the death of Han and trying to enjoy the quiet life until Deckard Shaw, brother of Owen Shaw, forces them out of hiding.
The series began to wholeheartedly embrace its steadfast defiance of logic and reason with Fast Five, and everything listed above is on full display in Furious 7. The film’s typically high-octane thrills helped propel the film to its greatest critical and financial heights, but an added element of pathos was achieved, in part, to the premature death of Paul Walker, as well. The plot and character development had already lent a somber tone to the picture, but Walker’s death brought an additional sadness to the proceedings. Be sure to whip out the Kleenex for the writing off of Walker’s character at the end of the film, not to mention its heartfelt tribute.
11 Frozen (2013)
Few musicals since the genre’s decline in popularity at the end of the ‘60s have captured the hearts and minds of the public quite like Frozen. To date, the film’s most popular song, “Let it Go,” performed by Idina Menzel, has been watched nearly 530 million times on YouTube. But the film is much more than one song.
Loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Snow Queen,” Frozen depicts Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) take on a perilous journey to find her sister Elsa (Menzel), the Snow Queen, so they can break her spell and end the perpetual winter that’s plagued their kingdom. A film that had the makings of just another Disney fairytale turned into a wonderful surprise with a strong progressive bent, featuring two strong female protagonists and a Prince Charming-type who turns out to be nothing more than a duplicitous villain. Catchy songs and memorable characters were merely an additional benefit to the overall cultural impact that was made.
10 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (2011)
It only makes sense that the biggest, and biggest earning, Harry Potter film of all was the last one. Truly the franchise of a generation, eight movies in ten years led up to one hell of an emotional finale. Saying goodbye to characters you’ve grown up with isn’t easy, and the high amounts of suspense don’t make the process any easier. As if the audience needed another reminder, scenes like the Battle of Hogwarts are a firm reminder that the series had completely left the light-hearted magic in favor of dramatic tension, while still retaining that magic thanks to dazzling special effects and cinematography.
Perhaps even more emotional than Harry’s final battle with Voldemort was the film’s jump 19 years into the future. For much of the audience, seeing these characters they had grown up with send their own children off to Hogwarts must have felt strange, but touching nonetheless. Fortunately for Harry Potter fans, they will be able to return to the Wizarding World when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them premieres this November.
9 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Marvel kicked off Phase 3 of its Cinematic Universe with more than just a bang a few weekends ago, and Captain America: Civil War is more than just the beginning of the end – of the foreseeable future, at least. The biggest earner of summer 2016 thus far is unlike most superhero films, due in part to its dramatic heft and willingness to pursue thought-provoking themes. Since Winter Solider, the latter hasn’t been a terribly new aesthetic, but compared to other examples of the genre, it’s a welcome addition.
Additionally, Civil War introduces audiences to faces new and technically old – Spiderman getting a necessary, somewhat neurotic revamp with Tom Holland – and gives audiences a proper first look into these new characters, completely bypassing the awkward conventions of origin stories. We don't know what the next three years will have in store for Marvel, but Civil War has them set up for a wild finish.
8 Skyfall (2012)
There is revival, and then there is complete resurgence. The James Bond franchise had certainly experienced quite a bit of the latter with the premiere of Skyfall. Having been four years since Quantum of Solace, 007 had resurfaced in a big way, nearly doubling Solace’s global revenue, which at the time had been the highest total gross for any Bond film.
The film was a certifiable smash, and for good reason. Rarely in the franchise’s existence had Bond been so cool, with Daniel Craig effectively exhibiting the typically suave, yet cold-blooded nature we had come to expect from the character. Javier Bardem radiates similar characteristics as the film’s villain, Raoul Silva. Additionally, a deft screenplay and equally competent direction from first-time Bond director Sam Mendes were a perfect pairing, as the film entertainingly rumbles through enthralling set pieces and intrigue. Unfortunately, the recent follow-up, Spectre, could not live up to the same critical or financial heights.
7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Does the prequel trilogy have its fans? Of course it does, but there is no doubt that the general consensus was less than positive, to say the least. In large part, when a new Star Wars trilogy was announced, fans were craving a return to the old school aesthetics of the original films. Fortunately, The Force Awakens was a captivating blend of old and new.
Fan service was expectedly in abundance; everything from the first sight of the Millennium Falcon and the introductions of Solo, the Wookie and now-General Leia was met with maximum fanfare. There are many similarities to the original trilogy – sometimes to a fault – but there’s more than just nostalgia at play here. Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and BB-8 have given newer audiences strong characters to latch onto for the foreseeable future, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a compelling villain – if now notorious throughout the Internet for his volatile emotions. Not to mention, the film’s ending contains much promise for the future of the franchise.
6 Titanic (1997)
The RMS Titanic’s sinking is one of those historical facts that becomes common knowledge in early childhood, and James Cameron’s Titanic undoubtedly plays a significant role in that. Arguably the most popular romantic epic of our generation, Titanic has lasted and will continue to not only because its fictional plot is at the center of one of the largest maritime disasters in history, but also because its plot happens to be one of the most genuinely affecting romances in film, that of Jack and Rose.
Sure, its story is unabashedly melodramatic, but it’s expertly balanced out by two standout performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and assured direction from Cameron, especially during the film’s climax. On top of being the second-highest grossing film of all time, no other film can say they were nominated for 14 Academy Awards – and won 11 of them.
5 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Early on, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was the film event of the new millennium, with all three films being shot back to back and released every year from 2001 to 2003. Much like The Dark Knight Rises was for Batman, The Return of the King was a deeply satisfying conclusion, although some may feel it was the weaker entry of the series.
This particular film may be 20 minutes longer than its two predecessors, but none of the dramatic power found in Fellowship and Two Towers is lost here. The final battle scenes are visually exhilarating and the climactic moment of Frodo throwing the Ring into the pits of Mount Doom remains almost overbearingly suspenseful. Not only was Return of the King the franchise’s biggest earner, it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and impressively swept all of them.
4 Toy Story 3 (2010)
All too often, the case with sequels released many years after their predecessor is that they waited to long to arrive. In the case of Toy Story 3 – released 11 years after Toy Story 2 – the creators waited just long enough, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, 3 came to us when an era of money-hungry summer blockbusters dominated by franchise films was in full swing. On top of name recognition, 3 easily became the highest-grossing film of the franchise. The plot was perfectly timed, as well. Those who had grown up with the first two films were likely the same age as Andy as he heads off to college, having to let go of his childhood and pass it along to a new generation. In addition to that sobering realization, the film completely embraces the darkness of its story while remaining light enough for the younger audience members. Sometimes, all we can say is “So long.”
3 Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
The first of the MCU films to reach the $1 billion threshold, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was more than just a signal of what was to come from Marvel, it became the benchmark by which to judge all Marvel films that followed. All members who had their own stand-alone films were relatively successful – Iron Man being the most popular – but bringing them all together is what’s driven the madness in popularity.
A common criticism with some superhero films – namely those like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – is that an overabundance of characters can lead to an overstuffed narrative and similarly clunky action sequences. Thankfully, Whedon’s script capably devotes enough time to each character to ensure they aren’t stereotypical superhero stock. In addition to expertly directed action sequences and a serious dose of well-placed humor, The Avengers breathed a different sort of life into the superhero genre.
2 Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park: a movie so magical it didn’t need the Disney name attached to it – not that it could have been, anyway. Blockbuster spectacle has always been Spielberg’s specialty, and with this adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel, he was able to explore both a sense of childlike wonder, with both fantastic animatronics and special effects, and genuine terror using the same aesthetics. Between the bone-chilling thrills and plethora of quotable lines, Spielberg delivered one of his most memorable films in what was already a storied career of critical successes.
By the end of the film, Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant had told Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond that “after careful consideration,” he had decided not to endorse Jurassic Park in moment of sarcastic humor. Unfortunately, with the creation of Jurassic World, the fourth-highest grossing movie of all time, he didn’t have to.
1 The Dark Knight (2008)
Yes, everyone knows about Heath Ledger’s fabulously psychotic and posthumous Joker performance, so any and all details surrounding it will be spared. Nolan’s The Dark Knight may be the lowest earner of the 25 films, but not only did it launch his planned trilogy into another stratosphere, it has helped redefine how we perceive superhero films.
First of all, Batman Begins was received much like any other blockbuster at the time; it received much critical approval, but its box office numbers were average at best. Then along comes a villain named The Joker, whose particular appearance in Nolan’s film can be attributed to his directorial vision mentioned earlier. Nolan’s intent, especially with The Dark Knight, helped guide audiences away from the notion that superhero films were light, breezy entertainment, and reminded us that is possible to both entertain and challenge. Why so serious? Why not, with a vision this realistically grim?
Anything that should've made the list but didn't? Let us know in the comments below!