People went to the movies a lot in 2016, with a staggering $11.13 billion spent on tickets at the domestic box office, surpassing the box office total for 2015 and expected to reach as high as $11.4 billion in total. It was an exciting year, with superhero-on-superhero battles in Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the untold story of the stealing of the Death Star plans finally told in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and a live-action return to an animated Disney classic in The Jungle Book. Video game movies strove for another comeback with Assassin's Creed and Warcraft, and late-year Oscar contenders like Moonlight and La La Land are still circulating in theaters.
Also, Deadpool. Deadpool happened.
As the year comes to a close, it's time to round up which movies made the biggest splash at the box office this year. For this list we've ranked according to worldwide totals, given the growing weight of international markets like China, but we've included both global and domestic box office numbers for each entry. Let's count them down!
Worldwide: $433 million
Domestic: $47 million
Surprised by this entry? It's understandable. Warcraft did not perform very well at all in the U.S., which accounted for barely 10% of its worldwide total, so for U.S. audiences this game adaptation passed by largely unnoticed. Directed by Duncan Jones, Warcraft starred Vikings' Travis Fimmel as a human warrior and card-carrying World of Warcraft nerd Robert Kazinsky as the voice and mo-cap behind legendary orc fighter Orgrim Doomhammer. This lavish fantasy film spent a long time in post-production due to the amount of special effects required to bring Azeroth to life.
Critics were left pretty underwhelmed by Warcraft, which probably didn't do it much favors at the box office, but for fans of the source material it was pretty gratifying to see their favorite characters brought to life in a big-budget extravaganza. No official word yet on a sequel, but if it does happen then it may end up skipping U.S. theaters entirely in favor of focusing on the Chinese market.
14. Kung Fu Panda 3
Worldwide: $521 million
Domestic: $143 million
The first of several animated animal movies on this list, Kung Fu Panda 3 showed that audiences still love Jack Black-voiced martial arts expert Po, who is (in case the title doesn't give it away) a panda. The third movie in the series sees Po reunited with his biological father, Li Shan (voiced by Bryan Cranston), and facing off against a new adversary - a centuries-old Spirit Warrior called Kai (J.K. Simmons).
Kung Fu Panda 3 proved to be perfect Spring moviegoing fare for parents with kids, and also performed extremely well in China, which accounted for $154 million of its total worldwide gross - even more than the movie made domestically. If you're noticing a pattern, after Warcraft, of movies making the list thanks to their performance in China, then strap in, because that's going to be a common theme among this year's biggest worldwide box office hits.
13. X-Men: Apocalypse
Worldwide: $544 million
Domestic: $155 million
20th Century Fox landed two big superhero movie hits this year (you can probably guess what the other one was), and while X-Men: Apocalypse received mixed reviews from critics and was, on the whole, one of the less successful entries in the X-Men universe, audiences still showed up to see the mutant team back in action. Taking the prequel series another decade forward - this time into the 1980s - Apocalypse introduced Oscar Isaac as its titular villain, an ancient and devastatingly powerful mutant, capable of bringing others under his sway.
Perhaps realizing that the roster of young X-Men weren't enough by themselves to bring in the big numbers, Fox made the decision to reveal Hugh Jackman's cameo role as Wolverine in the trailers, teasing a bloody sequence in which the clawed mutant escapes from the Alkali Lake facility. Wolverine can next be seen in his third standalone movie (and, theoretically, his final appearance in the role), Logan, which is set for release in March 2017.
12. The Mermaid (Mei ren yu)
Worldwide: $550 million
China: $526.8 million
U.S.: $3.2 million
We weren't kidding when we said that China is a huge film market - to the point that it is expected to overtake the U.S. and become the largest film market in the world within the next few years. Kung Fu Hustle director Stephen Chow's The Mermaid grossed $526 million in China alone - a noteworthy figure, given that no American movies came close to making that much domestically this year (the closest is Finding Dory, with $486 million).
The Mermaid is a fantasy rom-com that stars Deng Chao as a wealthy businessman whose extermination of sea life in a wildlife reserve attracts the attention of merpeople living in the region. They send an assassin (Lin Yun) who is capable of blending in with humans to take him out, but after a series of failed attempts on his life the business tycoon finds himself falling for the beautiful mermaid instead. For those who missed it during its limited U.S. release, The Mermaid is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
11. Doctor Strange
Worldwide: $657 million
Domestic: $229 million
The Doctor is in! The latest Marvel Studios superhero origin story, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, was a certified late-year success, even if its totals were rather modest compared to Marvel's other 2016 offering (more on that later). With horror movie veteran Scott Derrickson at the helm, Doctor Strange delivered trippy visuals as Stephen Strange found himself spiralling through dimensions and having his mind opened wide following a car accident that crippled his hands and ended his career as a surgeon.
Also starring Mads Mikkelsen (who makes an appearance in another movie on this list), Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Tilda Swinton in a controversial piece of casting as the Ancient One, Doctor Strange featured a post-credits scene with Thor himself, thereby confirming that Cumberbatch will return to the role in next year's Thor: Ragnarok.
10. Suicide Squad
Worldwide: $745 million
Domestic: $325 million
Task Force X might be the worst heroes ever - a tagline that critics vehemently agreed with - but that didn't stop them cashing in at the box office like Captain Boomerang at a diamond exchange. Directed by David Ayer, Suicide Squad was the third entry in Warner Bros.' burgeoning DC Extended Universe, and the pressure was on for it to get the franchise back on track following the mixed reception of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Despite the rash of bad reviews, Suicide Squad was a box office hit that came close to matching Batman V Superman's domestic gross, and a follow-up was announced recently in the form of Gotham City Sirens.
Like its immediate predecessor within the DCEU, Suicide Squad created a serious division of opinion among fans and critics alike, with some deriding the movie as unwatchable trash and others defending it as a fun (if messy) thrill ride. If nothing else, it gave the world its first live-action version of Harley Quinn in a feature film, played by rising star Margot Robbie, who is set to reprise the role in Gotham City Sirens. The fate of Jared Leto's Joker, who wasn't quite so well-received, remains uncertain, however. Will we see him face off against Ben Affleck's Batman, or will he be quietly filed away in the history books?
9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Worldwide: $750 million
Domestic: $221 million
The Harry Potter movie franchise may have concluded several years ago, but the world still has a bad case of Potter fever. The wizard himself made a comeback onstage this year in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and on the big screen Warner Bros. went back in time to 1920s New York in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This franchise-starter followed eccentric animal lover Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) during one of his many trips around the world, with the wizard finding himself in hot water after accidentally letting his collection of strange creatures loose upon the city.
Fantastic Beasts' real goal, however, was to set up a whole series of sequels that will likely focus on the rise of the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and a young Albus Dumbledore's efforts to thwart his former friend. The movie made a significant chunk of its total (more than $56 million) in Newt Scamander and Harry Potter's native home, the U.K., and also landed well in China, where it made $84.5 million. Those numbers definitely bode well for the future of the wizarding world.
Worldwide: $783 million
Domestic: $363 million
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script for Deadpool made 20th Century Fox rather nervous, in large part because the screenwriters were dead set against toning it down so that the movie could get a PG-13 rating. R-rated comic book movies had been made before, certainly, but cutting out kids and young teens as an audience was a big risk. When the movie was eventually green lit, director Tim Miller had to make do with a far more modest budget than the rest of the X-Men movies were permitted - something that was worked into the movie by Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) forgetting his ammo bag, thereby cutting the cost of a massive shootout.
Despite the studio's hesitation, Deadpool was a huge success - especially given that the domestic box office made up more than 46% of its total worldwide gross. Thanks to a smart marketing campaign enthusiastically propelled by its star, and plenty of humor that poked fun at the genre ("Superhero landing!"), Deadpool was one of the biggest hits of the year, and naturally a sequel was quickly given the go-ahead.
7. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Worldwide: $873 million
Domestic: $330 million
In the spirit of its combative title, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice ended up sparking a mini-war between movie reviewers and DC fans, with opinions of the movie left sharply divided. For all its flaws, however, the introduction of Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, as well as the enticing prospect of seeing DC's Holy Trinity united in live-action for the first time ever, propelled Batman V Superman to respectable heights at the box office, even if it did fall a little short of where Warner Bros. was likely hoping it would end up.
Also starring Jesse Eisenberg as a newer, younger take on classic Superman villain Lex Luthor, and a final-act appearance of Kryptonian behemoth Doomsday, Zack Snyder's ambitious and bombastic superhero action movie was also charged with laying the groundwork for the DC Extended Universe - in particular, Justice League. The movie offered a first look at Ezra Miller's Flash, Jason Momoa's Aquaman and Ray Fisher's Cyborg via a collection of (effectively) teaser trailers contained within the movie. Lex Luthor even took the time to come up with cool logos for each of the superheroes. Thanks for that, Lex.
6. The Secret Life of Pets
Worldwide: $875 million
Domestic: $368 million
From here on out, the list of biggest box office hits from the year is stuffed full of animals - particularly of the animated kind. Produced by Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio that unleashed Minions on the world in Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets took audiences into the world of pampered house pets living in New York City. Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier, finds his comfortable life disrupted when his owner brings home a new dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet), sparking a Woody/Buzz-style enemies-to-friends adventure.
In fact, one of the chief criticisms of The Secret Life of Pets was that the movie was too formulaic, but formulaic plots become that way because people seem to love them. At least, that's what the box office numbers for the movie suggest. Needless to say, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is already pencilled in for a 2018 release.
5. The Jungle Book
Worldwide: $966 million
Domestic: $364 million
Director Jon Favreau built an almost entirely CGI jungle for Neel Sethi's live-action Mowgli to explore, filled with animals like King Louie (Christopher Walken), Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray), and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), as well as dangerous predators like Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Hitting most (but not all) of the same plot beats as Disney's 1967 take on the classic Rudyard Kipling tale, this live-action remake succeeded in warming the hearts of audiences and critics alike.
The Jungle Book represents another success in Disney's current strategy of returning to its greatest animated hits, tapping the vein of "what would these Disney characters look like if they were real?" This slate of movies has also included hits like Maleficent and Cinderella, and the next big remake on the horizon is Beauty and the Beast, which stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast (mostly via motion capture). Like The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast will feature a number of songs from the original film, and is likely to land big in 2017.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Worldwide: $706 million*
Domestic: $393 million*
Star Wars is a powerful franchise, but as a standalone story set apart from the ongoing episodic Skywalker saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was something of a risk. It was helped along by the inclusion of classic Star Wars baddie Darth Vader, an abundance of extremely positive reviews, and the fact that the two films that made up its immediate competition - sci-fi romance Passengers and video game adaptation Assassin's Creed - were both slated by critics and bombed at the box office in Rogue One's second weekend. With little else to distract moviegoers heading into January, it's likely that Rogue One will have long legs, and it may well end up passing $1 billion worldwide.
Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Rogue One follows a ragtag group of Rebels as they pursue a once-in-a-lifetime chance to steal the plans for the Death Star and thereby learn the secret of a fatal flaw in the superweapon's design. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) an apathetic outsider, joins the Rebellion out of a desire to reconnect with her father (Mads Mikkelsen), one of the architects of the Death Star. A bold and compelling adventure with more of a "war movie" feel than any other Star Wars movie so far, Rogue One was a welcome holiday hit that bodes well for Lucasfilm's future slate of standalone Star Wars stories.
*As of December 30th, 2016. Ranking is based on approximate projections of totals, and this list will be updated when the final numbers are in.
Worldwide: $1.023 billion
Domestic: $341 million
2016 was a good year to be a furry, with Disney's Zootopia presenting a whole city full of anthropomorphized animals, including a nudist colony and buff tiger back-up dancers for a gazelle version of Shakira. Featuring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons, Zootopia's story of a rookie bunny cop teaming up with a wily fox con artist dug gently into issues of prejudice and stereotyping, by presenting an uneasy melting pot where predators and prey seek to live peacefully alongside one another - even as fear and distrust threaten to divide them.
Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, Zootopia was nearly universally beloved by critics, with a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It gained widespread attention via a clip in which a harassed Judy Hopps (Goodwin) attempts to get a sloth at the DMV to run a license plate, with Nick Wilde (Bateman) unhelpfully deciding to tell the sloth a joke first. That, coupled with its kid-friendly story and the great reviews, helped Zootopia to become one of only three movies (so far) to pass $1 billion worldwide.
2. Finding Dory
Worldwide: $1.028 billion
Domestic: $486 million
From The Jungle Book to The Secret Life of Pets to Zootopia, 2016 was a good year to be an animated animal. But in the end perhaps the most popular creature of all was a lovable blue tang with a very poor memory. Finding Dory, Pixar's follow-up to 2003's beloved lost-fish adventure Finding Nemo, became the second movie to cross the billion-dollar mark at the worldwide box office, and considerably outperformed our #1 movie at the domestic box office, meaning that it was arguably the biggest movie of the year.
Finding Dory was directed by Angus MacLane and Andrew Stanton, the latter of whom also co-directed Finding Nemo and helmed Pixar's beloved robot romance WALL-E. The film sees Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres) set out on a journey to find her parents, with her clown fish friends Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks) coming along for the ride. Pixar's reputation for tugging on the heart strings and tickling the funny bone in equal measure have earned the studio a solid reputation, and the fact that critics loved Finding Dory surely helped it come out on top.
1. Captain America: Civil War
Worldwide: $1.153 billion
Domestic: $408 million
What do you get when you take Marvel Studios' biggest established superheroes, throw in a brand new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and the first live-action Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and make them all fight one another? More than $1.1 billion at the global box office is what you get. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who made a splash with Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, Captain America: Civil War saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) developing a difference of opinion over whether superheroes should hold off on intervening in crises until given the go-ahead by world governments. Add a devastating attack on the United Nations, and it all comes to a boil with the Avengers split between the two warring figureheads of Iron Man and Captain America.
At this point it seems like Marvel Studios can do no wrong, with Civil War netting an impressive $408 million at the domestic box office as well. While not as high as previous Marvel team-ups The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the performance of Civil War bodes well for upcoming multi-hero adventure Avengers: Infinity War.