Nowadays, it feels natural to hear a movie break some box office record. It happened multiple times last year with movies like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But while we always hear about movies setting new all-time records, we rarely hear about how profitable those movies truly are.
Blockbusters like The Avengers and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice require enormous production budgets for the directors to fully realize their vision — which usually means a lot of CGI and a crop of top-tier actors to make it all believable. So the question is, how much does a movie need to make in order to be profitable? With that in mind, we narrowed down the highest-grossing movies of all time and subtracted their production budgets to come up with the 15 Biggest Box Office Hits Of All time.
Note: Unfortunately, due to the inability to accurately account for foreign ticket price inflation, we were not able to determine the worldwide adjusted profit for movies like Gone With the Wind and the original Star Wars; two movies which would undoubtedly have earned more than most movies on this list — or any list, for that matter. Additionally, studios rarely (if ever) report the amount that was dedicated to an individual film’s marketing and advertising campaign, so those numbers have also been excluded.
15. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Estimated profit: $912 million
The hype surrounding the release of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace — the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy — was unprecedented. Fans had been waiting for 16 years to return to a galaxy far, far away, and it could just be the most anticipated film in cinematic history. While Episode I wasn’t exactly what fans wanted (people wanted to see the original cast again, like in The Force Awakens), it was still Star Wars – and that wasn’t something to be dismissed.
While reception by audiences and critics alike was less than stellar, The Phantom Menace managed to gross a whopping $924 million worldwide – stopping short of a billion dollars – on an estimated $115 million production budget. But due to its 3D re-release in 2012 (which was supposed to be the first of all six films re-releasing), The Phantom Menace garnered approximately an additional hundred million dollars, thus bringing its lifetime total to $1.027 billion.
When it released, The Phantom Menace was not only the highest-grossing film of the year, but it was also the highest-grossing Star Wars film ever made — that is, until Star Wars: The Force Awakens released.
14. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Estimated profit: $929 million
Michael Bay’s third installment in Paramount’s Transformers franchise, Dark of the Moon was effectively the end of the series’ first trilogy, and the last to star Shia LaBeouf, as well as a number of other actors. Although Bay’s second movie, Revenge of the Fallen (which was the last to star Megan Fox), grossed $50 million more domestically, Dark of the Moon grossed almost $300 million more worldwide, thus making it the highest-grossing Transformers movie to release thus far.
On an estimated $195 million production budget, Transformers: Dark of the Moon grossed a total of $1.124 billion worldwide, of which $352.3 million accounted for domestic grosses. It became the first movie in the franchise — live-action or animated — to gross over a billion dollars, something that was replicated with Transformers: Age of Extinction in 2014. It’s no wonder that, instead of slowing down, Paramount is moving full-steam ahead on a Transformers shared universe, consisting of multiple sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. The first, of which, Transformers: The Last Knight, releases next summer.
13. Jurassic Park
Estimated profit: $966 million
Last year, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World ended up becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, but the reason it did so well (and surpassed everyone’s expectations) is due to the nostalgia moviegoers have for Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s astonishing adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name.
Despite having the lowest production budget, Jurassic Park is the second highest-grossing movie in the series, right behind Jurassic World. On an estimated budget of $63 million , Jurassic Park grossed a massive $914 million worldwide, surpassing Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extraterrestrial to become the highest-grossing movie ever, a record which Jurassic Park held until James Cameron’s Titanic released four years later.
Just like The Phantom Menace, Jurassic Park stopped short of a billion dollars. However, in 2013, in celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary, Jurassic Park received a 3D re-release, which brought the total gross to $1.029 billion dollars, thus making it the 17th film ever to gross over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Jurassic Park‘s success can be attributed to a number of factors, but there is no denying the impact it’s had on the movie industry.
12. Iron Man 3
Estimated profit: $1.015 billion
After the success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in 2012, anticipation for Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 — the first movie in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — could not have been any higher. Judging by the large sum Robert Downey Jr. was paid for The Avengers, it stands to reason that Iron Man’s presence was the primary reason the movie was so successful — which must have made Marvel Studios confident in the franchise’s third Iron Man installment.
Iron Man 3 released one year after The Avengers and grossed $1.215 billion worldwide, of which $409 million was earned domestically, more than double its production budget of $200 million. As it stands, Iron Man 3 is the third most profitable Marvel movie, but that could all change when the Russo brothers’ Captain America: Civil War (which features Buckethead in a starring role) is all said and done.
Iron Man 3 is the only non-team-up movie in the MCU to gross over a billion dollars — that just goes to show the clout Robert Downey Jr. carries as the seemingly self-obsessed hero. It remains to be seen just how much longer this magical run will last, however.
11. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Estimated profit: $1.026 billion
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy — based on the famed J.R.R. Tolkien novels of the same name — is universally considered to be one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time. Some say it’s the best, beating Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, though that is something that will continually be up for contention.
The third and final installment in the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, maintained The Two Towers‘ low production budget of $94 million. However, being the concluding chapter in the series, the film had enough momentum to break the billion dollar barrier, earning $1.120 billion at the worldwide box office, of which approximately $378 million was earned domestically.
The Lord of the Rings‘ popularity was enough to convince Warner Bros. to make a prequel trilogy based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The trilogy was largely a success, accumulating almost $3 billion worldwide; however, it was not nearly as well-received — by audiences or critics — as the Lord of the Rings.
Estimated profit: $1.085 billion
Universal’s family entertainment arm, Illumination Entertainment, has made a total of five movies so far, of which three are from their Despicable Me franchise. After releasing two successful installments, Universal released the franchise’s first prequel/spinoff in 2015, Minions, directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and centering on the eponymous characters.
Grossing a remarkable $1.159 billion worldwide on a mere $74 million production budget, Minions not only became the highest-grossing movie in the series, but it also became the second highest-grossing animated movie of all time, right behind Disney’s Frozen. Not to mention Minions is currently the 11th highest-grossing movie of all time, though it seems likely Captain America: Civil War will knock it down to 12th place in short order.
It goes without saying that Minions was a box office hit, and Universal has already commissioned another Despicable Me sequel, but judging by the critical and commercial success of Minions, perhaps the studio should consider making a sequel to that instead.
Estimated profit: $1.126 billion
As previously mentioned, while Minions is currently the second highest-grossing animated movie of all time, Disney’s breakout movie Frozen reigns as queen of animated films, having grossed $1.276 billion worldwide on an estimated $150 million production budget (which is considerably less than its predecessors Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled).
Not long after releasing in theaters over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, Frozen took the world by storm, with its titular song “Let It Go” playing on repeat on every radio station and in every household. The last animated film to captivate the world like Frozen did was arguably The Lion King way back in 1994.
Now, almost three years after the phenomenon’s release, many people have asked Disney (as well as their children) to simply… let it go. But Disney is doing anything but; they’ve not only included Frozen into their live-action TV series Once Upon A Time but have also commissioned a theatrical sequel (the first of its kind — Disney Animation has never released an animated sequel in theaters before), which is scheduled to release in 2018.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Estimated profit: $1.155 billion
As with The Phantom Menace, anticipation for Joss Whedon’s second Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, could not have been much higher. After debuting a spectacular first trailer – which managed to twist an iconic Pinocchio phrase – Age of Ultron was shaping up to be another massive hit for Marvel Studios. Which it was; however, it wasn’t able to surpass Whedon’s first Avengers movie in terms of both quality and earnings.
On an estimated $250 million production budget, Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed an expected $1.405 billion worldwide, of which $459 million came from domestic theaters — a significant drop from The Avengers‘ domestic gross. The overall box office take was offset by higher international grosses, which came close to cracking a billion dollars on their own.
While Whedon’s The Avengers introduced audiences to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Age of Ultron introduced audiences to Marvel’s other world-saving members, specifically Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and teased the inevitable Civil War. With new directors and an expanded set of superheroes, Marvel is looking to alter the landscape of the MCU with the two-part follow-up, Avengers: Infinity War (or whatever they’ll be titled).
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Estimated profit: $1.217 billion
The first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, came close to breaking a billion dollars when it released in 2001 — but it came up just $25 million short. It wasn’t until the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, that the series broke the billion-dollar barrier, grossing $1.342 billion at the worldwide box office. With a stellar number like that, one would assume the final Harry Potter movie had an exorbitant budget, but that person would be wrong. Deathly Hallows Part 2 actually had one of the lowest production budgets in the series: $125 million.
After ten years, the tale of Harry Potter and his quest to defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort finally came to an end – but that doesn’t mean audiences are finished with the Wizarding World. In addition to land expansions at Universal Studios theme parks around the world, Warner Bros. has commissioned a prequel movie (of sorts), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — directed by veteran Harry Potter director David Yates and based on the novel of the same name by J.K. Rowling, who also wrote the script for the film.
6. The Avengers
Estimated profit: $1.295 billion
Seeing Marvel’s best superheroes come together to battle an extraterrestrial force and save the Earth is something comic book fans have been waiting for ages to see, but no one could have predicted how successful Marvel’s first foray into the crossover/team-up territory would be. Until The Avengers released in May 2012, the highest-grossing Marvel movie was Iron Man 2, which amassed $624 million at the worldwide box office – a far cry from The Avengers‘ massive $1.520 billion.
On a hefty budget of $225 million, the success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers — which saw Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) join forces — made Disney’s $4 billion bet on Marvel Studios appear prosperous. It stands to reason that if the Marvel Cinematic Universe happened to become a failure, Disney might never have considered acquiring Lucasfilm to begin with. And then all would be lost.
5. Furious 7
Estimated profit: $1.326 billion
The success of the Fast & Furious franchise is something no one could have predicted. After Justin Lin’s soft reboot in 2009, each installment in the franchise has gotten and bigger and bigger, both in scale and in profit. Furious 7 — the highly-anticipated seventh installment in the franchise — took the Toretto-led crew to new, big locations, but also brought the family back home to Los Angeles.
Just as with Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008, Paul Walker’s untimely death unquestionably played a part in propelling Furious 7 into the billion-dollar territory; the movie almost doubled the previous highest-grossing installment in the franchise, Fast & Furious 6, which garnered $788.7 million worldwide in 2013. On an estimated $190 million production budget, Furious 7 surpassed any and all expectations by grossing a whopping $1.516 billion worldwide.
Despite Walker’s death, and subsequent send-off in Furious 7, Universal is still moving forward with its planned sequels. Fast 8 is slated to release next April, with Fast & Furious 9 and 10 releasing in April 2019 and April 2021, respectively. The core characters will presumably bring the franchise to a close in 2021 — 20 years and 10 movies since the original.
4. Jurassic World
Estimated profit: $1.455 billion
Similarly to The Avengers and Furious 7, there was a ton of excitement and anticipation for Jurassic World — the fourth installment in Universal’s Jurassic Park franchise — but the film breaking virtually every record out there. It became the blockbuster of the summer, beating both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow and starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World took a step further than Jurassic Park and actually opened the theme park; its premise was based on the ideas introduced in Crichton’s original novel. With that in mind, on an estimated $215 million budget, Jurassic World managed to gross an incredible $1.670 billion worldwide, temporarily holding the all-time opening weekend record, as well as several other box office records.
Jurassic World currently sits in fourth place on the all-time worldwide box office list, right below the next entry on our list and above The Avengers. It’s no wonder Universal has ordered a sequel, which is scheduled to release in 2018.
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Estimated profit: $1.762 billion
It goes without saying that, like The Phantom Menace, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens releasing in theaters was an event of a lifetime. Everyone saw it. Even people who weren’t Star Wars fans made it their goal to binge-watch all six previous films just to see the latest installment of the world-engrossing saga in theaters.
On a massive $306 million production budget (the second largest of all time), Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed a whopping $2.068 billion worldwide, of which its domestic gross accounted for $936.6 million, a record-breaking sum. The Force Awakens now holds the record for being the highest-grossing domestic film of all time (beating Avatar‘s $760 million gross), a record once held by George Lucas’ original Star Wars film in 1977, thus making Star Wars the only franchise to have held the lofty record twice.
With two more sequels as well as three spinoff films, a TV show, and several comic book/novels — not to mention theme park expansions — Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm is quite possibly the best decision the Mouse House ever made.
Estimated profit: $1.987 billion
James Cameron’s film Titanic, which can only be described as an epic, is a fictional story based on the notable sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912. Instead of producing a clear-cut disaster film, Cameron opted to tell a love story, one that has arguably become as iconic as the tragedy itself.
With an estimated production budget of $200 million, Titanic was the first movie to break the blockbuster budget barrier, a number which has now become commonplace. Releasing in December 1997, Titanic went on to gross $1.84 billion worldwide, thus becoming the first film ever to cross a billion dollars. But, like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, Titanic received multiple re-releases, which eventually brought the film’s box office total to $2.187 billion. Following outstanding critical and commercial success, Titanic was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, out of which it won 11, including Best Picture and Best Director.
When Titanic released, it remained number one at the box office for more than three months and consistently stayed in the top ten for almost twice as long. No other film had been able to replicate that performance — that is until Cameron’s next film released 12 years later.
Estimated profit: $2.363 billion
The guy sure can make a hit: James Cameron has the unique honor of directing the two highest-grossing films of all time: Titanic and Avatar. Interestingly, Cameron planned on shooting Avatar following the release of Titanic in 1997, but he ultimately felt the technology needed to make the film had not been achieved yet. He waited for ten years for the technology to catch up, and he finally went into production in 2007.
Right from the outset, it was clear that Avatar was going to be massive. And for Cameron to realize his vision for the film, he required a titanic production budget, one that makes Star Wars: The Force Awakens look like an indie film by comparison. On an estimated $425 million production budget, Avatar grossed an astronomical $2.788 billion worldwide; a record that appears nigh impossible to break. After all, The Force Awakens (which holds the all-time domestic record) couldn’t beat Avatar, and that was considered the most hyped film to ever release. Additionally, since Titanic was the first movie to cross $1 billion, it seems only fitting that Avatar was the first to cross $2 billion.
With Avatar, Cameron pioneered several new technologies and techniques that are widely used in Hollywood today. But it’s Avatar‘s mind-blowing success that will be remembered — which is something Cameron is looking to replicate with his four Avatar sequels.
Did we forget your favorite box office smash? Let us know in the comments.
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