Only a select few movies can claim to have earned $1 billion at the box office, but as sequels and franchises tighten their grip on the film industry, more movies are beginning to pass the illustrious milestone. The turn of the century saw a massive upswing in billion-dollar movies, and of the 27 to hit the billion mark, only three were released before 2000. Five 2015 films make the list, while three come from 2016 (though Rogue One will soon raise this past year's total to four).
The figures change dramatically when adjusted for inflation, as Gone with the Wind (1939) supposedly tops the list, but we’re looking specifically at the movies to have actually earned $1 billion at the worldwide box office. As you’d expect, there aren’t quite so many classics on this list, but there are still a few genuine surprises. We’re ranking from lowest to highest gross, as we count down 15 Movies You Didn’t Know Made Over a Billion Dollars.
Peter Jackson returned to the Lord of the Rings franchise in 2012, with the first in a trilogy of prequels. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, 60 years before his original appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, while Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf. The film received three Oscar nominations, for visual effects, production design, and makeup and hairstyling. Otherwise, it was met with a somewhat tepid response from critics, and it would remain the only Hobbit movie to make the billion-dollar list, as its two sequels underperformed a little by comparison.
The lowest earner on this particular list, An Unexpected Journey surpassed a billion by just $17 million, which in itself is more than plenty of independent films can hope to make. The film made just over $300 million domestically, less than half of its international sum, which came to $714 million. The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies, meanwhile, are the 34th and 36th highest-grossing movies ever made, each missing the 10-figure mark by around $50 million.
Zootopia, or Zootropolis if you live in the UK and have no idea what we’re talking about, was a surprise hit for Disney in 2016. The film, which stars Ginnifer Goodwin as a plucky rabbit police officer and Jason Bateman as a con artist fox, came out of nowhere to break all sorts of box office records. Released in March, it opened with $73.7 million domestically, the biggest opening total ever recorded by a Disney animated feature, and the film promptly remained in the top 10 for three months.
But its success didn’t stop there; Zootopia passed a billion dollars in early June, making it the 11th Disney movie to achieve the feat. Soon after, it overtook The Hobbit to become the 23th highest-grossing film, and the second highest-grossing original movie of all time, after Avatar. The film currently sits in 25th place (having been overtaken itself by two later releases), grossing $341 million at the domestic box office, and taking home almost $679 million internationally.
The long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo, which made over $936 million in its own right, Finding Dory is one of the two films to have surpassed Zootopia in 2016 (the other being May’s Captain America: Civil War, whose massive box office success surprised absolutely no one). The latest Pixar movie brought back star Ellen DeGeneres as the titular tang fish, who inevitably ends up getting lost as she searches for her family. It opened in June to over $135 million, a record for an animated movie made by any studio.
Less than $3 million separates 24th-placed Finding Dory from Zootopia in the all-time standings. Dory actually made over $100 million less than its Disney-owned rival at the international box office, collecting only $536 million (the second-smallest amount made by a movie in the billion-dollar club). Domestically, however, the film earned a whopping $486 million; only seven movies in history have made as much in North America alone.
Disney's back again, this time in live-action, with Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s high fantasy novel. Alice in Wonderland is another film on our list to have received a mixed response from critics (who were even less kind about its 2016 sequel, which earned nearly $700 million less than its 2010 predecessor). The film took plenty of liberties with Carroll’s source material, though its 3D visuals did earn the film an Oscar nomination. Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter, while Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Alan Rickman make up the all-star cast, which would account for a large chunk of the movie’s appeal.
It became just the sixth movie to pass $1 billion at the time of its release, taking $334 million in the domestic market, but earning most of its profits abroad, scoring over $691 million internationally. Its box office success paved the way for a number of live-action Disney remakes, and its place as the 23rd highest-grosser will no doubt come under threat from next year’s Beauty and the Beast.
Besides The Force Awakens (and probably Rogue One in the next week or so), the only Star Wars movie to have reached $1 billion is the very first of the prequels. The Phantom Menace ended the 16-year wait for another Star Wars installment, but it was met with strong criticism from nostalgic fans, and it seems the novelty had worn off by Episode II. Attack of the Clones made just shy of $657 million, while Revenge of the Sith fared a little better, earning $849 million worldwide. A New Hope is by far the highest earner of the original trilogy, coming in at over $786 million, while The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fail to make the top 100.
The Force Awakens, meanwhile, has recently passed the $2 billion dollar mark. Its domestic figure of $937 million are a box office record, while its international total of $1.1 billion is more than any other Star Wars movie has made worldwide. For now, The Phantom Menace comes closest, with a grand total of $1.027 billion, including $475 million domestically and $552 million overseas.
2015’s Jurassic World stands as the fourth highest-earning movie ever made, with a worldwide total of almost $1.7 billion. The soft reboot is also one of only five films to have grossed over $1 billion strictly from the international market. Jurassic Park, meanwhile, failed to make a billion dollars upon its initial release; the 1993 Spielberg classic clocked in at around $970 million. In 2013, the film returned to cinemas in 3D, and the re-release made enough to push Jurassic Park beyond the elusive billion mark.
By reaching the milestone, Jurassic Park is now the 21st highest-grossing film, but also the earliest release to have made $1 billion. Titanic (1997) and The Phantom Menace (1999) are the only other '90s entries in the billion dollar club, while The Lion King (1994) just misses out as the highest-earning film of all time not to have made $1 billion. Jurassic Park falls just short of $400 million at the domestic box office, but makes up for it internationally, with an eyebrow-raising $643 million.
The second entry in the Pirates franchise, Dead Man’s Chest was Disney’s first foray into billion-dollar movies, while the other films in the series aren’t far behind. The first entry, The Curse of the Black Pearl, made a comparatively low $635 million, but it set the stage for things to come. Dead Man’s Chest remains the highest-grossing Pirates movie, ahead of At World’s End ($963 million) and 2011’s On Stranger Tides, which sits just a place behind Dead Man’s Chest in the all-time rankings with $1.046 billion worldwide.
Dead Man’s Chest, which reunited stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, was the stand out earner in 2006, which meant it was just the third movie to eclipse $1 billion at the time. While On Stranger Tides’ domestic earnings made up less than a quarter of its worldwide total, Dead Man’s Chest was a much more even affair. The film took $423 million in the US and Canada, compared to the $643 million it made abroad.
By 2010, Disney was churning out billion-dollar movie after billion-dollar movie. In fact, the studio became the first in history to release two $1 billion dollars in the same year. Alice in Wonderland was the first, and then along came Toy Story 3. Unlike Alice, this film was very much a critical success, becoming the first and only animated sequel to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
The film blew Nemo out of the water, and remains to this day the highest-grossing Pixar movie of all time. It made $415 million domestically and $655 million internationally on its way to a massive total of $1.07 billion. By comparison, Toy Story 2 made less than half of its profit, coming in at just over $511 million (which is less than its sequel’s international total alone). The original Toy Story made even less than Toy Story 3’s domestic total, earning just $365 million at the worldwide box office.
The Dark Knight trilogy followed a similar pattern, earning more money as the series went on. Batman Begins took home a relatively disappointing $359 million, less than Tim Burton’s Batman ($411 million) and only slightly more than 1995’s Batman Forever ($337 million). The Dark Knight changed the game in a big way, eclipsing the billion mark in 2008, and sitting pretty at 27th on the all-time highest earners list.
The Dark Knight Rises rounded off the trilogy with its highest figures yet. The third installment made a domestic total of $448 million, significantly less than The Dark Knight’s $533 million, but it made up for it internationally; its overseas total of $636 million left its worldwide figures at just short of $1.1 billion. The film is currently 10 spots above its predecessor as the 17th highest-grossing movie ever made. Comparatively, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was expected to make a billion and then some, earned just $868 million worldwide.
After Quantum of Solace underperformed at the box office, the James Bond movie franchise took four long years to resurface, but it was most definitely worth the wait from a critical standpoint. The 23rd movie in the series and Daniel Craig’s third as the British super spy, Skyfall boasts a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is the first Bond flick to break $1 billion at the box office.
In fact, the film is the first on this list to surpass the $1.1 billion mark, taking a modest $304 million domestically, but dominating the international box office with over $806 million to its name. Casino Royale had previously been the highest-grossing Bond movie, taking $594 million worldwide. The latest entry in the franchise, 2015’s Spectre, got off to a strong start, but ultimately fell short of its predecessor, taking a total of $879 million. Even if you adjust for inflation, Skyfall towers over Thunderball’s estimated total of $1.014 billion.
Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has not one, but two billion-dollar movies in its library. 2014’s Age of Extinction grossed a literally stunning $1.104 billion worldwide. The fourth movie in the series, Extinction, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, is the lowest-rated film in the Transformers saga on Rotten Tomatoes, sitting at just 18%. The third in the series, Dark of the Moon, didn’t fare much better (35%), but it still managed to far surpass the billion-dollar mark.
Shia LaBeouf’s final outing in the franchise scored a whopping $1.124 billion at the worldwide box office. Dark of the Moon earned $352 million at home and an impressive $771 internationally, making it the 14th highest-grossing film ever made, while the other Transformers movies all feature in the top 100. The first, simply titled Transformers, occupies the 85th spot on the all-time list, grossing a worldwide sum of $708 million. Its follow-up, Revenge of the Fallen, sits just outside the top 50 with earnings of almost $837 million.
By contrast, the third and final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was met with rave reviews. The Return of the King received 11 Oscar nominations and won every single one, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Directing for Peter Jackson, and the prestigious Best Picture award. The Return of the King equals the record set by Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscars won by a single movie, while it became the first to join the latter film in the billion dollar club.
Though the movie recently lost the 12th spot on the all-time list to Captain America: Civil War, the 2003 release still boasts a massive $1.14 billion at the worldwide box office. Its international total of $764 million is just over double its domestic sum of $378 million. The Fellowship of the Ring, meanwhile, just loses out to its sequel, The Two Towers, with the first two movies in the franchise grossing $887 and $935 million, respectively.
It won’t come as a huge surprise that Frozen ranks as the highest-grossing animated movie ever, sitting at ninth in the all-time standings overall. Just missing out on the top 10, though, is Minions. The Despicable Me spin-off is the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film ever made, and the only one to pass $1 billion at the box office. The movie opened in 2015 to fairly average reviews, but thanks to some strong marketing from the folks at Universal Studios, its box office performance was anything but.
Minions made just $336 million in the US and Canada, but its international earnings of $831 million far exceeded expectations. Its worldwide sum of over $1.167 billion more than doubles the profit made by 2010’s Despicable Me. The original film in the franchise took just $534 million in total, while its sequel would just miss out on $1 billion, with worldwide earnings of $975 million.
Iron Man 3 is generally considered a divisive movie among comic book fans, but there was nothing divisive about its box office showing. The movie just makes the top 10 highest-grossing of all time, the fifth by Disney, and the third in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron have earned more for Marvel, while Captain America: Civil War is still a good $60 million behind the Robert Downey Jr. flick. Incidentally, Guardians of the Galaxy is the MCU’s next highest-earner, with a comparatively disappointing $771 million.
Iron Man 3 earned $409 million domestically and $806 million overseas, making for a grand total of over $1.2 billion. Its box office success is even more of a surprise when taking into account the first two Iron Man entries' modest box office figures. Iron Man (2008) made just $585 million, while Iron Man 2 fared only slightly better, with a worldwide total of $634 million.
The final movie in the eight-part series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II is currently (and appropriately) the eighth highest-grossing film of all time. Only Jurassic World, Furious 7, and the two Avengers movies separate it from the three at the top, which means that back in 2011, the Harry Potter finale ranked as high as third on the all-time list.
As it stands, the film has quite a comfortable cushion to Frozen in ninth. Just $381 million of its $1.34 billion total was made domestically, while the movie made a huge $960.5 million internationally. The Sorcerer’s Stone is the only Harry Potter film to have made more worldwide than Deathly Hallows: Part II’s international total alone. The first film in the franchise just misses out on the $1 billion club, with $975 million to its name. The Deathly Hallows: Part I comes next with $960 million, while The Prisoner of Azkaban, the lowest-grossing film in the saga, still earned a respectable $796 million. The franchise didn't miss often, but the $1.34 billion total haul for Deathly Hallows: Part II took us by surprise nonetheless.
Which movies do you expect to see join the billion dollar club in 2017? Which entry on our list surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!