For many of us, nothing quite captures the imagination like a good film – whether we’re packed into a cinema or snuggled up on the sofa.
But it’s easy to forget that behind the glimmering veil of the silver screen is a booming business, with some flicks earning billions of dollars throughout their box office runs and beyond.
Below, we look at some of the highest-grossing films of all time according to Box Office Mojo. These range from spandex-clad superheroes and thrilling CGI rides to captivating musicals and heartwarming tales of romance.
Note: In this article, film earnings are given in American Dollars ($) instead of British Pounds (£). This is because international lifetime earnings are typically calculated in dollars.
15. Barbie (2023)
Last year, Barbie blew the box office wide open. Not only was it the highest-grossing film of 2023 (since its release it’s earned a whopping $1,445,638,421) but it also made history as the only billion-dollar film directed solely by a woman.
Plus – alongside the likes of Top Gun: Maverick and Oppenheimer – the bubblegum satire helped revive an ailing post-pandemic cinema culture. Incredibly, this survey found that 22% of Barbie’s audience hadn’t been to the cinema in years.
Aside from being a colossal money maker and, as DIVA magazine describes, “a defining moment in pop culture history,” Barbie was also a critical success. Pundits praised Greta Gerwig and her team for the film’s tongue-in-cheek humour, dazzling performances, fantastic feminist themes, and unique creative direction.
14. Frozen 2 (2019)
Speaking of pop-culture phenomena with strong female leads, no one was sure how Disney would top itself when 2013’s Frozen became the top-grossing animated film of all time.
Nevertheless, six years later, Frozen 2 raked in even more cash than its predecessor, taking a $358m haul in its first three days at the cinema. Since then, the second instalment in this frosty franchise has gone on to make $1,453,683,476.
Frozen 2 follows Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) and her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), alongside friends Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), as they leave their home of Arendelle to find the origin of Elsa’s icy powers.
13. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
In a world where the highest-earning films are almost exclusively superhero sequels, science-fiction epics, or fantasy adventures, Top Gun: Maverick was one of the box office’s biggest underdogs.
Set more than 30 years after the original 80s classic, Top Gun: Maverick finds fighter pilot Pete ‘Mitchell’ Maverick (Tom Cruise), as he’s called back to the Top Gun flight school. His mission this time isn’t to fly but to teach a batch of fresh recruits how to blow up a uranium enrichment plant.
Applauded for its dizzying flight sequences and nostalgia-inspiring filmmaking, Top Gun: Maverick has since bagged a stash of $1,495,696,292. As film critic Mark Kermode writes, “Top Gun: Maverick offers exactly the kind of air-punching spectacle that reminds people why a trip to the cinema beats staying at home and watching Netflix.”
12. The Avengers (2012)
It probably won’t come as a surprise to see a Marvel film on this list (and it certainly won’t be the last). Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, the franchise has dominated the film industry, earning over $29 billion in total.
And while early MCU movies like Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger were undoubtedly financial successes, the film that established Marvel’s dominance was The Avengers.
After a string of standalone outings, this superhero extravaganza brought together the ‘Earth’s mightiest heroes’ to defeat a world-conquering threat: Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) megalomaniacal brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). After nabbing a few box office records when it was released in cinemas, the film has since gathered a monumental sum of $1,520,538,536.
11. Furious 7 (2015)
The financial success of Furious 7 is certainly bittersweet. During the film’s production, actor Paul Walker, who starred in the franchise, sadly died in a car crash. However, with a bit of movie magic, the visual effects team completed his scenes, and the film was released after his death.
Fans flocked to the cinemas to see how the filmmakers said goodbye to one of their beloved colleagues. Praised for balancing a fitting tribute to the late actor and the franchise’s famous turbo-charged antics, Furious 7 boasts a lifetime gross of $1,527,251,659.
The sixth Fast and Furious sequel sees Vin Diesel’s perpetually sleeveless Dominic Toretto and his team of high-octane mercenaries trying to recover a dangerous computer program, all while battling a villain from their past.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
While its popularity is waning at the moment, back in 2015, the world seemingly couldn’t get enough of the MCU, with this Avengers sequel raking in some serious cash at the global box office. Since then, it’s stockpiled $1,542,317,294.
Age of Ultron sees the team face off against a threat of their own creation: an artificial intelligence known as Ultron. Although it isn’t the strongest addition to the franchise, it’s best remembered for its rip-roaring action sequences and James Spader’s deliciously villainous voice performance.
9. The Lion King (2019)
In recent years, Disney has adapted a variety of its back catalogue of beloved animated stories into ‘live-action’ remakes. The goal is to inject more life into tales like Dumbo and The Little Mermaid and introduce them to a new generation of audiences.
While these revivals have received their fair share of criticism from audiences, they’ve certainly proved lucrative. For example, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Aladdin both bagged ‘the House of Mouse’ over a billion dollars each. However, the biggest earner among the bunch is Jon Favreau’s The Lion King.
This visually stunning remake is remarkably faithful to the 1994 original, bringing back all of our favourite characters and songs. It features an all-star cast of Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, and James Earl Jones, who lends his iconic voice again as Mufasa.
8. Jurassic World (2015)
In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park trampled opposition to become the highest-grossing film of the year thanks to its groundbreaking special effects and engaging storyline. And while dinosaurs might be extinct, audiences’ interest in them is still very much alive. Five sequels have dropped since, with the biggest money maker being Jurassic World.
Set 22 years after the original, in Jurassic World, we find the dinosaur theme park in full swing, attracting tourists by making entirely new dinosaurs through genetic engineering. However (of course), everything goes wrong when a fearsome hybrid creation, the Indominus Rex, escapes and starts snacking on visitors.
The film stars Chris Pratt as the daring dinosaur wrangler, Owen Grady, with a supporting cast of Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, and Jake Johnson.
7. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
The next mammoth Marvel film on the list is 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. As the third film in the third series of Spider-Man films, all eyes were on director Jon Watts to bring us something refreshing, which he did (and then some).
Tom Holland’s third outing as our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man was met with high praise from both critics and fans. As well as delivering a unique and heartfelt storyline, Watts brought back some of our favourite faces from previous iterations of the web-slinger – including Willem Dafoe’s villainous Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s compelling and conflicted Doctor Octopus.
To date, Spider-Man: No Way Home has amassed $1,921,847,111, proving another profitable feather in Marvel’s already overstuffed hat.
6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
In the 18 movies that led up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel introduced audiences to legions of characters. So when we heard that the Russo Brothers would cram most of them into one film, many expected disaster. But what we got was a wildly entertaining and emotionally devastating flick that was both clever and crowd-pleasing.
Infinity War sees all the heroes of the MCU unite under a common enemy: the terrifying world conqueror, Thanos (Josh Brolin). Inspired by heist films of the 1990s, it follows the big baddie as he attempts to collect the six infinity stones from different corners of the universe.
Avengers: Infinity War is the first film on this list to earn over $2 billion.
5. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
When George Lucas released The Phantom Menace in 1999, lots of fans were disappointed. Aside from the excess of ugly CGI and overly complicated space politics, the prequel lacked the simple, swashbuckling charm that made a generation of 70s kids fall in love with the world of the Jedi.
However, the next time Disney tried to reboot the film franchise in 2015, it’s fair to say they did a much better job. The Force Awakens brought back Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill in their iconic roles while introducing us to a new generation of heroes.
With the seventh episode in the Skywalker Saga, director JJ Abrams managed to meet the needs of lifelong fans while intriguing Gen Zs who didn’t know their Ewoks from their Wookies.
4. Titanic (1997)
Whoever says that films can’t make lots of money and impress the critics might be forgetting about Titanic. James Cameron’s historical romance/drama isn’t just the highest-earning 20th-century film (and the fourth-highest of all time), but it dominated the 1998 Academy Awards, earning 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The story follows Rose (Kate Winslet), a young aristocrat, and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a charming but poor artist, falling in love aboard the ill-fated ocean liner. Equal parts romantic and heartbreaking, Titanic catapulted its two leads into stardom.
It may not be the king of the world when it comes to the highest-earning films of all time (we’ve still got three more to go), but it’s certainly close.
3. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
Taking third spot is Avatar: The Way of Water. While the much-anticipated sequel didn’t live up to many critics’ expectations, it certainly proved a worthy instalment when it came to earning money, scooping up $441.7M worldwide in its opening weekend.
Since then, it’s grossed a total of $2,320,250,281, giving director James Cameron yet another spot in this list of lucrative films.
The sequel picks up over 10 years after Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) defeated the evil forces threatening his adopted homeworld of Pandora. However, in The Way of Water, he’s once again plunged back into action when his enemies return.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
After 11 years, 21 films, and the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, fans were anxious to see how Marvel’s Infinity Saga would come to an entertaining and satisfying conclusion. And while plenty of movie-goers went in with tremendously high hopes, Avengers: Endgame somehow managed to succeed most.
Described by Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw as “an irresistible blend of action and comedy, guaranteeing a sugar rush of delirious enjoyment,” the fourth Avengers film is a rollercoaster. As well as eye-popping action sequences and plenty of laughs, Endgame manages to tie up the stories of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) with a neat and gratifying bow.
1. Avatar (2009)
And there we have it…the highest-grossing film of all time is 2009’s Avatar.
While the development of James Cameron’s sci-fi epic began in 1994, it wasn’t released until 2009 because the technology wasn’t good enough to carry out the director’s grand vision. But when the film eventually hit the silver screen, its cutting-edge 3D picture sent audiences flocking to the cinema.
What’s interesting is that Avengers: Endgame overtook it to become the highest-grossing film of all time in 2019. However, Avatar re-took its spot on top when it was re-released for a theatrical run in 2020.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the highest-grossing films ever. For reviews and more ideas for what to watch, head over to our film and television section.
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