The Top Grossing Movies in the Last 30 Years
People have varying opinions on what constitutes a good movie. And while it’s nearly impossible to identify a film’s intrinsic quality—at least, in an objective way—one thing that can be measured is the revenue that a movie generates.
With this in mind, here’s a look at the top grossing movies worldwide since the early 1990s, using data from Box Office Mojo. These figures include box office revenue as of May 2021, but don’t consider other revenue sources like merchandise sales.
The Full List: Top 50 Highest Grossing Movies
Coming in at number one on the list is Avatar—since its release in 2009, this Oscar-winning hit has grossed $2.84 billion in box office sales.
|4||Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens||$2,068,455,677||2015|
|5||Avengers: Infinity War||$2,048,359,754||2018|
|7||The Lion King||$1,657,870,986||2019|
|11||Avengers: Age of Ultron||$1,402,809,540||2015|
|13||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2||$1,342,321,665||2011|
|14||Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi||$1,332,698,830||2017|
|15||Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom||$1,310,464,680||2018|
|17||Beauty and the Beast||$1,264,434,525||2017|
|19||The Fate of the Furious||$1,236,005,118||2017|
|20||Iron Man 3||$1,214,811,252||2013|
|22||Captain America: Civil War||$1,153,337,496||2016|
|24||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||$1,142,630,912||2003|
|25||Spider-Man: Far from Home||$1,131,927,996||2019|
|27||Transformers: Dark of the Moon||$1,123,794,079||2011|
|29||Transformers: Age of Extinction||$1,104,054,072||2014|
|30||The Lion King||$1,083,720,877||1994|
|31||The Dark Knight Rises||$1,081,142,612||2012|
|33||Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker||$1,074,148,486||2019|
|34||Toy Story 4||$1,073,394,593||2019|
|35||Toy Story 3||$1,066,970,811||2010|
|36||Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest||$1,066,179,747||2006|
|37||Rogue One: A Star Wars Story||$1,056,057,720||2016|
|39||Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides||$1,045,713,802||2011|
|40||Despicable Me 3||$1,034,800,131||2017|
|43||Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace||$1,027,082,707||1999|
|44||Alice in Wonderland||$1,025,468,216||2010|
|46||The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey||$1,017,003,568||2012|
|47||Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone||$1,006,968,171||2001|
|48||The Dark Knight||$1,005,973,645||2008|
|49||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1||$977,043,483||2010|
|50||Despicable Me 2||$970,766,005||2013|
Avatar cost $237 million to produce, meaning it’s turned a considerable profit over the years. But Avatar’s success was fairly unsurprising, considering the stellar track record of the film’s writer and director, James Cameron.
Cameron also directed Titanic, which broke records back in 1998 when it became the first film to break $1 billion in worldwide box office revenue. In fact, Titanic was the top grossing movie for years, until Avatar stole its title in 2009.
Interestingly, in 2019, Avatar was temporarily dethroned by Avengers: Endgame, which held the number one spot for a couple of years. But thanks to a recent theatrical reissue in China (which alone grossed an estimated $21.1 million) Avatar has since reclaimed its title as the top grossing movie worldwide.
Avengers: Endgame remains a close second, with $2.80 billion in gross revenue. It’s one of 23 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and besides Endgame, eight other movies from the MCU also appear on the top grossing movies list:
- Avengers: Infinity War – #5
- The Avengers – #8
- Avengers: Age of Ultron – #11
- Black Panther – #12
- Iron Man 3 – #20
- Captain America: Civil War – #22
- Spider-man: Far From Home – #25
- Captain Marvel – #26
Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment back in 2009. And while Marvel honored its existing contracts with other distributors, Disney owns the lion’s share of Marvel film rights and has earned over $18.2 billion as a result.
The Top Distributors
Marvel movies aren’t the only Disney productions to make the list. In fact, 27 of the 50 top grossing films were originally released by Disney, making it the top distributor.
|Rank||Film Studio||# of Top Grossing Titles|
|4||20th Century Fox||2|
|6||New Line Cinema||1|
Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures tie for second. Warner Bros. was the domestic distributor of some pop culture classics like Harry Potter, The Dark Knight, and The Hobbit, while Universal Pictures released Fast and Furious, Despicable Me, and Jurassic Park.
It’s worth mentioning that several of the distributors on the list are labels of larger studios. For instance, Warner Bros. is the parent company of New Line Cinema, Dreamworks is a branch of Universal, and 20th Century Fox was recently bought by Disney and rebranded to 20th Century Studios.
The COVID-19 Impact
The entertainment business was significantly impacted by the global pandemic, like many other industries across the globe. In 2020, global box office revenue totaled $12.4 billion—a 70% dip from 2019.
Despite recent setbacks, industry professionals are feeling confident that things will recover post-pandemic. In a recent interview with The Deadline, Chairman of STXfilms Adam Fogelson said, “People like leaving their homes and having fun, emotional, communal experiences together…I don’t think that will change.”
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