Highest Grossing Movies Of All Time

I probably spend too much money on going to the movies, but I’m definitely not alone. I’ve compiled a few lists here that demonstrate just how much people in general spend on Hollywood productions. One list examines the effects of inflation to see if today’s domestic blockbusters stack up to some of the old classics, and another section looks at the profitability of blockbusters – we know that some movies have large budgets, but were they a good investment? Enjoy! (Note: all numbers in US dollars)

Highest Grossing Movies Domestically

Below are the top 10 grossing movies in North America of all time, unadjusted for inflation. This explains why the list is dominated by recent releases…

$600,788,188 – Titanic
$533,345,358 – The Dark Knight
$460,998,007 – Star Wars
$441,226,247 – Shrek 2
$435,110,554 – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
$431,088,301 – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
$423,315,812 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
$403,706,375 – Spider-Man
$393,701,000 – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
$380,270,577 – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
See the full list from the source: BoxOfficeMOJO.com

Now Let’s Adjust For Inflation…

Note how the list changes. In this case, the total number of ticket sales for each movie is multiplied by the 2009 average ticket price ($7.18 USD). Movie goers didn’t pony up $7.18 back in 1939 to see Gone With The Wind because $7.18 went a lot farther back then than it did today. But if Gone With The Wind was released today, and the same number of people went to see it (presumably over and over again) as back then, it would’ve blown away all other movies…

$1,450,680,400 – Gone with the Wind
$1,278,898,700 – Star Wars
$1,022,542,400 – The Sound of Music
$1,018,514,100 – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
$940,580,000 – The Ten Commandments
$921,523,500 – Titanic
$919,605,900 – Jaws
$891,292,600 – Doctor Zhivago
$793,883,100 – The Exorcist
$782,620,000 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
See the full list from the source: BoxOfficeMOJO.com

Worldwide Box Office Gross

This list looks at the worldwide ticket receipts. It is NOT adjusted for inflation, but note that many movies can earn as much as 50-75% of their worldwide gross internationally.

$1,842,900.00 – Titanic
$1,119,100.00 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
$1,066,200.00 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
$1,001,900.00 – The Dark Knight
$974,700.00 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
$961,000.00 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
$938,200.00 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
$925,300.00 – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
$924,300.00 – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
$919,800.00 – Shrek 2
View the full list at the source: BoxOfficeMojo.com

Highest Return On Investment

With action films normally topping the box-office receipts, and budgets of hundreds of millions it is almost expected that these types of movies bring in $50 million on opening weekends. But these movies carry a lot of risk. With a budget of $200 million, a film can be a flop and end up losing the studio money. The annual box office winner films are normally returning 300-1000% on their original investment. The absolute returns are often high, but of course, the holy grail would be a low budget, blockbuster – like 1976’s Rocky. This movie was produced for a lowly budget of $1,100,000 and yielded $225,000,000 at the box office – this represented a return of 22,400%.
Source: Wikipedia

If It Ain’t Broke…

Once Hollywood cranks out a winner, it is less risky to continue with that formula in the form of sequels. Here is the list of ten highest grossing film series to date (not adjusted for inflation). Note that the James Bond series has 22 installments while some others have “only” 3.

$5,243,609,875 – Harry Potter
$4,914,400,000 – James Bond
$4,279,632,749 – Star Wars
$2,915,155,189 – The Lord of the Rings
$2,681,440,232 – Pirates of the Caribbean
$2,627,539,384 – Batman
$2,496,346,518 – Spider-Man
$2,203,206,138 – Shrek
$1,978,055,564 – Indiana Jones
$1,902,110,926 – Jurassic Park
Source: Wikipedia

Preet Banerjee
Preet Banerjee
...is an independent consultant to the financial services industry and a personal finance commentator. You can learn more about Preet at his personal website and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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Showing 17 comments
  • Mark Wolfinger

    Glad to see this post.

    Just as sports teams report ‘paid attendance’ I believe movies must do the same. It’s absurd to distort attendance figures because the price of tickets has moved higher.

    I believe GWTW deserves the #1 spot a whole lot more than Titanic.

  • Sean

    I love going to the movies too, but it’s so darn expensive these days!

    $7.18 sounds like a bargain compared to the $10 – $12 I pay at theatres here in Ottawa!

    Personally, I like getting free passes with my rewards points (like AirMiles, Aeroplan, etc.) Especialy the “Night out” packages with popcorn, drinks and two admittances.

    Also, I’ve noticed they sell passes/packages for Famous Players at Costco for a reasonable discount compared to the gate.

  • Thicken My Wallet

    Notice how many of those movies came out during bad economic times?

  • Preet

    @Mark – agreed. GWTW sold around 200,000,000 tickets and Titanic sold about 130,000,000. I remember how Titanic did at the movies back in 1997, but imagine how crowded and how many times people went back to see GWTW given the almost doubling of ticket sales.

  • Preet

    @Sean – sounds like a good idea using points for movie tickets. I’ve often thought about doing that myself. The other thing you can do is register to become a secret shopper for a theatre chain. It is essentially a bulk discount with a requirement to report on their operations. I’ll try to dig up the link…

  • Preet

    @Thicken My Wallet – escapism at its best?

  • Sean

    @Preet – if you can find the link, great! I can scrutinize for a discount :)

  • Mike NYC

    Interesting list. I especially liked the list of most successful series. The list points out that while Bond has 22 movies some of the others (Shrek, Spiderman,etc) only have three. It would be interesting to see how it would look if they adjusted THAT LIST for inflaction!!!!

  • Ron

    I’ve found today an article comparing Usa and NonUSA highest grossing films of all time http://www.reviewmaze.com/2011/01/highest-grossing-movies-of-all-time-usa.html
    Very interesting that Harry Potter is not so popular in the US. What do you think?

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