The Highest Grossing Movies of All Time

It’s no surprise that big-budget, high-profile movies, especially ones from beloved franchises like Marvel or ‘Star Wars,’ dominate the box office today

Zoe Saldana Avatar Interview

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Zoe Saldana Avatar Interview

Streaming was supposed to have killed the movie theater experience; why go out when you can watch the latest movie from home? But despite dire predictions, movies continue to shatter box office records worldwide. To wit: On the list of the 20 highest-grossing movies in history, all of them have brought in at least $1.2 billion dollars at the worldwide box office.

These movies aren’t cheap. Modern blockbusters demand that producers spend millions of dollars to make a billion dollars. It’s a high rollers gamble, but it pays dividends. Just in the last four years, we’ve added seven new entries to this list. And it’s only going to get crazier. Nearly every movie on this list is part of a successful franchise (Harry Potter, Star WarsAvatar, Frozen), which means that all it takes is another sequel or re-release to upend the ordering.

We used the cumulative worldwide box office as measured by Box Office Mojo. Here are the top 20 grossing movies of all time.

Avatar (2009)

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Director: James Cameron

Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

Worldwide Box Office: $2,906,256,019

Remember the hype surrounding this movie about blue people? Even though the plot is just a Pocahontas copycat, the wow factor of the innovative 3D technology was enough for the Disney animated movie to hold this top spot by millions of dollars. Hell, they even created an entire language just for the movie. Surely, they deserve the financial success.

And Disney continues to cash in. They opened Pandora, the 12-acre theme park in Walt Disney World that brings the fictional world of the movie to life. And the Avatar sequels are incoming. The first one, Avatar: The Way of Water, drops this September.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Worldwide box office: $2,797,501,328

To say that Avengers: Endgame stuck the landing is an understatement. Its box office performance was assured from the moment Marvel announced it, but the filmmakers never took their hand off the throttle. The movie is a moving celebration of itself—there’s a giddy joy that saturates every action scene and every sly callback to a prior movie in the continuity. The movie completes multiple character arcs—each death and sacrifice is impactful and earned. 

The movie Avengers: Endgame was more than just another superhero movie. It was the culmination of a decade-long, multi-billion dollar experiment in narrative storytelling. The pure scope and ambition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unprecedented, and it is unlikely that anyone will top its first three phases in the near future. So many things needed to line up perfectly, lest the whole project go careening off the rails. And thankfully what we have is Endgame—the ultimate team-up movie that unites every living MCU superhero in a final, epic battle against Thanos.

Titanic (1997)

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Director: James Cameron

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher

Worldwide Box Office: $2,207,986,545

Newsflash: James Cameron is pretty good at his job. In fact, the only thing more commendable than the same director being behind the top two most profitable movies of all time is the fact that the two movies are so wildly different in terms of content and intended audience. Titanic cemented its spot among the pop culture giants with a boat scene so memorable you could probably draw it in your sleep, one of the best karaoke songs of all time and the never-ending arguments over whether Jack could actually fit on that damn piece of wood or not (he could).

Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac

Worldwide Box Office: $2,069,521,700

The fact that the first Star Wars movie to come out in 10 years takes the number four on this list just proves that time does indeed make the heart grow fonder. Episode VII’s raging success blessed us with two more sequels, and it expertly brought back fan favorites like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, while simultaneously introducing fans to a brand new crop of actors and characters, thereby ensuring this new generation of Star Wars would both appease long time fans, as well as seducing brand new ones.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Worldwide box office: $2,048,359,754

Marvel really has got this whole superhero movie thing on lock. If you count generously, there are 40 Marvel characters in Infinity War. That the movie actually works with such a large cast is a testament to the strength of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this way, it sure seems like the idea for the MCU was a blessing for Marvel, at the very least because it tends to insure box office success: individual superhero movies have their limits, but if you get everyone together under one huge tentpole movie, and attract all of their fanbases, the possibilities are endless. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021

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Director: Jon Watts

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield

Worldwide Box Office: $1,916,044,248

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been stop-and-go. After the finality of Endgame, Marvel had the unenviable task of extending the story beyond its natural end, and doing so in such a way that fans would continue to invest their time and fandom. Spider-Man: No Way Home was the best of the Phase 4 movies. 

Action-packed, exciting, and heartfelt, the movie is a high-tech love letter to the titular character and his dedicated fans. The wide shot of all three live-action Spider-Man performers—Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland—swinging from the NY rooftops, was a perfect moment of nostalgia and good feelings that was over 20 years in the making. 

Jurassic World (2015)

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Director: Colin Trevorrow

Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan

Worldwide Box Office: $1,669,979,967

A lot of people complain that Hollywood has no new ideas; everything nowadays seems to be a remake of or sequel to something else. But when movies like Jurassic World are such a blinding success, these arguments get thinner and thinner. Whether you place the blame on the franchise’s lasting popularity, Chris Pratt’s soaring star power or that Dad who made sure he rescued his two margaritas before escaping an imminent dino attack, Jurassic World is undeniably one of the better blockbusters in recent memory.

The Lion King (2019)

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Director:  Jon Favreau

Stars:  Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones

Worldwide Box Office: $1,663,250,487

The reason Disney keeps pumping out live-action remakes of their animated classics is that they kill at the box office. And no live-action remake did bigger box office returns than The Lion King in 2019. Although, it wasn’t exactly live action, despite Disney marketing it as such; it was photorealistic CGI. That makes it an animated remake of an animated film, but that’s not nearly as good of a hook.

The filmmakers also made a grievous, unforgivable error; they cut Scar’s song, “Be Prepared,” down to a single verse. The silver lining of this new film’s popularity is that hopefully, it will drive a younger generation of fans to watch the 1996 original. It has Scar’s full song and tells its story in a lean 90 minutes. 

The Avengers (2012)

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Director: Joss Whedon

​Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Worldwide Box Office: $1,518,815,515

At any given moment, there is a film executive somewhere in America looking out the window of his 60th floor corner office thanking every single God he can think of for comic books. It hardly matters whether the movies are any good (and to be fair, there have been some garbage adaptations in the Marvel and DC universes alike), nearly any movie based on a comic book story appears destined for blockbuster status. And when they’re as well crafted as The Avengers was, every dollar is well-deserved.

Furious 7 (2015)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker (RIP), Jason Stratham, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson

Worldwide Box Office: $1,515,341,399

As long as there are cars to race and Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel are still breathing, studios will be there to expand the Fast & Furious franchise. Although it’s not clear if this is exactly what propelled the seventh installment to such success, This particular Fast and Furious movie is forever marked by the tragic and untimely death of Paul Walker. Although it’s not clear if this is exactly what made this particular movie so fruitful, it is interesting to consider.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

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Director: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller

Worldwide Box Office: $1,476,420,739

It’s a small miracle that this film exists; it’s been in on-and-off development for 12 years. The original’s director, Tony Scott, died in 2019, delaying production while the producers searched for a replacement. And then COVID pushed it even further down the calendar, especially because Tom Cruise insisted on a theater-exclusive release.

Cruise is one of the last of a dying breed; a true Hollywood star who can sell a film off the strength of his name alone. This man does not go small. And in a career filled  with multi-million dollar blockbusters, Top Gun: Maverick is Cruise’s highest grossing film of all time. It’s a rare sequel that outdoes its predecessor.

Frozen II (2019)

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Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

Stars: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell

Worldwide Box Office: $1,450,026,933

Frozen II expanded Elsa and Anna’s story into something symbolic and vast, and it answered the question of how Elsa first acquired her powers. The first movie had the song “Let It Go.” Frozen II has “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself”: two Elsa songs that capture both her frustration and her joy, respectively.

The movie dives into some serious themes. On a micro level, it’s about learning to rely on people other than yourself, and the importance of communicating openly, even if it hurts. On a macro level, it’s about the importance of addressing past wrongs; and that benefitting from those wrongs, without acknowledging them, is complicity. Not bad for a global crowd-pleaser.


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Director: Joss Whedon

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Worldwide Box Office: $1,402,809,540

Just in case you’re not keeping track, here are the #facts: Every single Avengers movie has been one of the 20 highest grossing movies of all time. To be fair, it’s hard not to love these movies:  the large ensemble cast and seemingly endless storylines means there’s bound to be something for everyone. Just imagine what Avengers: Secret Wars or Avengers: The Kang Dynasty ​could do to this list.

Black Panther (2018)

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Director: Ryan Coogler

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira

Worldwide box office: $1,347,597,973

What is there to say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said? 2018’s first major blockbuster caused a tidal wave in American pop culture, spotlighting Black excellence in a way no other superhero movie had done yet, with a stellar mostly Black cast and crew. In addition to this important feat, the movie itself is great, providing a refreshing take on the traditional dichotomy between evil villain and perfect hero. This happens primarily through Killmonger, whose villainy comes across as more of a complex argument rather than some insane need for power; similarly, T’Challa’s heroism shines when he is able to temper Killmonger’s points with his own values.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)

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Director: David Yates

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman

Worldwide Box Office: $1,342,359,942

It’s pretty hard for anyone who’s been alive for the past 20 years to not have some kind of relationship with Harry Potter. You probably fall into one of three camps: You are still waiting for your Hogwarts acceptance letter, you can’t understand the hype, or you’re too old or young for the whole mess and could not care less. No matter how you identify, though, you have to admit that the movies were objectively huge as far as box office numbers go, and if it’s true that you should always save the best for last, it’s no wonder that the very last movie in the franchise made the most money out of all of them.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Director: Rian Johnson

Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Bodega

Worldwide box office: $1,332,698,830

For all of the negative talk online about this installment of the Star Wars franchise—particularly the insane amount of hate it gets from the hardcore fandom—you’d think The Last Jedi was a flop. The gripes that some have with the film revolve around its progressivism, its perceived lack of humor, and, in terms of plot, Luke Skywalker’s controversial decisions. The Star Wars fandom runs deep, and when fans don’t see what they predicted they would, anger and despair follow. But from a critical perspective, the movie is a coherent episode within a monstrous franchise that does the hardest thing possible: plant the seed for a new hope, a new potential storyline. And, really, could anything that stars Carrie Fisher in her last cinematic role, Mark Hamill, Laura freakin’ Dern, and Benicio Del Toro be a true flop?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

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Director: J.A. Bayona

Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

Worldwide Box Office: $1,310,466,296

A volcano threatens to destroy the dinosaurs that live in the remnants of Jurassic World on Isla Nublar. Owen Grady and Claire Dearing team up for a rescue mission, and along the way, they uncover and try to disrupt an illicit dinosaur black market.

The second film in the Jurassic World trilogy, Fallen Kingdom was not as good as its predecessor, but it was much better than its successor. And that was enough to make it the highest-grossing movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. Plus, the dinosaurs are a sight to behold; they have real weight to them, always a difficult feat for the digital artists to accomplish well.

Frozen (2013)

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Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana

Worldwide Box Office: $1,281,508,100

If you knew anyone under the age of 8 in 2013, you know Frozen. You might also know that the animated Disney movie is one of the biggest examples of our society’s insatiable capitalist drive to monetize absolutely every object in existence. Walk into most toy stores today, and you’ll likely still see Frozen merchandise displayed prominently. And even if you haven’t seen the movie, you can probably reluctantly hum the chorus of that infuriatingly catchy song, “Let It Go.”

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Director: Bill Condon

Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad

Worldwide box office: $1,273,576,220

For all of the success of Disney’s classic animated movies, few have been made into live-action movies, and even fewer of those have earned the notoriety that Beauty and the Beast did. It’s a faithful retelling of the story we all know and love, but there’s a different kind of magic in seeing a love develop between actual people rather than animated drawings.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Director: Brad Bird

Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter

Worldwide Box Office: $1,243,089,244

Most Pixar films are collaborative efforts, with a team of writers working on a screenplay, even if the eventual movie is helmed by a single director. But filmmaker Brad Bird wrote and directed both of the two Incredibles movies.

Combined, they tell the story of a superhero family that learns to accept and embrace what’s incredible about them, no matter what societal pressure tells them. The second movie, which financially outperformed the first one, places Elastigirl front-and-center, as the face of a new campaign to restore trust in superheroes.

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