Before COVID-19 devastated the motion picture industry, movies were making more money at the box office than ever. It was not unusual for blockbuster films to gross more than $100 million domestically. Among the big hits in 2019 was the action film “Avengers: Endgame,” which had the most successful opening weekend ever at the domestic box office, grossing $357.1 million the weekend of April 26.
Many of the box-office smashes we considered in order to find the highest-grossing movie of all time belong to franchises that audiences crave, including Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Lord of the Rings. Other film hits, like “Forrest Gump” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” were singular successes that captured the hearts and minds of the movie-going public.
24/7 Tempo has identified the top 100 grossing movies of all time, based on domestic box office data provided by reporting service Box Office Mojo. Then we picked the one at the top of that list. In a few cases, movies have had more than one theatrical release, which contributed to their total gross. Dollar amounts were adjusted for inflation for a fairer comparison.
Hollywood has a long history of producing hugely entertaining (and successful) movies that draw audiences to theaters nationwide, and that is reflected in the top-grossing film. Of the top 10 on our list, the most recent film is from 2015, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (2015). Disney films such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and “The Jungle Book” (1967) build on their decades of success through rereleases and DVD sales. Disney first rereleased “Snow White” in 1944 and has released the classic repeatedly since then. Disney released a digital restoration of the film in 1993.
Our methodology to determine the top-grossing movie of all time was to review the lifetime domestic gross of 17,575 films produced between 1937 and 2020 from Box Office Mojo. Production budgets and numbers of tickets were from the same source. Actors and roles information was obtained from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
We adjusted domestic box office gross for inflation using the annual Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index from the economic research library of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Domestic gross includes both the United States and Canada.
“Gone With the Wind,” made in 1939, took the top spot. Its domestic gross in 2019 dollars is $2,971,442,929. Its worldwide gross based on the same measure was $5,840,651,173. The movie’s production budget was $59,479,568. The movie starred Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Thomas Mitchell.
This historical epic was the most expensive Hollywood film ever produced at the time, and it has gone on to become the top-grossing one of all time. It is the only movie to sell more than 200 million tickets throughout its multiple domestic releases. It is often considered to be among the most definitive of Hollywood films, and it is based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel about the antebellum South. It won eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Olivia de Havilland died in July at age 104 and had been the last surviving star of the film.