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The Highest-Grossing Original Film of All Time

The movie industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie theaters have closed, and some will not reopen. People, shut in by the spread of the virus, have turned to streaming, further threatening traditional theaters.

The annual domestic box office gross nationwide topped $11.0 billion in 2015 and stayed at about that level through 2019. Then the bottom fell out. Domestic gross dropped to $2.1 billion in 2020, most of which was during the January through March period. The recovery of 2021 has only brought that figure back to $3.7 billion, with less than a month to go.

Another byproduct of the pandemic is that several films that are likely to be blockbusters have been delayed until late this year or early 2022.

Those who categorize movies divide them into such genres as franchises (like Marvel), independent films (made outside the studio system), foreign films and original films.

Original films are designated as those with original screenplays. Some of these are critical and commercial smashes from directors such as Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. Then there’s Pixar Studios, which have prided themselves on crafting original stories from the very beginning. Barring the occasional sequel, they’ve stuck closely to that noble agenda.

While many of the highest-grossing original films are critical darlings, some rode in on a wave of preconceived hype to earn serious bank in spite of their flaws. Quick examples include “The Runaway Bride,” which capitalized on the star pairing of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, and “2012,” which drew audiences in through the promise of pure spectacle.

On the flip side of that coin are such Academy Award-winning blockbusters as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Sting,” proving that genuine quality can go a very long way.

The highest-grossing original film of all time is “Titanic,” released in 1997 and directed by James Cameron. Here are the details:

  • Worldwide box office, adjusted for inflation: $4.4 billion
  • IMDb user rating: 7.8/10 (1.1 million votes)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 69% (35.8 million votes)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89% (193 reviews)

Part romantic drama and part disaster movie, this Oscar-winning epic became the first film to crack $1 billion worldwide. Aboard the ill-fated Titanic, a starving artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) and upper-class beauty (Kate Winslet) defy tradition in the name of love. Its box office dominance was further cemented by two theatrical re-releases, one of which was in 3D.

Methodology: To determine the highest-grossing original film, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on box office from industry site The Numbers. Original films were ranked based on worldwide inflation-adjusted box office as of November 2021. Only films with original screenplays that are not sequels were considered.

Worldwide box office was adjusted for inflation using historical ticket prices from the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Data on IMDb user rating and number of reviews came from the IMDb and are current as of November 2021. Data on audience score, number of audience votes, Tomatometer score and number of critic reviews came from Rotten Tomatoes and are current as of November 2021. Director credits came from IMDb.

Click here to see all the highest-grossing original films of all time.