Hollywood has always put a strong emphasis on the “business” side of show business. Movie-making has been largely driven by profit-making decisions, and 2017 was no different. Worldwide box office revenue hit an all-time high of $40 billion last year, despite slightly lower attendance in the United States and Canada. Now more than ever before, the industry depends on a relatively small number of blockbuster films.
It is not uncommon for major studio films to now gross more than $100 million at the domestic box office, with some grossing nearly $1 billion. 2018 has already delivered four major box office winners, including “Black Panther,” which had the most successful opening weekend ever at the domestic box office, grossing nearly $700 million domestically.
24/7 Wall St. has identified the top 100 grossing movies of all time based on domestic box office data provided by movie business site The Numbers. All dollar amounts have been adjusted for inflation to provide a fairer comparison.
The vast majority of top grossing films were released in recent years, with only 13 of the 100 released prior to 2000. The earliest was 1978’s “Superman,” perhaps a sign of the superhero-saturated cinematic future to come.
One-quarter of the 100 top grossing films were released since the beginning of 2015, and of these 25 movies 13 are superhero films. These movies are hugely popular both domestically and worldwide, translating well to international markets thanks to their strong visual elements and easy-to-follow narratives.
In addition to grossing more than ever before, films are also costing more to produce. All but 14 of the top grossing films had production budgets of more than $100 million. Costly wages for talent and unionized labor, expensive movie equipment, and use of expensive new technology contribute to the ever-increasing movie budgets. 2009’s “Avatar” set a record for largest production budget, clocking in at nearly $480 million once adjusted for inflation.
The James Cameron film was a major success and there are already four more motion pictures planned for the Avatar series, the next of which is slated for a 2020 release.
When spending such extravagant amounts of money, studios often prefer to deliver a proven product rather than take major risks. Therefore, the list of top grossing films includes many franchise movies in series such as Star Wars, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Animated children’s films – including multiple motion pictures from both the Toy Story and Finding Nemo franchises – also do very well.