The two most common criticisms leveled against Hollywood are that everything is either a remake or adaptation and that studios are obsessed with box office returns. While both these things may be true, original films do tend to slip through the cracks every now and then. It also turns out that some of history’s highest-grossing original movies are also some of the best. Indeed, even the staunchest cynic can’t argue with examples such as “Spirited Away” or “The Matrix,” both being original ideas that made a killing at the box office.
Of course, one could easily argue that the aforementioned titles are deeply rooted in established mythologies or pre-existing stories. Nevertheless, they are credited as being based on original screenplays. So too are numerous 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. (These are the best action movies of all time.)
On the flip side of that coin are Academy Award-winning blockbusters, including “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Sting,” proving that genuine quality can go a very long way. (These are the 40 greatest movies of the 21st century.)
To determine the highest grossing original films, 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 Internet Movie Database 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.