Special Report

The Highest-Grossing Movie Every Year Since 1975

To be a blockbuster, a motion picture needs at least some of these elements: a well-crafted plot, engaging characters, even-handed pacing, action in varying amounts, and confident direction. 

Since 1975, the films that have deciphered the code for box-office success have included superhero franchises, thrillers, science fiction movies, and animated films, among others. (These are the biggest box office hits since 2000.)

To determine which film scored the highest domestic box office gross every year since 1975, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. The Numbers defines “domestic” as covering the United States (including Puerto Rico and Guam) and Canada.

The “Star Wars” franchise placed eight films on the list, from the first in the series (from 1977), retitled as “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in 1977 to the latest, “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” released 40 years later. Animated family fare, a category which rebounded beginning in the 1990s, landed six movies on the list, including Disney’s “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” (These are the best animated Disney movies of all time.)

The “Toy Story” and “Harry Potter” film franchises also frequently finished first for their year, as did movies featuring underdogs like “Rocky,” “Finding Nemo.” and “Shrek 2.” Director Steven Spielberg directed five of a given year’s most popular movies, demonstrating his film-making versatility in thrillers (“Jaws”), adventure (“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”), and historical dramas (“Saving Private Ryan”).

Click here to see the highest-grossing movie every year since 1975

The most popular films each year also were usually among the best-received by critics. Twenty-five movies received a Tomatometer ranking of 90% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator (“Toy Story” garnered 100%). Nineteen motion pictures notched a score of eight or more from users on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon.

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