A flicker in a dark room, the synchronized gasps and chuckles, and the shared emotional journey of a few hundred strangers. Cinema, with its glitter and glamour, isn’t just about telling tales; it’s about creating moments of collective consciousness. And while your neighbor’s indie favorite might have touched hearts, this list is about those monumental movies that broke the box office, making theater owners and producers grin from ear to ear.
Remember the queues for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or the euphoria following “The Lion King” in the ’90s?
We’ve evolved since then, with the spectacle of CGI and star-studded casts taking the spotlight, but the magic of a shared experience remains unchanged. While streaming platforms fight for attention and viewing figures, there’s an undeniable allure in a cinema hall’s towering screen and captivating sound, which even a 4K TV can’t replicate.
This list covers everything from classic romances that leave you sobbing into oversized soda to action-packed adventures that glue you to your seat. The box office might seem like just numbers, but behind those figures are stories of epic promotions, artists’ sweat and tears, and cultural resonance.
Delve into the list below and journey through decades of cinematic grandeur. Rediscover your favorites and maybe find a few surprises along the way. When it comes to movies that defined eras and surpassed expectations, these ten highest-grossing films lead the parade.
10 ‘Jurassic World’ (2015)
US Gross: $652.27M
IMDb: 6.9/10 664K | Popularity: 549 | Metascore:
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
When nostalgia collides with the magic of modern cinema, the outcome is often a blockbuster. The tale of ‘Jurassic World’ is precisely this, where echoes of the past are harmoniously fused with the contemporary narrative. Venturing back into the enigmatic isles of cloned dinosaurs, 2015’s Jurassic World didn’t just offer colossal reptiles but brought with it the charm of its predecessor, ‘Jurassic Park,’ intensified by today’s visual wizardry.
No longer an uncertain dream of entrepreneur John Hammond, Jurassic Park had evolved into a fully operational theme park by the time ‘Jurassic World’ beckoned us. The film’s success wasn’t just in the awe-inspiring dinosaurs and the subtleties. It posed pertinent questions about human ambition, nature’s play, and entertainment costs in the modern age.
Chris Pratt, leading the charge with the likes of the Indominus Rex, brought an energy that bridged Spielberg’s creation with the ambitious wonder of a new generation. Banking a staggering $1.6 billion globally, it’s evident that audiences worldwide were ready for another wild ride with the prehistoric creatures. The original might have struck the right chord in the ’90s, but ‘Jurassic World’ proved the symphony of dinosaurs and human drama was timeless.
As you sink into your couch, you can relive the grandeur and roar of ‘Jurassic World’ on platforms like Amazon. It serves as a testament to how tales from the past, when retold with a contemporary touch, can mesmerize us once more, urging us to keep our inner child alive and curious.
9 ‘Titanic’ (1997)
US Gross: $659.33M
IMDb: 7.9/10 1.2M | Popularity: 100 | Metascore:
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
Embarking on the cinematic journey that is ‘Titanic’ is like retracing steps on hallowed ground. The majesty of the RMS Titanic and its ill-fated voyage has been immortalized in countless retellings. Still, James Cameron‘s silver screen adaptation truly submerged us into the depths of love, ambition, and tragedy. The world watched in awe as Jack and Rose, portrayed flawlessly by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, danced and dreamt amid the backdrop of one of history’s most significant marine disasters.
What made ‘Titanic’ an epoch-making movie was not just its staggering visuals or the timeless romance. Cameron’s masterful blend of fictional narrative with historical accuracy captured the hubris of an era that believed it had conquered nature. The film’s haunting score and the iconic “My Heart Will Go On” anthem resonated globally, stirring souls in every corner of the world.
When ‘Titanic’ set sail in 1997, it changed the cinematic landscape. Defying expectations and criticisms about its grand budget, it was the box office monarch for over a decade. It’s worth noting that a tale rooted in the past could connect so universally with audiences across ages, proving that stories of human spirit, love, and resilience are timeless.
Today, the echoes of “I’m the king of the world!” and the tender “I’ll never let go” still reverberate in pop culture. Dive in, and let the waves of emotions sweep you over once more.
8 ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ (2022)
US Gross: $659.68M
IMDb: 7.6/10 453K | Popularity: 52 | Metascore:
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
In the annals of cinematic history, few have dared to dream as big as James Cameron. With ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ the visionary director plunged us once again into the lush, mystical world of Pandora, taking storytelling and visual effects to soaring new altitudes. A decade and a half might have elapsed since the original ‘Avatar,’ but the anticipation and thirst for its sequel were palpable. The whispers of “Could it live up to the original?” grew louder as the release date neared.
From its inception, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ faced insurmountable expectations. After all, how do you surpass what was once the zenith of cinematic achievement? With a budget that could make even the bravest of studios shiver and a timeline that seemed to stretch endlessly, many wondered if this voyage back to Pandora would be worth the wait.
And then it arrived.
The world didn’t just watch; it immersed itself. Every frame was a testament to Cameron’s tenacious spirit and unwavering commitment to pushing boundaries. It wasn’t just a movie; it was a mesmerizing spectacle, an experience that demanded the collective gasp of a theatre audience.
With over $2.3 billion box office haul, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ was more than just a profitable venture; it was a testament to art’s enduring power to captivate, challenge, and inspire. In the pantheon of cinematic greats, Cameron’s latest opus stands tall, reminding us that in the realm of imagination, there are truly no bounds.
7 ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018)
US Gross: $678.82M
IMDb: 8.4/10 1.2M | Popularity: 347 | Top 250: #63 | Metascore:
Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
It was a culmination like no other. Decades of storytelling, intricately woven narratives, and many superheroes converged in ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ arguably one of the most ambitious undertakings in film history. At its core, this was more than just a cinematic spectacle; it was an emotion-packed journey that resonated with old and new fans. As Thanos embarked on his relentless quest for the Infinity Stones, audiences worldwide held their collective breath, rooting for their favorite Marvel characters.
Beyond its dazzling special effects and star-studded ensemble, ‘Infinity War’ marked a turning point in the superhero genre. It dared to redefine the stakes, bringing together a multitude of story arcs while introducing a villain with a nuanced perspective. The movie’s infamous ending – the haunting “snap” – showcased Marvel’s storytelling audacity and solidified its place in cinematic lore.
With over $2 billion box office collection, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ did more than rake in profits. It cemented the MCU’s reputation as a masterful storyteller, capable of blending humor, drama, and high-octane action. As Thanos’ shadow loomed large, fans globally united in their awe, discussions, and theories, making this film a commercial success and a cultural phenomenon.
6 ‘Black Panther’ (2018)
US Gross: $700.06M
IMDb: 7.3/10 813K | Popularity: 723 | Metascore:
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Set against the lush backdrop of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, ‘Black Panther’ was not just another addition to the MCU; it was a cultural revolution. Embracing Afrofuturism with pride, this film celebrated black excellence and heritage, setting a new benchmark for representation in blockbuster cinema. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa emanated an equal measure of regal charisma, resilience, and vulnerability.
While its dazzling visuals and compelling storyline wowed audiences, the deeper themes of identity, responsibility, and the African diaspora gave it a resonance beyond just comic book fans. The film’s profound impact was felt globally, showing the world that stories rooted in African culture could be universally relatable and commercially successful. With a soundtrack that became an anthem for many, the rallying cry of “Wakanda Forever” transcended movie lines and echoed in the real world, underscoring the power of representation and the indelible mark ‘Black Panther’ left on popular culture.
Moreover, the film broke several glass ceilings, spotlighting the significance of diversity in mainstream cinema. The ensemble cast of powerful female characters, from Shuri’s technological genius to Okoye’s unwavering warrior spirit, redefined superhero film standards. Collecting over $1.3 billion globally, ‘Black Panther’ was not just a box office triumph; it was a statement that stories from every corner of the world matter and deserve a global stage.
5 ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)
US Gross: $718.73M
IMDb: 8.3/10 625K | Popularity: 62 | Top 250: #127 | Metascore:
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller
For years, the call for a sequel to the iconic 1986 fighter pilot drama ‘Top Gun’ echoed in the halls of nostalgia. When ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was finally announced, fans of the original were thrilled but apprehensive. Could a sequel, after so many decades, recreate the magic that Tom Cruise‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell brought to the screen? As it turned out, the film met expectations and soared beyond them.
Navigating the thin line between homage and innovation, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ reintroduced audiences to the adrenaline-pumping world of fighter jets while delving deeper into the psyche of its legendary protagonist. The film seamlessly blended the old with the new, introducing a cast of fresh-faced aviators while revisiting familiar relationships that had matured.
The aerial stunts, a hallmark of the original, were brought to life with cutting-edge technology and cinematography that left audiences gasping. But it wasn’t just the action that gripped moviegoers. The emotional core of the film, its themes of legacy, mentorship, and redemption, resonated deeply, creating a cinematic experience that was both visceral and poignant.
As ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ claimed its spot among the elite billion-dollar earners, it became evident that its success was not just a product of nostalgia or star power. It was a testament to the timeless allure of a well-told story, compelling characters, and the sheer audacity to reach for the sky – both literally and cinematically. In the pantheon of sequels, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has firmly etched its name, proving that some stories, no matter how long they take to tell, are always worth the wait.
4 ‘Avatar’ (2009)
US Gross: $760.51M
IMDb: 7.9/10 1.4M | Popularity: 333 | Metascore:
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
James Cameron‘s ‘Avatar’ wasn’t just a film; it was a phenomenon. When it hit theaters in 2009, audiences were transported to Pandora’s lush, bioluminescent world. This land combined the very best of fantasy, science fiction, and cutting-edge cinematic technology.
The result? A movie-watching experience that felt like nothing anyone had seen before.
Critics and audiences alike found themselves captivated by the story of Jake Sully, a paraplegic former Marine, who navigates the challenges and wonders of Pandora through his avatar. The Na’vi, the indigenous blue-skinned beings, and their harmonious connection with their planet struck a chord. This wasn’t just a story about another world; it was a reflection of our own – a poignant exploration of environmentalism, human greed, and the transformative power of understanding and unity.
Box office records were shattered as ‘Avatar’ raced to claim its place at the pinnacle of global cinema. Few could have predicted the meteoric rise of this film, particularly given the skepticism surrounding its concept and budget in the early stages. Yet, it defied expectations, raking in an astounding $2.9 billion worldwide.
And then there was the cultural impact. ‘Avatar’ sparked many discussions, from its technological advancements in 3D capture to its narrative themes. It left an indelible mark on popular culture, inspiring everything from theme park attractions to cosplay enthusiasts.
3 ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ (2021)
US Gross: $804.75M
IMDb: 8.2/10 826K | Popularity: 124 | Top 250: #158 | Metascore:
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch
If one had to choose a film that embodied the cinematic resilience and the magic of silver-screen storytelling in 2021, ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ would undoubtedly be at the top of that list. In a time when the world was grappling with the uncertainties of a global pandemic, this movie swung into theaters as a beacon of hope and nostalgia, reminding audiences of the power of cinematic escapes.
The film was more than just another entry in the Spider-Man saga. It was a love letter to every Spider-Man fan who had grown up watching the web-slinger from Tobey Maguire‘s early days to Andrew Garfield‘s heartfelt portrayal and now to Tom Holland‘s more youthful and conflicted version. By unifying these three distinct eras of Spider-Man, the film crafted a story that spanned generations, resonating with fans young and old. The multiverse concept wasn’t just a narrative device; it became a symbolic bridge connecting different eras of storytelling, fandom, and movie magic.
The return of iconic villains further enhanced the emotional weight, especially for those who remembered them from their original films. These reprised roles were not just mere callbacks; they added depth and context to a story that could have easily been overwhelmed by its ambition.
Despite the odds stacked against it – both in terms of its intricate storyline and the external challenges posed by the pandemic – ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ soared. Grossing over $1.9 billion, it stood as a testament to the enduring appeal of Spider-Man and the collective desire of audiences worldwide to experience cinematic wonder, even in the most challenging times. As the credits rolled and audiences left the theaters, one thing was certain: Spider-Man had once again proven why he’s one of the most beloved heroes in New York and worldwide.
2 ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)
US Gross: $858.37M
IMDb: 8.4/10 1.2M | Popularity: 166 | Top 250: #80 | Metascore:
Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
In an era of modern cinema dominated by sequels, reboots, and cinematic universes, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ stood out as a monument to what can be achieved when a studio dares to dream big and the commitment to see that dream through. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has taken fans on a rollercoaster ride spanning over a decade, crafting intricate narratives and relationships seamlessly intertwined throughout its vast films. ‘Endgame’ was this grand storytelling experiment’s culmination, the magnum opus.
The 2018 release of Infinity War set the stage with an ending that left millions worldwide in disbelief. How could our heroes come back from such a devastating defeat? The anticipation was palpable, and the year-long wait for the resolution felt almost torturous. The intrigue wasn’t just about seeing our heroes triumph and understanding how they could overcome such overwhelming odds.
Then, Endgame arrived. A three-hour magnum opus that not only met but exceeded the lofty expectations. The movie was an emotional whirlwind with moments of sheer spectacle intertwined with intimate character reflections. Fans wept, cheered, and sat in stunned silence, often within a few minutes. The callbacks to earlier films, the character arcs reaching their zenith, and the epic battles made it more than just a movie. It was an event.
Endgame showcased the sheer power of the MCU’s storytelling ability with its record-shattering opening. And while the race to surpass Avatar’s record became a narrative, it was clear that the film wasn’t just about box office numbers. It was a testament to the idea that long-term vision, character development, and respect for fans could lead to unparalleled cinematic success. The tug-of-war for the highest-grossing film title between Avatar and Endgame added an extra layer of excitement for fans, with each film showcasing unique strengths in storytelling and innovation.
1 ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens’ (2015)
US Gross: $936.66M
IMDb: 7.8/10 955K | Popularity: 906 | Metascore:
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
When the iconic opening crawl began its ascent against the backdrop of the vast starry expanse, heralding the return of the beloved galaxy with ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,’ a collective cheer echoed worldwide. We were on familiar yet unknown terrain, and the sense of wonder was palpable. The sequels were here, marking a new era and direction for Star Wars, but without straying too far from its iconic roots.
Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm was the precursor of this new chapter and bore a weight of expectations. For many, Star Wars wasn’t just a series of films but a tapestry of memories, shared experiences, and generational bonding. With The Force Awakens, the challenge was not just creating a continuation but recapturing the original magic’s essence.
Director J.J. Abrams‘ blend of the nostalgic with the fresh was the answer. The tale wasn’t just about the fates of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker but also about the journeys of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. Their stories wove seamlessly with those of our old favorites, creating an experience that catered to fans of all ages.
The numbers told a story, too: surpassing the $2 billion mark was no small feat, and it heralded the enduring appeal of the Star Wars saga. The Force Awakens served as a bridge between eras, proving that while Star Wars had evolved, its essence remained as potent as ever. Amidst debates and comparisons with its predecessors, it was evident: Star Wars was back, different in many ways, yet still very much in tune with the heartbeats of its ardent fans. The past and the future converged, and The Force, it seemed, was still strong with this one.