It has been a pretty down year at the box office. While some superhero movies continue to do well at the box office, moviegoing audiences appear to be souring on sequels the same way they turned on reboots a few years ago. The following is a list of movies that were huge hits in their time; let’s take a look at the 15 biggest movies ever at the worldwide box office.
15. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Lord of the Rings franchise is considered to be one of the most beloved film franchises (and trilogies) ever. While it spawned the lesser Hobbit trilogy, The Return of the King capped off an original franchise that brought author JRR Tolkien’s wondrous vision to the big screen for a new generation. Perhaps because all three films were filmed back-to-back-to-back, the quality was about the same across all three: amazing. So, when it came for the story to end, you knew it was going to be a gigantic cash cow. Consider the fact that outside of Titanic, this is the only movie on this list that isn’t from around the turn of this decade, when international movie-going audiences exploded and world-wide grosses went right along with it. That goes to show just how faithful Tolkien’s audiences have been and how great the LOTR franchise was.
14. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The first of many Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) properties on this list, Captain America: Civil War is often cited by fans and critics alike as one of the best movies in their filmography. Considering it’s also been called Avengers 2.5, thanks to the expansive list of characters that dwarfs even Avengers films themselves, Captain America: Civil War brought a story straight from the comics that many never thought they’d see. Coming the same year as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Civil War showed the people at DC how intra-squad fighting can be done in a movie that actually reflects Batman v. Superman in many ways, except quality. One critique of the MCU is that the stakes never actually change at the end of each film and that’s what was so refreshing about Civil War. It completely changed the landscape of the MCU forever and while we haven’t seen the result of that change yet, it’ll be really interesting to see how the Avengers come back together come 2018.
13. Minions (2015)
What? There was a joke recently on a talk show that no one likes Minions — some say there’s a sliver of truth to every joke. So, how did a spin-off movie about unintelligible yellow monsters somehow become one of the largest films of all-time. Well, first of all, you have to look at 2015 — a year that shows up on this list so often that one has to wonder if any year will ever be able to top it (in terms of box office receipts). Also, people really did like Minions back when this movie came out. It’s a testament to their popularity that people have begun to turn on them. They did end up everywhere — mini Tic Tacs, Happy Meal Toys, etc. Despicable Me 3 was released this year and has made money hand over fist as well. So it looks like despite the above joke and this author’s personal feelings creeping through, Minions aren’t going anywhere soon. Ugh. Or as they’d say, “U-gah!”
12. Iron Man 3 (2013)
The only MCU property on this list that doesn’t include the Avengers, Iron Man 3 did still benefit from The Avengers. Being the first film released after the massive, zeitgeist changing success that was 2012’s Avengers, Iron Man 3 broke all sorts of records and definitely is the most divisive film in the MCU’s catalogue. Dealing with Tony Stark’s PTSD following his heroic actions at the end of the Avengers, Iron Man 3 had a gigantic twist that was ret-conned as part of the now defunct “One-Shots” titled All Hail the King. Regardless of how you felt about the twist, Iron Man 3 is an entertaining and surprisingly deep film that signified a change to the MCU. It brought real world consequences to the heroics that different Avengers engaged in. From focusing on saving civilians to injuries (physical and mental), the MCU is surprisingly a lot more grounded than its competition over at DC, and that’s not something anyone ever expected — especially after the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy.
11. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
There’s a joke in Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma that someone sold their soul in order for Home Alone to become one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time. That joke could very well be about the most recent films in the Fast and the Furious franchise as their success(es) really don’t make a whole lot of sense. The first movie was objectively good and somewhat realistic. Then the films became nearly low-budget parodies of themselves and somehow their popularity increased. They’ve become one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood history. While they’ve mostly kept their original cast together, they are successful for a many reasons. The Furious franchise really has a corner on the market for generic shoot ’em up, car chase action-type films. On top of that, the cast is diverse and that plays well across all demographic groups and Latin America. Third, their early and continued Asian influence helps them in Asia. So, while The Fate of the Furious made a lot less money than its predecessor — Furious 7 had to deal with the untimely death of star Paul Walker. This movie made over $1 billion dollars this year. Vin Diesel had to make up for The Last Witch Hunter, I guess.
10. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
The second film from this year to make the list, the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake has taken advantage of a perfect trifecta. First being nostalgia, as people who were children when the animated version came out in the early 90’s now have their own children. Secondly, Disney has been making critically acclaimed live-action remakes of their films for a few years now, each making more money than the last. And thirdly, this is just a genuinely good movie that looks amazing and has many of the original songs from the movie — something the other movies haven’t done, at least not as faithfully. Starring Harry Potter alum Emma Watson, Beauty and the Beast may end up being the crown jewel in Disney’s live-action remake crowd. At least until The Lion King comes out next year or even Aladdin. Those three were the best movies of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ renaissance in the late 80’s early 90’s.
9. Frozen (2013)
Speaking of renaissance, Frozen was a continuation of and really the capitalization on another set of films that both parents and children loved. First came the movie Tangled, which didn’t make nearly as much money but was a much-loved, sort of hip re-imagining of Rapunzel. Then came Frozen: an inescapable audiovisual vortex for anyone that knows girls under the age of 10. From the story to the songs, Frozen took over the world for a few years there and they’ve definitely made it cool to be a Disney Princess again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise Disney has green-lit a sequel. After acquiring Pixar, Disney’s own in-house animation team sort of became second fiddle. So it was great to see one of their films shine as brightly as Frozen did since they are responsible for some of the greatest films of all time. In a few years, Frozen 2 might take a spot on this list as well.
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)
The Harry Potter series defined a generation of boys and girls around the turn of the century. The movies were good and grew as the books/readers did, culminating with 2011’s Deathly Hallows: Part II — though it started the unfortunate trend of splitting a final movie into two (for no other reason than to make double the money). While Warner Brothers didn’t make exactly double the money with that strategy, they made a lot more than they otherwise would have. And this didn’t alienate audiences as much as other films that later did the same thing — we’re looking at you, Hunger Games. People wanted to see how the story between Harry Potter and Voldemort ended. Because the movies did make some changes from the books, it was something worth seeing even if you had read the entire series. The movies weren’t just children’s fare. The audience could grow alongside it. While the tone may have been different from the first film to the last, it didn’t feel forced and ended on a high note — both critically and commercially. Considering this movie’s success, it’s really not hard to see why there is a new universe of Harry Potter films being made — Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The first Avengers film, released in 2012, was a phenomenon. It not only changed the way superhero movies were made and released forever but how films in general were released. Because the first Avengers film was the first time that filmgoing audiences saw characters from different films come together, there was a certain special feeling surrounding that movie that couldn’t be replicated. So, while some at Disney were reportedly upset that Age of Ultron didn’t match or surpass the total box office number(s) for Avengers, it did surpass it globally (just not in North America). Next year will bring the first of a back-to-back Avengers films. They promise to bring together more characters than even Civil War to fight an evil that could very well change the entire universe forever — and kill off more than one beloved character. If so, some may look back to 2015’s Age of Ultron as the peak in the original Avengers franchise. The good old days of watching Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye and Hulk battle together.
6. Furious 7 (2015)
Yet another film from the Fast and the Furious franchise has made this list. Granted, this instalment had to deal with the death of main star Paul Walker in a fiery car crash after leaving a charitable event. Because Furious 7 was still filming at the time of his death, his two brothers had to step in to help finish his parts — and to help film a different ending where his character, Brian, left the crew to raise his family as opposed to continuing on as was originally written. Even if you’re not a fan of these movies you’ll find it emotional. This group of actors have been together for well over a decade; they’re like a real movie family. So, if there is a Fast and the Furious movie worth watching, it’s this one. That’s probably why it grossed as much as it did. On a side note, 2015 was the biggest year in Hollywood history, something that may never be replicated. It came at the perfect time — before people tired of sequels and after the dawn of superhero movies.
5. The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers has been mentioned a few times on this list already and for good reasons. It was a global phenomenon when it came out in 2012. It was the first time in history that characters from different movies came together as a cast. Beside the fact that it was new and exciting, this movie made A-list stars out of characters like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America — who were all thought to be C-list heroes at best. When it was announced after 2008’s Iron Man that the newly-minted Marvel Cinematic Universe was putting together an Avengers film, few thought they’d find success. What if one of the movies is a bust? What if they all are? Well, the films were all great by themselves and even better together and its changed the movie landscape. While that may end up being a bad thing after a while — considering all of the new “cinematic universes” that have been announced — we’re still in that sweet spot where Marvel, especially, is amazing. While the other cinematic universes have all pretty much sputtered out of the gate — besides the Conjuring-Universe — there’s plenty of time for them to find their footing. And who can complain about good movies competing with good movies?
4. Jurassic World (2015)
There have been other movies on this list that have taken advantage of the nostalgia factor — namely 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Jurassic World also took advantage of that. It probably didn’t hurt that it came out before audiences started resenting franchise films. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know three things. First, it’s a great action movie that has dinosaurs in it — it feels different from Jurassic Park, which was more of a action-horror-film with dinosaurs. Second, the dialogue is borderline terrible. And third, it made use of CGI a lot more than the original did. Regardless of whether or not you feel that action made up for its limitations, this film relied a lot on nostalgia. The follow up — 2018’s Jurassic World: The Last Kingdom — will probably end up going the route of Age of Ultron; it’ll make a lot of money but it probably won’t surpass the original. You can’t take summon nostalgia twice in the course of a three-year span. Either way, it’s hard not to want to watch dinosaurs chase and eat people.
3. Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Speaking of taking advantage of nostalgia twice in a three-year period… fans were so eager for 2015’s The Force Awakens to be good that they most likely overlooked the fact that it was an obvious remake of A New Hope. While a continuation of the original trilogy — after the panned prequel trilogy of the late 90’s-early 00’s — it felt so much like the original trilogies opener, A New Hope, that many obsessed fans complained about it online. Still, because The Force Awakens was loads better than A Phantom Menace, people were elated by it. It set up a ton of new plot threads and unanswered questions. People are extremely excited for this year’s follow-up, titled The Last Jedi. So, The Force Awakens isn’t Jurassic World, because Jurassic Park doesn’t inspire the same feelings as Star Wars. It remains to be seen how much Star Wars is too much, but we haven’t reached that point yet. The franchise started on the right foot. It’ll be hard to replicate the box office returns, though; people were bringing their extended families to screenings of The Force Awakens. It tore up opening weekend records and became the biggest non-James Cameron film ever, which is saying something.
2. Titanic (1997)
Speaking of James Cameron and his hegemony over the box office, let’s sit back and admire how a movie from 1997 is number two on this list. As was mentioned previously, international audiences weren’t really established in the late 90’s — at least not to the level(s) they are now. Also, ticket prices were about half the price they are now. That means a lot of people in North America saw this movie multiple times. What’s perhaps the most amazing thing about Titanic‘s success is that it didn’t open with gigantic numbers. It was thought of as a potential bust because the film — considered to be the most expensive movie of all time — didn’t have a great opening weekend. The movie was a slow burner at the box office; Titanic brought in a record amount over several weekends, grossing over $20 million dollars at a time. It essentially did the impossible in Hollywood and proved the that slow and steady does win the race.
1. Avatar (2009)
James Cameron’s pre-and-post Titanic lovechild: he wanted to make Avatar for years but had to wait for film technology to “catch-up” to his vision before he felt comfortable filming it. After Titanic, he focused heavily on 3D technology. Granted, Avatar’s 3D was innovative. Filmed in HD with actual 3D cameras — something that no other “3D” film has done since — Avatar was so visually glorious there were reports of people committing suicide after viewing it. They apparently felt depressed they couldn’t visit the alien world of Pandora. Avatar changed our cinematic experience. Every film is 3D nowadays. The trend has increased the price of tickets. This explains why Avatar surpassed Titanic as the biggest film of all time. It’s taken nearly a decade for the sequel(s) to Avatar to enter production meaning good things when it comes to James Cameron. He’s looking for new ways to wow audiences now that 3D has become commonplace. While it may seem like a strange place to leak news, he let us know what that new technology will be and we have one word for you: Smell-O-Vision!