These Are the Highest-Grossing Movie Franchises of All Time


The film industry is in a constant flow of changing numbers and releases that we, as movie lovers, have to keep an eye on. Although the audience might not be as interested in earnings and ticket sales as the studio executives are, it’s always mind-blowing to see just how many people around the globe pay to see the same films that you do. More than that, box office numbers indicate to studios which movies do well and which don’t, influencing top-down decisions about future projects they might invest in.


Update Jan. 2, 2024: This list has been updated with even more information about the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, as well as updated box office numbers.

Various movie franchises, from Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, the MCU, and the DCEU, all had new entries that could increase their standing in terms of the box office. Big budget releases like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse have already shifted the balance of power in the box office charts. Which franchises are the most successful, you may ask? Let’s take a look at some of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time.


20 Toy Story (1995–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $3.3 Billion

Toy Story

Release Date
October 30, 1995

Rating
G

Pixar started a trend that would become their brand of storytelling for years to come with Toy Story, which debuted in 1995. The premise was simple: what if toys had feelings? The gamble paid off, and the first ever fully computer-generated animated movie was a worldwide hit that still resonates with audiences, no doubt bolstered by the performances of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. After a handful of other collaborations with Disney, the House of Mouse realized Pixar’s potential and subsequently acquired the studio.

While Pixar is known for handling multiple franchises at once, Toy Story has proven time and time again to be one of their top movie franchises, with the franchise bringing in a combined total of $3.3 billion in box office gross. 2022’s Lightyear was the only film related to the franchise to have a comparatively underwhelming performance, something that Disney aims to have fixed with an upcoming fifth installment in the mainline Toy Story franchise.

19 The Twilight Saga (2008–2012)

Total Worldwide Gross: $3.35 Billion

twilight

Twilight

Release Date
November 20, 2008

Rating
PG-13

The Twilight Saga was a collection of four romance novels released annually between 2005 and 2008, with their respective film adaptations releasing between 2008 and 2012. Despite such a quick turnaround, the Twilight films would become one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of its era. Audiences were captivated by the drama surrounding Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black, with their conflicting love triangle building a palpable amount of tension with each successive release.

Although the five films in the franchise brought a ton of money, with a total box office gross of $3.35 billion, the Twilight saga saw significant negative reception. Yet, the franchise has seen a major resurgence in recent years and helped launch the careers of its most prominent cast members, including Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Anna Kendrick.

18 Shrek (2001–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $4.01 Billion

Shrek

Shrek

Release Date
May 18, 2001

Rating
PG

Just managing to break $4 billion, Shrek is one of those popular movie franchises that may have fallen off your radar, as there haven’t been any new releases with the titular character for years. Originally developed as a satirical spin on fairy tales and Disney films, the franchise sees a grotesque ogre named Shrek going on a variety of adventures with a sentient, talking donkey at his side. Suffice to say, these elements combined to form one of the most iconic DreamWorks franchises to this day.

Everyone’s favorite ogre and donkey, played by Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy respectively, have stayed popular since 2001, starring in four films with two spinoffs focused on the character of Puss in Boots. With the 2022 release of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the franchise has only continued to grow and stay relevant more than two decades later. Shrek 5 may see a release in 2025, so it’s likely that the franchise will continue its growth and resurgence.

17 Mission Impossible (1996–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $4.13 Billion

Since 1996, Mission: Impossible has been Tom Cruise’s baby to nurture and profit from. As one of the most popular movie franchises, this series of bombastic espionage films has dominated cinematic venues with seven entries, with one more to go now that Cruise has decided to potentially retire his lead role. Given Cruise’s age, it’s to be expected. He famously taxed his body to incredible limits with practical stunts and very little VFX for our entertainment.

While Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One has been well received, this latest entry failed to garner the box office floods of yore, especially since the movie had some fierce competition in the summer spots. Of course, there was also the Barbenheimer phenomenon that quickly dominated public discourse around the time of its release. Still, getting $4.13 billion in box office receipts over a few decades is no small feat, and we are sure Cruise is more than willing to deliver something incredible for his last outing as Ethan Hunt. The final chapter in the saga, Mission Impossible 8, has been delayed to 2025.

16 Pirates of the Caribbean (2003–2017)

Total Worldwide Gross: $4.5 Billion

Based on a ride at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean has grown into its own identity, becoming one of the biggest movie franchises to grace the big screen. This nautical adventure series focuses on the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow, famously portrayed by Johnny Depp, as he battles supernatural pirates, plunders gold, and forms a steadfast crew to sail the seven seas with.

The first film took the world by storm in 2003 and made the character of Jack Sparrow into a pop culture icon. Though pirate-themed films may have fallen off in recent years, the charismatic performances of Depp along with the imaginative setting he ran around in kept audiences captivated for four more films, creating an incredible franchise that would amass $4.5 billion in box office returns. A reboot of the series is currently in development.

15 Despicable Me (2010–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $4.64 Billion

Despicable Me

Despicable Me

Release Date
July 8, 2010

Director
Pierre Coffin , Chris Renaud

Rating
PG

Here’s one that might surprise you. With the 2022 release of Minions: The Rise of Gru, Illumination’s Despicable Me franchise claimed the spot of the 15th highest-grossing film series of all time. Set in a cartoonish world full of over-the-top villains, the Despicable Me films focus on Gru (Steve Carell), a former supervillian who is successfully rehabilitated into a heroic secret agent via his adopted children. A spinoff series, Minions, focuses on Gru’s eponymous pill-shaped henchmen, with the first Minions film raking in over one billion dollars at the worldwide box office.

This animated series continues to grow increasingly popular thanks to Gru’s minions. In fact, you could ague that Gru himself has become less of a focus in the series with each successive film, as the enduring popularity of the minions continues to make significant bank. It also helps that the franchise appeals primarily to children, which helped it bring in a whopping $4.64 billion since 2010. It shows no signs of slowing down, as Despicable Me 4 is slated for a future release in 2024.

14 Avatar (2009–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $5.24 Billion

Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water

This Avatar sequel will further explore the relationship between the Na’vi and the humans that have interrupted their peaceful existence. James Cameron returns to direct.

Release Date
December 16, 2022

Rating
PG-13

Perhaps the most impressive entry on this list with only two entries, the Avatar franchise endures as one of the highest-grossing film series in the world. James Cameron’s otherworldly visual spectacle originally captivated audiences in 2009, with the first film holding the record of highest-grossing film of all time with $2.9 billion. The Avatar films focus on Pandora, a lush planet populated by a race of humanoid aliens known as the Na’vi. Their frequent clashes with humanity’s need for resources form the crux of the franchise’s conflicts, with a human, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), ultimately taking the Na’vi’s side.

Its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, was released in December 2022, and added billions more to Avatar‘s box office totals. Though it may have taken 13 years to get a second film, don’t worry: Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 are already on the way. It’s safe to assume the Avatar movies are going to quickly rise up this list in the coming years.

13 Transformers (2007–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $5.29 Billion

The Transformers franchise came back in a big way in 2023 after the release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Known for its bombastic action set pieces and impressive CGI, this series was originally brought to life in the 2000s by famed director Michael Bay, with a total of six films released since. The films are based on the famous Hasbro toyline of the same name, pitting two warring factions of giant robots – the heroic Autobots and the malevolent Decepticons – against each other, with humanity being caught in the middle.

With $5.29 billion earned so far, it has already proven to be one of the most popular movie franchises ever. It won’t be long until we see another Transformers picture on the big screen. In addition to the recently released Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which sets up a potential crossover involving another Hasbro toyline, the animated prequel, Transformers One, is also on the way.

12 Middle-Earth (2001–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $5.95 Billion

The Middle-Earth franchise, which spawned The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is likely one of the most revered fantasy franchises in film history. Based on the original works by J. R. R. Tolkien, the Middle-Earth franchise tells a sprawling adventure set within its titular setting. The Lord of the Rings trilogy primarily focuses on a fellowship of adventurers as they set out to destroy a powerful artifact, the One Ring, in the fires of Mount Doom, lest they face the wrath of the Dark Lord Sauron. A prequel trilogy, The Hobbit, is set six decades prior to The Lord of the Rings, where a modest hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is tasked with taking back Lonely Mountain from Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrifying dragon.

Starring big names like Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, and Orlando Bloom, director Peter Jackson has definitely set the bar high for fantasy franchises, given that The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films have grossed over $5.9 billion collectively. We’re not even going to think about the total revenue from physical media and merchandising either, as the franchise’s extended editions are famous for their incredible length. Though it may not have raked in the highest box office gross on this list, the overall cultural influence The Lord of the Rings had on the cinema landscape cannot be understated, ushering in a new age of grandiose filmmaking from as early as 2001.

11 Jurassic Park (1993–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $6 Billion

Jurassic-World-Dominion-1

Jurassic World: Dominion

The epic conclusion in the Jurassic World trilogy brings back original cast members Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum to deal with dinosaurs as they have free roam of the Earth.

Release Date
June 10, 2022

Rating
PG-13

As movie franchises go, it’s too bad the Jurassic World films aren’t nearly up to par with the first film. However, there’s still plenty of potential for current and future filmmakers to breathe new life into this dinosaur-centered franchise. Based on the eponymous novel by Michael Crichton, the original Jurassic Park imagines what might happen if genetic scientists revived the dinosaurs thousands of years after their initial extinction. After an amazing first film in 1993 – and a pair of middling sequels afterward – Jurassic World reinvented this iconic franchise for the modern day, allowing it to dominate at the box office.

Notable A-listers from the spread of films include Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Chris Pratt, and Bryce Dallas Howard, with some even reprising their respective roles for Jurassic World: Dominion. Recent entries in the series have continued to rake in the dough, and the franchise has grossed over $6 billion to date. Though plans for another film in this franchise haven’t officially materialized yet, the successful box office performance of Jurassic World: Dominion is a good sign of more to come.

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10 X-Men (2000–2020)

Total Worldwide Gross: $6.08 Billion

x-men

X-Men

Release Date
July 13, 2000

Rating
PG-13

Before the MCU, X-Men was the superhero movie franchise that kicked off a new era for the genre. Originally debuting at the turn of the millenium, X-Men focuses on the mutants; those born with supernatural abilities that can take a variety of forms. Some powers are a fun novelty, whereas others are incredibly powerful or debilitating. The titular X-Men are a group of mutants headed by the telepathic Professor Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, who utilize their powers for the greater good of society. The franchise itself would eventually become one of Marvel’s most iconic properties, due in part to its memorable characters and its positive messaging.

As one of the top movie franchises originally managed by Fox, which started in 2000 with X-Men and concluded in 2020 with Dark Phoenix, X-Men grossed a combined total of $6.08 billion. Unfortunately, following the terrifying performance of Dark Phoenix, X-Men did not go gentle into that good night. However, that may soon change. Since Marvel Studios obtained the rights to the X-Men franchise, it was only a matter of time before the worlds would merge together on screen. Deadpool 3 looks to primarily be an MCU film, but its inclusion of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine may put a fine bow on one of the earliest examples of mainstream superhero success.

9 Batman (1940–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $6.84 Billion

The Batman

The Batman

Batman is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement when The Riddler starts killing key political figures. Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz and Paul Dano star.

Release Date
March 4, 2022

Rating
PG-13

With the release of The Batman in 2022, which starred Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz, the Batman franchise has moved up a few spots on the list. This DC Comics hero is the star of one of the most successful movie franchises ever, having been adapted more than 13 times over the span of 82 years. The craze probably won’t die down anytime soon. Indeed, $6.84 billion is more than enough to confirm that fans want to see more of Gotham City’s Caped Crusader. There’s clearly a fervent audience for Batman based on its paramount success, as it has The Batman Part II in development alongside a new DCU entry, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This is in addition to a sequel to 2019’s Joker.

What made the Caped Crusader so successful? Is it because of its comparatively grounded approach to superhero storytelling compared to other DC films? Is it because of its grittier edge? Or is it simply because of its incredible cast of heroes and villains? It’s hard to pinpoint one single thing that makes Batman the biggest highlight of DC’s film output. But, at the end of the day, we’re not complaining.

8 DC Extended Universe (2013–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $7 Billion

Aquaman 2

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

The follow-up to the smash hit DC adventure Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa as the King of Atlantis.

Release Date
December 25, 2023

Director
James Wan

Rating
PG-13

The DCU‘s feature films — though not always positively received — have amassed an impressive box office total, collectively crossing over the threshold of $7 billion. What’s even more impressive was that they managed to do so in direct competition with Marvel. Featuring some of the most recognizable superhero properties on the planet, the DCU’s gradual transition into the world of cinema was fraught with many challenges. This was especially true as it tried to play catch-up with Marvel.

However, the DCU may see even more impressive box office returns in the near future. Following a significant shakeup in the DCU under the leadership of James Gunn, which was spurred by underwhelming box office performances, we may see the DCU make a triumphant comeback in the world of superhero films. At the very least, they’ll always have the Batman franchise to secure some steady cash. The DCEU’s latest entry, Aquaman and the Last Kingdom, entered theaters in late 2023.

7 Fast and Furious (2001–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $7.33 Billion

Looking back at the Fast and Furious franchise, it can get a little ridiculous and unrealistic — and yet, you can’t help but love everything about it. As one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time, these films have collected $7.33 billion so far. A sequel is currently slated for release in 2025. Originally tracing its roots back to street racing, the Fast and Furious franchise has since inexplicably escalated into grandiose heists, espionage antics, and even a spinoff film focused on the characters of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).

The franchise perfectly mixes themes of family with flashy cars and high-stakes action, gradually escalating from street racing to over-the-top explosions. Its popcorn-friendly storylines and its ability to embrace its own ridiculous nature were highly compelling for hundreds upon hundreds of moviegoers. We can also thank it for thrusting Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker to stardom.

6 The Avengers (2012–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $7.76 Billion

We all know just how massive the MCU is, but you still have to admit that four films alone grossing over $7.76 billion is more than impressive. Has anyone ever watched the Avengers quadrilogy independently of the other movies? Does it still make sense? Sometimes, it feels nostalgic to think about what it was like back in 2012, when everyone had their floor in the Avenger’s Tower. This will likely only grow even larger with the upcoming release of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars in 2026 and 2027, respectively.

It’s worth pointing out that Avengers: Endgame specifically had the brief distinction of being the single highest-grossing film of all time — until James Cameron’s Avatar took back the throne, that is. Still, against a budget of nearly half a billion dollars, Endgame did some heavy-lifting for the MCU’s overall success.

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5 James Bond (1962–2021)

Total Worldwide Gross: $7.83 Billion

Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all portrayed Agent 007 by the name of James Bond from 1962 to 2021. This amounts to 27 movies that have grossed over $7.83 billion worldwide. Despite some criticism of the franchise’s narrative elements, it’s no secret that Bond is one of the most renowned movie franchises ever featuring the greatest spy character in the history of cinema. The amount of speculation that has gone into the search for the next James Bond is a testament to the franchise’s longevity.

As for the films themselves, chances are you’ve already absorbed their general plot beats through cultural osmosis. Action-packed prologues, fearsome henchmen, inventive gadgets, and incredible ingenuity from the world’s greatest spy all take different forms across the franchise, with specific eras of James Bond having their own strengths and weaknesses.

4 Wizarding World (2001–2022)

Total Worldwide Gross: $9.65 Billion

The massive success of the Harry Potter book series was a big indicator of how the films would do when Warner Bros. decided to adopt them. 11 Wizarding World movies have managed to gross over $9.66 billion at the worldwide box office, making it one of the top movie franchises of all time. Based on the titular series originally penned by J.K. Rowling, the Wizarding World series depicts a world of magic as you’ve never seen it before, elevating actors like Alan Rickman and Daniel Radcliffe into the halls of Hollywood history.

All four directors who worked on the movies (Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, and David Yates) put their unique spin on the style and the storytelling. The Fantastic Beasts series is a great spinoff and prequel, but we would also definitely love to see a series dedicated to the Marauders’ era at Hogwarts. Either way, the Wizarding World franchise continues to impress with its numerous efforts, with a dedicated streaming series meant to reboot the series heading to Max at some point in the future.

3 Star Wars (1977–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $10.3 Billion

Star Wars is likely the single most recognizable science-fiction franchise on Earth. Originally created by George Lucas, this pop culture phenomenon takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, telling a grandiose story that spans dozens of separate characters and storylines. The main focus, however, is on the enduring battle of good versus evil in the form of the Jedi versus the Sith. The franchise famously kickstarted the career of Mark Hamill, in addition to paving the way for more mainstream acceptance of science fiction in cinema.

With eleven movies grossing over $10.31 billion and more than 30 separate Academy Award nominations, this is as clear an indication of both critical and commercial success as there can be. We wonder if it was George Lucas’ intention to make a pop-cultural phenomenon out of a sci-fi movie from the 70s — or to become a bona fide billionaire due to his lucrative merchandising deals. With three separate film trilogies and more planned films on the way, it’s safe to say that Star Wars will more than likely keep being one of the highest-grossing film series ever created.

2 Spider-Man (2002–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $10.5 Billion

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Miles Morales returns as Spider-Man and travels across the Multiverse to join forces with Gwen Stacy and a new team to face off with their most powerful villain yet.

Release Date
June 2, 2023

Rating
PG

It’s only recently that the Spider-Man franchise took Star Wars‘ second place in the ranking of top-grossing movie franchises. It’s all thanks to the release of the latest entry, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which has earned nearly $700 million dollars worldwide to push it over the edge. Though interpretations of the character vary with each successive entry, each film features the lively adventures of Spider-Man, a superhero whose powers include enhanced strength, a “Spider-Sense,” and the ability to traverse the skies via spider webbing.

With Kevin Feige confirming that they are developing a fourth MCU Spider-Man movie on the live-action side, the franchise is only going to continue to grow and rise up the list. It might be hard to get into first place, but Spider-Man still ranks an impressive second with over $10.5 billion grossed. Whether it’s the colorful adventures of Miles Morales or the multiverse shenanigans of Tom Holland, it looks like Spider-Man will continue to have strong legs at the box office.

1 Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–Present)

Total Worldwide Gross: $29.82 Billion

Finally, we have a franchise that is so far ahead of the competition that it’s virtually impossible to take its place. It certainly helps that there are over two dozen movies and many of the biggest movie franchises within the ever-expanded universe so far. Still, it doesn’t mean each of those movies isn’t a commercial success on its own. From Iron Man in 2008 to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2023, the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps proving there are more stories to tell. Even though some fear that the universe is getting too complicated for its own good, the $29.82 billion mark is a sign that they won’t stop anytime soon.

We’ve seen the biggest media franchises of all time — but what about those at the opposite end of the spectrum? If you’re curious to know what some of the biggest box office bombs of all time are, check out our video below.



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