The 20 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

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The 20 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

Four of the 20 highest-grossing movies of all time came out this year. That stat, of course, is skewed by rising ticket prices and increases in population. Adjusted for inflation, no movie can match the $3.7 billion haul that Gone with the Wind’s $390 million box-office receipts since its 1939 release would be worth in today’s dollars. But here, we’re looking at the highest-grossing movies in gross dollar receipts.

With the exception of Titanic and two Disney films, every single movie below is part of a franchise, making us believe that there were probably some studio execs at Paramount or 20th Century Fox trying to convince James Cameron that he should do a sequel (“Are we sure that Jack really dies? Can he come back as a ghost?”). Speaking of Cameron, directing the two biggest box-office hits of all time is quite a feat, one we’re sure hasn’t gone to his head. That they were so different—an historic romance drama and a sci-fi action/adventure—makes it all the more impressive. The Russo Brothers are the only other directors on this list with two entries, and both of those were established Marvel properties they were handed, though we do admire what they did with the Captain America movies.

There are some highly enjoyable movies on here and some films that we can only shake our heads at and marvel at the worldwide moviegoer.

Here are the 20 highest-grossing movies of all-time:

20. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Box office: $1.52 billion
Director: Michael Bay 

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Dark of the Moon is almost a carbon copy of Revenge of the Fallen: the same annoying Shia LaBeouf performance, further debasement of talented actors like John Turturro and Frances McDormand, the exact same narrative structure that has our heroes globe-trotting in search of yet another supreme energy-wielding thingamajig, all to leave the theater with a throbbing migraine and a diminished faith in humanity as a whole. There are two elements that make Dark of the Moon only the secondworst film in the franchise. One, director Michael Bay actually listened to fan backlash and completely erased Mudflaps and Skids from the franchise, while also toning down the racial humor—although a scene with tech support by an Indian character doesn’t do it any favors—and two, the complete destruction of Chicago during the third act battle is kind of cool, in a mid’90s peak Roland Emmerich disaster porn kind of way. —Oktay Ege Kozak


19. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Box office: $1.15 billion
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

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The Russo brothers’ second film in the Captain America trilogy, and their last before tackling the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War films, Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief, mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes, provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. Even more impressive, the film introduces two additional MCU Phase Three stars—one brand new to filmgoers and the other oh-so familiar—and both generate a real sense of “Man, I can’t wait to see his solo film!” All this is achieved without once veering too far from the core plot of the film. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity. —Micheal Burgin


18. Minions (2015)
Box office: $1.16 billion
Directors: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin

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Struggling to come up with a reason for its sidekick characters to have their own adventure, Minions proves far too much of a little thing. After two outings as the henchmen to evil super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) in the Despicable Me franchise, the short, stubby, giant-eyed, yellow-bodied Minions are given a backstory of a distinctly dreary nature in directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin’s rambunctious film. Their origins, as it turns out, are as dull as their escapades are wearisome, in large part because the Minions are, by design, one-joke characters incapable of supporting the thousands of gags, pratfalls, one-liners, and other assorted absurdities that crowd the screen for the proceedings’ 90 minutes. Try as they might, they can’t compensate for the lameness of this prequel’s countless pranks, nor for the almost immediate impression that they’re small fries ill-suited for a stand-alone solo effort. What Minions surely doesn’t lack is energy. Set to the good-natured narration of Geoffrey Rush, Universal’s animated film opens with a credits sequence that explicates how, since the dawn of time, the Minions have functioned as gleeful second bananas, hitching their rides to the fortunes of the fiercest bad guy around. That genetic imperative meant they rode side by side with the T. rex and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Napoleon (among others), and in each instance, their buffoonery was ultimately the cause of their master’s demise. Theirs is a nomadic life of constant job-hunting, though after their falling out with the aforementioned French emperor, they find themselves adrift, living a boss-less life in a snowy mountain cave. Unwilling to allow his fellow yellow guys to waste away due to a lack of purpose, intrepid Minion Kevin sets out—with the assistance of enthusiastic but idiotic Bob and sarcastic cyclops Stuart—to find the clan a new employer. A kids’ film need not strive for profundity à la Inside Out; making audiences laugh is reason enough to exist. But Minions winds up residing in a passable-at-best middle ground that’s already overpopulated by scores of virtually identical diversions. ...And yet, it made a billion dollars. —Nick Schager


17. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Box office: $1.21 billion
Director: Shane Black

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Though its titular hero spends 2/3rds of the film outside his armor, Iron Man 3 works. The film provides just the right mix of action (much of it explosive), chuckles (mostly via banter) and plot (fairly comprehensible). Some of that credit goes to director Shane Black, no stranger to the action genre as a screenwriter (Lethal Weapon, The Last Action Hero), nor to Robert Downey Jr. as a director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). At a time when Whedon’s Avengers still loomed large in the rearview mirror (and provided much of the impetus for Tony Stark’s personal character arc in Iron Man 3), Black keeps the plot and pacing under much firmer control than Jon Favreau did in Iron Man 2. But though Iron Man 3 is a better constructed film than its predecessor, ultimately it succeeds for the same reason the first two films did—Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Whereas most actors, no matter how adept the performance, play second fiddle to the character they portray, Downey Jr. has pretty much displaced Tony Stark, 50 years of comic book character development notwithstanding. In part, it’s because the character himself has never been as compelling as the armor he wore, but mainly, it’s because Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is just so damned much more enjoyable to be around than Stark Classic. It doesn’t matter that, in terms of hero profiles, Downey Jr.’s breezy, edgy quipping is pure Spider-Man. In fact, it’s telling that, in a realm pretty much defined by a fandom that will wail and gnash teeth about even the slightest deviation from canon, no one really cared. It’s the primary reason why a superhero film where the protagonist spends most of his time out of his armor rather than in it is not just bearable, but downright fun. It’s why the neutering of an arch-villain—though still a troublesome precedent for the Marvel film universe as a whole—works fine within the framework of the film. It’s why, in the frivolous debates of the future, the question “Who was the best Iron Man?” will really be, “Who has done the best version of Robert Downey Jr.?” —Micheal Burgin


16. Incredibles 2 (2018)
Box office: $1.24 billion
Director: Brad Bird

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Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film ended, with the costumed Family Parr reacting to the arrival of the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their scuffle with the villain gains the attention of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk)—or more precisely, allows Deavor and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), to gain the attention of the Parrs. The siblings want to bring supers back into the light, using Winston’s salesmanship and Evelyn’s tech to sway public opinion back to the pro-super side. To do so, they want to enlist Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the tip of the spear in their charm offensive, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on the sidelines for now. (She tends to fight crime in a manner that results in less property damage than her husband, after all.) This sets up a second act that’s firmly by the numbers in terms of story development—watch the husband try to succeed as a stay-at-home dad!—yet no less enjoyable. Bob’s attempts to handle teen romance, Jack-Jack’s manifestation of powers and, horror of horrors, “new” math will strike a chord with any mom or dad who has ever felt overwhelmed by the simple, devastating challenges of parenthood. (The family interactions, one strength among many with the first film, remain a delight in the sequel.) Meanwhile, we get to watch Elastigirl in action, as she encounters, foils and matches wits with the film’s mysterious villain, Screenslaver. As in the first film, watching Helen Parr do the hero thing is also quite the delight—she’s resourceful, tough and, above all, a professional. Watching Elastigirl operate almost makes one feel sorry for the criminals. Delving more into the plot would do the film a disservice—suffice to say both villainous and family challenges are faced, and it takes a village, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Bird) to emerge victorious. Whether you enjoy Incredibles 2 as much as the original will likely depend on your opinion of the latter, but regardless, you’ll be happy both exist. And in today’s sequel-saturated environment, that is practically a superheroic achievement in itself. —Michael Burgin


15. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Box office: $1.24 billion
Director: F. Gary Gray

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The Fate of the Furious is the main reason moving pictures exist: the glory of dynamic motion which involves the pulse and the heart. The Fast franchise is a group of action films centered around a crew of talented outlaws who engage in illegal street racing and, later, heists. Although the lineup has changed over the years, the basic formula has stayed the same: an eccentric crew of colorful characters with various talents, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his co-conspirator/girlfriend/wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) get involved in ever-increasing stakes. This group refers to themselves as “family,” and their bond is the sinew of the franchise. As the series escalates—escalation is the name of the game here—everybody eventually becomes part of the family, even the antagonists who are sent after them: the first movie saw undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) joining the crew; this habit is followed in later movies by Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). None of this dry summation can give you an accurate idea of franchise or its charm… which is that it is absolutely bazonkers: These are movies where topping the previous installment is itself the art. How much crazier can the stunts get? How strong is the family’s bond? How many incredible moments will these stars have on screen? How intense can the stakes get? How byzantine are the plots? How can they possibly pull it off? Any other movie franchise would have run out of gas—think of Brosnan-era Bond. But Fate of the Furious is so clever, so perfectly executed, emotionally sincere, self-aware and gloriously cinematic that I think it made me happier, and more entertained, than any other movie I saw in 2017. —Jason Rhode


14. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Box office: $1.26 billion
Director: Bill Condon

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While a generation of kids gape at overwhelming CGI landscapes and a talking teacup, the generation before them wonder where all the magic went. An ostensibly live-action remake of the 1991 Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast hits all the notes of the original film slowly and without distinction. The new components of this version are great, but they’re jammed into an older model, one we’ve seen before, which can’t always use them to the best of their abilities. Introductory number “Belle (Little Town)” perfectly contrasts the sweeping introduction from Disney’s castle by looking and sounding like it came from a well-choreographed TV musical special. And yes, here that’s a plus. Cramming the screen with gesticulating townsfolk vying for their moment in the French sun makes a strong case for the song’s premise of a town both too small and too full. Then the plot picks up: Belle’s father and the town tinkerer, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is going to the market and will be back with a rose. Maurice serves as our protagonist for almost the first half hour of the movie, accidentally wandering into Beast’s castle, discovering its magic and anthropomorphic accoutrements, failing to escape, coping with his daughter’s sacrifice—offering herself as prisoner in place of her dad—and eventually running back to town. He wrings every drop of acting juice from his part, giving us an overprotective, loving, encouraging father whose helplessness against a town that doesn’t believe his story is genuinely moving. As the Beast, Dan Stevens gives an engaging performance, manipulating his elastic face and wild eyes into winks, smirks and terribly cold glowering gazes that, when the Beast is the only character on screen, work as well as some of the best CGI creature animation we’ve enjoyed on screen lately. Likewise, Emma Watson nails the role of Belle: smirking at times, lovelorn at others. She’s the kind of adorably naive, romantic dreamer that can still sell a little uppityness (“little town filled with little people”? Belle, this is why the townsfolk dislike you) that makes for a good coming-of-age heroine. Despite some convoluted final action (not Twilight helmer Bill Condon’s directorial strong suit) and unbalanced music, Beauty and the Beast’s teary fairy tale ending survives it all thanks to the brief but colorful relationships we develop with the side characters. Even if they’re not the best they’ve ever been, the story’s quirks and core remain effective. There’s still beauty here to be found. —Jacob Oller


13. Frozen (2013)
Box office: $1.29 billion
Directors: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

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Everything old is new again in Hollywood these days, so it only made sense for Disney to revive the animated musical brand that dominated the early ’90s. The canny nostalgia play of Frozen catered not just to kids but also the parents who grew up quoting dialogue and humming tunes from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin. Very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story The Snow Queen, Frozen stacks the deck with big bold songs, scheming villains, wacky sidekicks, cuddly characters (ready made to become holiday merchandise) and not just one but two (!) new Disney princesses. Elsa, the elder of the two, was born with the ability to conjure snow and ice with her bare hands. That means the sisters can skate, sled or build a snowman whenever they please, much to young Anna’s delight. Unfortunately, Elsa’s incredible gift soon feels more like a curse when an ice-related accident leaves Anna injured and their parents forbid Elsa from using her magic. A terrified Elsa locks herself away in her bedroom, essentially abandoning Anna whose memory of the event has been erased by a kindly troll king (Ciaran Hinds). Not that Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) is willing to give up on her sister so easily. She’s delighted when Elsa (Idina Menzel) comes of age and ascends to the throne, but trouble arises again when Elsa’s powers go public during an argument over Anna’s love-at-first-sight infatuation with charming visiting prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Elsa stuns her assembled subjects with angry bursts of ice and snow, fleeing to the mountains and literally freezing over her entire seaside Scandinavian village in the middle of summer. Local dignitary the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) proclaims Elsa a monster, but Anna knows better and resolves to track down her sister and bring her back to the kingdom. —Geoff Berkshire


12. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Box office: $1.30 billion
Director: J.A. Bayona

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t the best or worst film in the franchise, but it’s certainly the most dully competent. Twenty-five years after Steven Spielberg ruled the summer with his vision of an island overrun by the most magnificent, terrifying dinosaurs you’ve ever seen, director J.A. Bayona provides us with just one more perfectly below-average blockbuster that occasionally grasps what’s so primal and wondrous about the subject matter. The film deals with the fallout from 2015’s Jurassic World, which ended with the dino-centric amusement park imploding and most of the mighty creatures being killed. But three years later, scientists discover that an active volcano on the island is going to kill off the last of the dinosaurs, a fact that troubles Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has become a fierce advocate for preserving their various species. Now regretting her role in running a park that profited off these mammoth reptiles, she enlists former love Owen (Chris Pratt) to help rescue the beasts. Jeff Goldblum makes a cameo as the offbeat scientist Ian Malcolm—his job is to give congressional testimony that, very handily, highlights the trilogy’s underlying themes in ominous tones. There’s meant to be some dark moral complexity in these films’ depiction of humanity’s desire to create its own dinosaurs—we’re playing God!—but like so much of this silly, by-the-numbers tentpole, the intellectual handwringing is really an excuse for self-perpetuation. The evil masterminds behind the creatures’ abduction just want to make a buck, and so does everybody responsible for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Such financial expediency isn’t going to go extinct anytime soon. —Tim Grierson


11. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Box office: $1.33 billion
Director: Rian Johnson

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The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch

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