The 20 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

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10. Black Panther (2018)
Box office: $1.35 billion
Director: Ryan Coogler

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Black Panther might be the first MCU film that could claim to most clearly be an expression of a particular director’s voice. We shouldn’t go so far as to call it auteurist, because it’s still a Disney movie and (perhaps ironically) a part of that monopolizing Empire—i.e., eat the rich—but Black Panther’s action scenes, especially, feel one with Coogler’s oeuvre. Look only to an early scene in a South Korean casino, in which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurire) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plan to intercept a deal between Klaue and everyone’s favorite CIA milquetoast, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, lovable) for a vibranium-filled artifact which Klaue stole from some colonizer-run museum with Killmonger’s help. We’re introduced to Klaue through the surprising spryness of his violence—Andy Serkis, too, freed from mocap, is still an amazing presence, even as a gangster shitbag—and Coogler gets on his wavelength, carving out the geography of the casino in long tracking shots, much like he convinced us to love stained, shitty-seeming Philadelphia gyms in Creed by helping us to comprehend the many crevices and corners of each hole in the wall. When the casino brawl breaks out into the streets, morphing into a death-defying car chase (slow motion thankfully kept to a minimum), we feel as if we know exactly what these characters—and this wonderful director—are capable of. Cue magnificent Vince Staples track. —Dom Sinacola


9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Box office: $1.41 billion
Director: Joss Whedon 

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The second Avengers film was warmly received when it initially arrived, but then suffered a bit of immediate blowback, with many superhero genre geeks asserting themselves that although it was undeniably an entertaining film, it represented something of a step back from Joss Whedon’s record-smashing original. Even if it can’t quite match it, and occasionally feels like a bridge toward the next Avengers story, there’s still a whole lot to enjoy in this action-packed yarn. James Spader excels as the voice of the godlike Ultron—a wonderfully arrogant, immature AI character who is only undermined by plot, rather than performance. Ultimately, though, we may remember Age of Ultron more for the storyline fallout it helped generate in the MCU, as Tony Stark’s guilt at creating Ultron is instrumental in driving his position in the fabulous Civil War. Looking back on it in the wake of several other MCU films, its stature has somewhat grown as a result of what it has helped build. —Jim Vorel


8. Furious 7 (2015)
Box office: $1.52 billion
Director: James Wan

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Watching the seventh installment of the adrenaline-fueled Fast & Furious franchise, one gets the distinct impression that, when faced with a creative choice, the filmmakers asked themselves, “What’s the most insane, over-the-top thing we can do here?” Then they did just that. For a series of films that has been a continual escalation in physics-defying stunts, Furious 7 takes it to an entirely new level. The result is a damn lot of fun. Furious 7 is part revenge thriller, part daring heist, and more than a little of a loving goodbye to a dear friend. Franchise star Paul Walker died in a car crash before filming was complete, and both his life and death loom large over the movie. As his character, Brian O’Conner, experiences one harrowing escapade after another, you wait for the moment where he meets his end. It feels inevitable, and waiting around every corner. There are more than a few instances where Walker’s face is digitally pasted on another body—his brothers stood in for him to help finish the production. The movie is also a celebration of his life. There’s much talk about family in the Furious films; the gang’s been picking up strays and bringing them into the fold since day one. The chemistry between the cast is undeniable, and it’s easy to see how much everyone involved enjoys themselves. Furious 7 traffics so heavily in history that it will carry the most weight with already extant fans, especially in an emotional sense. That said, there are enough WTF action moments and eye candy to sell the movie to more than just diehards. —Brent McKnight


7. The Avengers (2012)
Box office: $1.52 billion
Director: Joss Whedon 

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Nestled amongst the gaudy box office numbers of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is a much simpler achievement. Yes, The Avengers should evoke a deserved appreciation of Whedon’s directorial skills. And yes, the film’s release and reception make for a natural “And that’s when it was official” moment that the MCU took over Hollywood. But for comic book fans especially, The Avengers represents the first instance of the superhero team dynamic truly captured and sustained on film. Even though the X-Men and the Fantastic Four had received big screen treatment, those films were all still pretty static. The interaction between both heroes and villains were slow, separate vignettes rather than two-way, three-way or more-way battles. If Raimi’s Spider-Man showed why comic book superheroes are fun, The Avengers showed why superhero teams are. —Michael Burgin


6. Jurassic World (2018)
Box office: $1.67 billion
Director: Colin Trevorrow

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Jurassic World marks the fourth entry in its paleontological franchise, but it’s probably more important as the second chapter in the story of Chris Pratt’s unexpected ascent to movie stardom. Pratt, seemingly born to make a career out of playing lovable doofuses, made his goofy tenor work for him in Guardians of the Galaxy. With Jurassic World, he’s shed that skin almost entirely in favor of aping the hard-jawed macho men of the 1950s B-movie canon. That transformation lends the film inevitability: As if brand recognition didn’t give Jurassic World enough of a box-office edge, the image of Pratt riding a motorcycle side by side a quartet of raptors should sold Colin Trevorrow’s picture to the crowds. That scene, and others like it, let Jurassic World function as a suitably thrilling roller-coaster ride. Unsurprisingly, they don’t add up to a particularly good movie, but Trevorrow has enough diversions stored up his sleeve that the film’s inconsistencies and overarching sloppiness almost don’t matter. Here, we finally get to see John Hammond’s loopy vision of a dino theme park brought to fruition. —Andy Crump


5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Box office: $2.05 billion
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

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Avengers: Infinity War is epic in a way that has been often aspired to but never fully grasped when it comes to the translation from comic book panel to the Big Screen. It’s what happens when moviemakers take their source material seriously, eschewing unnecessary melodrama even as they fully embrace the grandeur, the sheer spectacle, of it all. (And if there’s one lesson Disney has learned, it’s that if you focus on the viewer experience, the product lines will take care of themselves.) For every frenetic fight scene in Avengers: Infinity War—and there are plenty of them—there are myriad character interactions and emotional beats the audience has been prepped for by the previous films (okay, maybe not 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). As a result, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have ample room to riff and play as characters meet for the first time or see each other again. Some of the interactions are easy to anticipate (if no less enjoyable)—the immediate ego clash between Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, for example—but our familiarity with these characters adds resonance to nearly every scene and every line, as the vestiges and ripples of emotional arcs laid down in the last decade’s worth of movies bolster even the smallest moment. —Michael Burgin


4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Box office: $2.07 billion
Director: J.J. Abrams 

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The Force Awakens was the remedy to the near-terminal Prequel-itis of fans. J.J. Abrams and company accomplished this act of restorative cinema primarily through a return to the “dirty future” aesthetic that made the Original Trilogy feel so real (no matter how absurd the dialogue being delivered by the characters). That’s not to say CGI is lacking, but whereas budget and technology constraints helped the first three films and an overabundance hurt the next three, the balance between practical and special effects in The Force Awakens feels near perfect. I say “primarily” not to take away from other factors, such as casting. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver are all solid, and Oscar Isaac brings a palpable vigor to his role. Ultimately, The Force Awakens just feels right in ways the Prequels never did. —Michael Burgin


3. Titanic (1997)
Box office: $2.19 billion
Director: James Cameron 

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Almost 20 years after its theatrical debut, James Cameron’s blockbuster epic is still so ubiquitous in the pop culture zeitgeist, its filmmaking marvels are drowned out by young Kate-and-Leo nostalgia and that damned Celine Dion caterwaul (not to mention the now late James Horner’s iconic score). Cameron’s ear for dialogue may be woefully leaden, but he’s a shrewd storyteller, plunking a Romeo-and-Juliet redux aboard the doomed ocean liner and flanking the fictional romance with historical details, groundbreaking special effects and jaw-dropping visuals. The narrative lapses are at times dumbfounding-let’s face it, old Rose, who tosses a priceless artifact into the abyss after waxing ad nauseam about herself, is a thoughtless jerk—and the aforementioned dialogue is awful (to say nothing of Billy Zane doing his best mustache-twirling silent movie villain) but Titanic remains a painstaking testament to the all-in Hollywood spectacle.—Amanda Schurr


2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Box office: $2.69 billion
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

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Where does one begin? When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the past 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises, there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced. Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too. —Michael Burgin


1. Avatar (2009)
Box office: $2.79 billion
Director: James Cameron 

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It makes sense that Avatar is still the highest grossing movie ever made: Irony and insincerity have no place in its extended universe. Whether or not James Cameron intended to crib the world of Pandora and its futuristic inhabitants from practically every fantastical ur-text ever conceived, it hardly matters, because Avatar is modern mythmaking at its most foundational. Cameron still seems to believe that “the movies” can give audiences a transformative experience, so every sinew of his film bears the Herculean effort of truly genius worldbuilding, telling the simple story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his Dances with Wolves-like saving of the Na’vi, natives to the planet of Pandora, from the destructive forces of colonialism. Cameron wants us to care about this world as much as Jake Sully, and by extension James Cameron, does, crafting flora and fauna with borderline sociopathic obsessiveness, at the time pushing 3-D technology to its brink to bring his inhuman imagination alive. It worked; “unobtanium” is actually a real thing. Four sequels feels like a disgusting gambit for a man whose ambition may have long ago outpaced his sense of storytelling, or sense of reason, or sense of what our oversaturated, over-franchised culture can even stomach anymore. But Cameron’s proven us wrong countless times before. —Dom Sinacola

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