The summer blockbuster is a long-standing tradition, and the top hits seem to bring in bigger box-office revenues with each passing year. To see how the blockbuster has evolved, we compiled a list of the biggest summer movie release for every year from 1992 to now. The movies on this list were the highest-grossing films released between the first Friday in May through Labor Day weekend in their respective years, according to Box Office Mojo, a website that tracks box-office revenue.
Click through to see which movies earned the most money every year.
1992: 'Batman Returns'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $45.7 million
- Worldwide Gross: $266.8 million
In this film, Batman — played by Michael Keaton — faces off against villainous foes the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Also in this cast is Christopher Walken, who has the role of Max Shreck.
“Batman Returns” was the summer blockbuster of 1992, and its $80 million production budget was easily recouped by the $162.8 million in total domestic revenue it made. However, its predecessor, “Batman,” which was released three years earlier, had a production budget of only $35 million and raked in more than $251 million from U.S. viewers.
1993: 'Jurassic Park'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $47 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.02 billion
In “Jurassic Park,” a pair of paleontologists and a handful of other professionals are brought to a theme park where dinosaurs have been successfully cloned for a preview tour. However, a major electrical failure results in the dinosaurs escaping from their cages and wreaking havoc. Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum star in the movie.
This film had a production budget of $63 million, with another $60 million spent on marketing, the Los Angeles Times reported. “Jurassic Park” was one of only two summer blockbusters in the 1990s to earn more than $1 billion, and it’s still No. 33 on the list of highest-grossing movies of all time.
1994: 'Forrest Gump'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $24.5 million
- Worldwide Gross: $677.9 million
“Forrest Gump” is the extraordinary tale of a man with less-than-average intelligence who touches the lives of many people, including Jenny, his one true love. Tom Hanks plays the title character in this movie. Robin Wright and Sally Field also have leading roles.
The movie grossed more than $600 million. Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis signed deals that entitled them to a portion of the film’s gross revenues, according to The New York Times. By May 1995, they reportedly had raked in about $31 million each and were set to earn more. “Forrest Gump” is still among Tom Hanks’ top-earning blockbusters.
1995: 'Batman Forever'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $52.8 million
- Worldwide Gross: $336.5 million
In “Batman Forever,” Batman faces foes Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey) with help from his new sidekick, Robin (Chris O’Donnell). Also in the cast is Nicole Kidman, who plays love interest Dr. Chase Meridian.
“Batman Forever,” which had a $100 million production budget, was a megahit in its day. It was the first film ever to earn $20 million in a day, according to Forbes.
1996: 'Independence Day'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $50.2 million
- Worldwide Gross: $817.4 million
In this sci-fi action movie, unlikely groups of people come together to destroy aliens that have attacked the planet. The movie stars Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Vivica A. Fox and more.
“Independence Day” had a $75 million production budget that it recouped incredibly quickly. The movie earned nearly $85 million in its first five days, setting a record for the period. That number doesn’t include an additional $11.1 million the movie pulled in from its Tuesday night preview. In total, the film earned approximately $817.4 million worldwide.
Twenty years after “Independence Day” hit theaters, Fox released “Independence Day: Resurgence” in the hopes of bringing in a similarly huge payday. The sequel cost $165 million to make and brought in approximately $389.7 worldwide — not even half as much as the original.
1997: 'Men in Black'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $51 million
- Worldwide Gross: $589.3 million
Moviegoers clearly hadn’t gotten enough Will Smith versus aliens in ’96: Smith squared off against intergalactic foes again the following summer in the smash hit “Men in Black.” The movie is about two agents, Kay and Jay, who work for an unofficial government agency that focuses on alien affairs. The partners uncover the plot of an alien terrorist who is planning to assassinate two ambassadors from rival galaxies and set out to stop him. Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Fiorentino and Vincent D’Onofrio star.
The movie was released over Fourth of July weekend and set a three-day-weekend record with more than $51 million in box-office revenues. In five days, it earned $79 million.
The movie’s sequel, “Men in Black II,” was released on the same weekend five years later. It was shown on nearly twice as many screens but earned just more than $52 million over the three-day stretch and approximately $87 million in its first five days. The latest in the “MIB” franchise, “Men in Black: International,” was released nearly a quarter-century after the original, opening on June 14, 2019. It was the No. 1 movie for its opening weekend, bringing in $30 million. As of July 23, the film — which stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Liam Neeson — has grossed $247 million worldwide.
1998: 'Saving Private Ryan'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $30.5 million
- Worldwide Gross: $481.8 million
After discovering that Private Ryan’s three brothers have been killed within the same week during World War II, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines in search of him. The war drama stars Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore and Edward Burns, among others. Matt Damon plays Private Ryan.
A long-running champ, “Saving Private Ryan” held the title for highest-grossing war movie until 2015 when it was dethroned by “American Sniper,” reported CNN Money. “Saving Private Ryan” had a production budget of $70 million.
1999: 'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $64.8 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.02 billion
The end of the 20th century marked the resurgence of the “Star Wars” franchise. In the first of these movies, Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, face off against the deadly Darth Maul. In the process, they learn he is a mere pawn of a larger Sith scheme. The pair also meet Anakin Skywalker, a young boy who Qui-Gon Jinn believes could be a powerful Jedi. The cast includes Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Ian McDiarmid.
“The Phantom Menace” is another summer blockbuster that shattered records for opening-day and single-day grosses during its time, bringing in $28.5 million on a weekday. The movie had a $115 million production budget, but with more than $1 billion in worldwide box-office revenues, the investment paid off.
2000: 'Mission: Impossible II'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $57.8 million
- Worldwide Gross: $546.4 million
“Mission: Impossible II” marked the return of Agent Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. In this installment of the franchise, Hunt and crew travel to Australia to find and destroy a genetically modified disease that undesirable characters are trying to get their hands on. Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton and Ving Rhames all have starring roles in the movie.
“Mission: Impossible II” had a production budget of $125 million, which was more than recouped from U.S. audiences, who spent more than $215 million viewing the film, placing it at No. 3 on the list of highest-grossing movies on a domestic basis in 2000. “Mission: Impossible II” was the most profitable of the franchise in the U.S. until “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” was released in 2018.
- Opening Weekend Gross: $42.3 million
- Worldwide Gross: $484.4 million
There’s more to a person than meets the eye. That’s the message of “Shrek,” an animated movie starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. In the movie, an ogre named Shrek journeys to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from a tower in exchange for the returned ownership of his swamp. But Fiona is under a spell that causes her to change into an ogre at night, as Shrek and his new pal, Donkey, soon learn.
The “Shrek” series is Dreamworks’ most financially successful franchise. This film had a $60 million production budget, and it’s still the company’s second-highest-grossing film.
- Opening Weekend Gross: $114.8 million
- Worldwide Gross: $821.7 million
Peter Parker is a normal high school student — until he’s bitten by a genetically modified spider and acquires spider-like superpowers. He uses his newfound powers to fight the evil Green Goblin. Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst star in the movie.
“Spider-Man” was filmed at a time when Hollywood was digesting rising production costs that boosted the average price tag of major movies to $59 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. By comparison, this film cost $130 million. But it broke every opening record held at the time, raking in over $114 million its first weekend, a feat that had never been accomplished at that time.
2003: 'Finding Nemo'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $70.3 million
- Worldwide Gross: $940.3 million
After tragically losing his wife, clownfish Marlin only wants to protect his son, Nemo. But one day, Nemo is plucked from the ocean and whisked away on a boat. Marlin sets off to find him and meets Dory, a fish who suffers from memory loss, as well as other memorable characters. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres and Willem Dafoe are among the actors who lend their voices to the movie.
“Finding Nemo,” which had a $94 million production budget, brought Pixar $246 million in profit based on domestic gross alone, according to Business Insider. “Finding Nemo” is Pixar’s sixth-highest-grossing film.
2004: 'Shrek 2'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $108 million
- Worldwide Gross: $919.8 million
Just three years after “Shrek” hit theaters, Shrek, Donkey and Fiona returned to the silver screen in “Shrek 2.” In the sequel, Shrek and Fiona are invited to Far Far Away, the kingdom of Fiona’s parents. The catch is, her parents expect a handsome prince and princess to arrive, not a pair of ogres. Chaos and confusion ensue after Shrek takes a potion that will make him human. Antonio Banderas, John Cleese and others joined the original cast of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz for this movie.
“Shrek 2” was an immediate success, bringing in more than $28 million on its opening Friday — and doing even better on Saturday and Sunday, to close the weekend with $108 million. Paramount (Dreamworks) went on to make two more Shrek movies. The studio also released the highly-successful movie spinoff “Puss in Boots.”
2005: 'Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $108.4 million
- Worldwide Gross: $848.8 million
In this installment of “Star Wars,” Jedi Anakin Skywalker fears for his secret wife, Padmé, and their unborn children. Skywalker is lured to the dark side of the Force by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and the Jedi are nearly all destroyed. The cast includes Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid and Samuel L. Jackson.
The $113 million to produce “Revenge of the Sith” was apparently well-spent. The film earned more than $50 million in box-office sales on opening day. “Revenge of the Sith” became the No. 1 movie in the U.S. for 2005.
2006: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $135.6 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.066 billion
In this installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, Jack Sparrow seeks the heart of Davy Jones, an undead squid-like pirate captain, to avoid enslaving his soul to Jones’ service. Also in search of the heart is Will Turner and other friends — and foes. Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley reprise their roles in this movie. They are joined by Bill Nighy, who plays the dastardly Davy Jones.
The movie was expensive to make, costing Disney $225 million. But it had a record-breaking first day, earning more than $55 million, and it continued that successful run. To date, “Dead Man’s Chest” is Disney’s No. 13 highest-grossing film of all time.
The fifth installment of the “Pirates” franchise, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” opened in theaters on May 26, 2017. It grossed $794.86 million worldwide.
2007: 'Spider-Man 3'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $151.1 million
- Worldwide Gross: $890.9 million
In “Spider-Man 3,” an extraterrestrial entity bonds with Peter Parker’s Spider-Man suit, changing his personality and bringing out his dark side. Meanwhile, he contends with new villains, including Venom and Sandman. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco reprise their roles in this movie. Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace join the cast.
The production budget for this film was an estimated $258 million. However, according to Business Insider, the film actually cost $291 million, making it the No. 8 most expensive film ever made as of July 2018, according to USA Today.
2008: 'The Dark Knight'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $158.4 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1 billion
The sequel to the 2005 movie “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” focuses on Batman facing off against the Joker, who has plunged the city of Gotham into chaos. Movie leads include Christian Bale (Batman), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel) and Heath Ledger (the Joker). It was one of Ledger’s last projects before his untimely death in 2008, during the movie’s promotion.
The film, which cost $185 million to produce, earned more than $203 million in its first five days, making it the fastest movie to earn $200 million ever at that time. When Warner Brothers closed the curtains on the movie after a 231-day run, it not only ranked as one of the top summer blockbusters, it was the top superhero/comic book movie at that time.
2009: 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $108.96 million
- Worldwide Gross: $836.3 million
In the second installment of the “Transformers” franchise, Sam Witwicky — along with girlfriend Mikaela Banes — is dragged back into the Transformers’ war. Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro all play major roles in the movie.
This movie’s $200 million production budget appears to have paid off. It broke the record for Wednesday openings, earning more than $60 million its first day. “Revenge of the Fallen” is still the most profitable film in the “Transformers” franchise. It is the second-highest-grossing film for Paramount (DreamWorks).
2010: 'Toy Story 3'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $110.3 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.07 billion
In this installment of the “Toy Story” franchise, Andy is set to go to college. Meanwhile, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toy gang are accidentally donated to a day care center, where they meet a new foe: Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Ned Beatty are among the actors who lend their voices to this animated film.
“Toy Story 3” had a hefty production budget of $200 million. However, it brought in $415 million domestically — landing it the No. 26 spot on Box Office Mojo’s list of highest-grossing domestic films, as of July 2019. It is also one of the highest-grossing animated movies of all time.
2011: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $169.2 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.3 billion
In the final installment of the “Harry Potter” franchise, Harry, Ron and Hermione must find and destroy the three remaining Horcruxes that hold the key to Lord Voldemort’s immortality. The movie culminates in a fierce battle between good and evil at Hogwarts. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Ralph Fiennes star.
As is expected for the finale of a decade-long saga, this film dominated at the box office. To date, it is still Warner Bros.’ fourth-highest-grossing film behind “Wonder Woman” (No. 3), “The Dark Knight Rises” (No. 2) and “The Dark Knight” (No. 1). The film holds the No. 14 spot on Box Office Mojo’s list of biggest opening weekends.
2012: 'The Avengers'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $207.4 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.5 billion
In “The Avengers,” Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye come together to stop Thor’s evil brother, Loki, from enslaving humanity. The superhero movie cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston.
This was the first Marvel movie marketed and distributed by the Walt Disney Company after it purchased Marvel in 2009, according to Bloomberg. It’s the No. 4 top-grossing Marvel movie and the seventh-highest-grossing movie of all time.
2013: 'Iron Man 3'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $174.1 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.2 billion
In “Iron Man 3,” Iron Man Tony Stark squares off against the Mandarin. Stark’s personal world has been destroyed and he’s out for vengeance. He also seeks to answer a question that has long haunted him: “Does the man make the suit, or does the suit make the man?” Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle.
This film was the most successful in the “Iron Man” franchise. It had the No. 20 highest opening day of any film ever. Marvel invested $200 million to make it, and then made over $1 billion in 23 days, the Los Angeles Times reported.
2014: 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $94.3 million
- Worldwide Gross: $773.3 million
In 2014, Marvel topped the summer blockbusters list for the third consecutive year with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” In the film, intergalactic adventurer Peter Quill steals an orb and becomes the target of a bounty hunt. To evade the powerful villain Ronan, Quill teams up with four superhero misfits. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista appear in the film. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper lend their voices.
The $232 million for production costs was slightly over budget, according to Forbes. But “Guardians of the Galaxy” turned out to be one of Marvel’s highest-grossing movies, making $3.33 for every $1 spent, according to Forbes.
In May 2017, Marvel released the second installment in the “Guardians” series. The film made more than $863 million worldwide.
2015: 'Jurassic World'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $208.8 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.7 billion
More than 20 years after “Jurassic Park” debuted in theaters, “Jurassic World” was released. Similar to the film that started it all, “Jurassic World” takes place at a dinosaur theme park on an island. All is well at the park until a genetically modified dinosaur — the Indominus rex — breaks out of its cage. “Jurassic World” stars Chris Pratt — the actor’s second huge summer blockbuster — as well as Bryce Dallas Howard.
It cost $150 million to produce “Jurassic World,” but that money was quickly recouped, as this was the first film to ever gross over $500 million in a single weekend, according to CNBC. It also surpassed all other summer blockbusters for opening weekend IMAX revenues, bringing in $44.2 million worldwide.
2016: 'Finding Dory'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $135 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.03 billion
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres reprised her role as the forgetful Dory in the sequel to the 2003 hit animated film “Finding Nemo.” In “Finding Dory,” the funny fish and her friends Marlin and Nemo cross the ocean once more in search of Dory’s parents. A number of stars lend their voices to the movie, including “Modern Family” actors Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy and Sigourney Weaver (as herself).
“Finding Dory” brought in approximately $486.3 million domestically and $542.3 worldwide for a total worldwide gross of more than $1 billion.
2017: 'Wonder Woman'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $103 million
- Worldwide Gross: $821 million
Gal Gadot stars as the titular character in this DC Comic film, which follows an Amazonian warrior who leaves home to help fight a looming conflict in the outside world.
Gadot led this superhero movie to box office victory in 2017. The film had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any movie directed by a woman, NPR reported, and it was the No. 3 grossing DC Comic film of all time, beat out only by “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” “Wonder Woman” is also the No. 27 highest-grossing domestic film of all time.
2018: 'Incredibles 2'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $183 million
- Worldwide Gross: $1.24 billion
Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter voice Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl in this highly awaited sequel to “The Incredibles.” In this animated film, the two characters must reverse roles to take on a new mission, with Elastigirl going out to save the world while Mr. Incredible stays behind to manage the house.
The film earned nearly double its predecessor’s earnings: “The Incredibles,” which came out in 2004, grossed $633 million worldwide, while “The Incredibles 2” grossed $1.24 billion. It’s the No. 1 animated film of all time, and the No. 10 highest-grossing domestic film of all time.
2019: 'Toy Story 4'
- Opening Weekend Gross: $121 million
- Worldwide Gross: $861 million, as of July 23, 2019
As of July 23, “Toy Story 4” was the highest-grossing summer film of 2019. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reprised their roles as Woody and Buzz Lightyear for the animated film, which follows the old toy gang as they go on a road trip.
“Toy Story 4” has already out-earned the original “Toy Story,” which grossed $373 million worldwide, and “Toy Story 2,” which grossed $497 million. It remains to be seen whether “Toy Story 4” keeps the top spot or gets dethroned by “The Lion King,” which came out on July 19 and boasts an all-star cast that includes Beyoncé and Donald Glover.
Click through to see the critically acclaimed movies that bombed at the box office.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
All box office figures are according to Box Office Mojo, an online box-office reporting service owned by IMDB. Figures are accurate as of July 23, 2019.
About the Author
Michelle Smith is a freelance business and finance writer with an extensive background in journalism. She served as a foreign correspondent for Russia Today, and as a resource reporter for Dig Media, her work was published on numerous channels, including Gold Investing News, Platinum Investing News and Diamond Investing News. She also contributed to Money News, Fool.com, Money Crashers and The Food Institute.