The worldwide box office reached a record $38.6 billion in ticket sales in 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times. And in a cinematic landscape packed with reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels, a whole lot of those billions are owed to the power of globally recognizable, seat-filling franchises.
This year, silver screen heavyweights like Captain Jack Sparrow, Dominic Toretto, Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker are reappearing in franchises that they’ve already helped carry over the $1 billion mark in domestic earnings. If you want to know what it takes to achieve cinematic gold, take a closer look at these mega-successful movie franchises.
Almost There: ‘Mission: Impossible’
Domestic Gross: $934.86 million
Though “Mission: Impossible II” holds the series record with a gross of $215.4 million, 2015’s “Rogue Nation” still roped in an impressive $195 million, proving that the Cruise missile isn’t losing steam. Since 1996, this series has been a consistently earning action movie workhorse.
Count on the “Mission: Impossible” franchise to glide past the billion-dollar mark when “M: I 6” hits theaters in 2018.
Domestic Gross: $1.04 billion
As the movie that kicked off the seemingly unstoppable Marvel Cinematic Universe and helped resuscitate Robert Downey Jr.’s career, it’s only just that the invincible “Iron Man” makes this list. However, it’s the third film in the series, “Iron Man 3,” that leads the financial pack with a gross of $409.01 million.
Combined, all of the MCU movies have made over $4.8 billion. That’s what you call Tony Stark money.
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Domestic Gross: $1.08 billion
One of the many franchises under the Disney-Marvel umbrella, the Avengers broke a billion with just two movies.
Featuring fan favorites like Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow, 2012’s “The Avengers” had the biggest opening weekend of all time upon its release and went on to generate a total of $623.4 million.
Domestic Gross: $1.14 billion
Between 1978 and 1987, the iconic Christopher Reeve donned the red cape in four “Superman” movies. It wasn’t until 2006 that Bryan Singer released his soft reboot-sequel hybrid, “Superman Returns.” Seven years later, Warner rebooted the series yet again with “Man of Steel,” the first film in its current DC Extended Universe series.
The biggest payday came when Superman fought the Caped Crusader in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which earned $330.4 million at the box office. However, if you adjust ticket prices for inflation, 1978’s “Superman,” the original big-budget superhero feature, soars over the competition with a gross of $507.5 million.
Domestic Gross: $1.15 billion
When it was released in 2010, “Despicable Me” was a solid surprise hit, earning $251.5 million at the box office. Though the big-eyed Minions were easily the movie’s breakout stars, the core franchise flick “Despicable Me 2” — which grossed $368.06 million — is the series’ biggest hit, out-earning 2015’s “Minions” by about $32 million.
Of course, the Minions pretty much print money. While Universal spent a reported $593 million to publicize the franchise in 2015, Minions has enjoyed tie-ins with companies from McDonald’s to Amazon.
Domestic Gross: $1.36 billion
You know what’s sparkly? All that coin the five Twilight movies made at the box office. Oh, and the vampires in those mega-hit movies.
Though all four sequels earned at least $280 million a pop, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” managed to break $300 million at the height of “Twilight” fever in 2010, making it the most successful of the series. But here’s a factoid that might restore your faith in humanity: the “Twilight” books have made more than the movies, raking in at least $1.7 billion in revenue domestically.
Domestic Gross: $1.4 billion
Comprising 13 movies, the Star Trek franchise has officially gone where about 19 other movie franchises have gone before.
With Captain Kirk transforming from William Shatner to Chris Pine along the way, the movies have been captivating audiences since 1979. At $257.7 million, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot is the most successful Trek to date. The Tribble of Shame, however, goes to 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which only managed to rake in $43.3 million.
Domestic Gross: $1.42 billion
Adjusted for inflation, 1993’s Steven Spielberg classic boasts a gross of $762.06 million. In un-adjusted terms, though, Chris Pratt’s nostalgia-laden “Jurassic World” is the series’ biggest earner at $652.3 million.
Though the dinos have already appeared in four films, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is set to hit theaters in 2018. For this one, Jeff Goldblum will reprise his role as fan favorite Dr. Ian Malcolm.
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Domestic Gross: $1.42 billion
With five movies and $1.42 billion under his big belly, Shrek takes the title of the most successful all-animated movie franchise of all time. While the most recent spin-off, 2011’s “Puss in Boots,” only managed a disappointing $149.3 million, “Shrek 2” is an absolute all-star at $441.2 million.
Along with rescuing Princess Fiona, “Shrek” managed to save DreamWorks. In a 2007 interview with The Age, company co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg not only said that the “Shrek” films defined DreamWorks as a company, but that they also “saved the company financially,” referring to the franchise as the “gift that keeps on giving.”
‘Pirates of the Caribbean’
Domestic Gross: $1.45 billion
Though franchise originator “The Curse of the Black Pearl” came out of nowhere to rocket Johnny Depp from indie darling to Disney idol and kickstart a five-movie franchise, the second film — “Dead Man’s Chest” — is the highest earner at $423.3 million. And as you might’ve guessed, “Pirates” is the only series on this list based on a theme park ride.
While “At World’s End” officially brought Jack Sparrow over the billion-dollar mark in 2007, 2017’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales” might have finally sunk the ship; it earned only $170 million on an estimated budget of $230 million.
Domestic Gross: $1.45 billion
Despite the star power of Orson Welles, 1986’s animated “Transformers: The Movie” only made $5.8 million at the box office.
However, the CGI-packed live-action franchise that Michael Bay launched in 2007 was a shocking success. “Revenge of the Fallen” alone earned $402.1 million in 2009. Although last year’s “The Last Knight” saw a sharp decline at only $125.8 million, the series easily crashed over the $1 billion mark.
Fun fact: Actor Peter Cullen has been voicing Optimus Prime since the original Saturday morning cartoon debuted in 1984.
‘The Hunger Games’
Domestic Gross: $1.45 billion
A franchise based on a successful book series, “The Hunger Games” consists of four movies released between 2012 and 2015, the most successful of which was the $424.7 million second installment, “Catching Fire.”
For the original film launch, fans basically offered themselves as tributes, voluntarily running a massive viral marketing campaign. Their fervor paid off to the tune of $408 million in box office returns for the original flick.
‘The Fast and the Furious’
Domestic Gross: $1.52 billion
Not all of the “Furious” films were hits. In fact, the third movie in the series, 2006’s “Tokyo Drift,” made only $62.5 million. However, favorites like 2015’s $353 million “Furious 7” more than carried their weight.
Despite the ups and downs of Dom and his crew, 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” proved the franchise’s tentpole status, with a $250 million budget and a cast list that reads like a who’s who of action movies.
Domestic Gross: $1.79 billion
Spider-Man must hold some sort of reboot record. Since he first hit the big screen in 2002 — with a Sam Raimi-directed movie that still holds the franchise record at $403.7 million — Peter Parker’s alter ego has been rebooted twice.
With each subsequent movie — from the well-loved “Spider-Man 2” in 2004 to the not-so-loved reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in 2014 — the box office returns continued to fall. However, this year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — a collaboration between Sony and Disney-Marvel that finally brought Spidey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — is set to buck that trend. “Homecoming” has earned $220.3 million already.
‘The Lord of the Rings’
Domestic Gross: $1.86 billion
By the time “The Return of the King” (the highest-grossing Tolkien movie at $377 million) wrapped up Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 2003, the franchise had already raked in $1.06 billion.
With the addition of three “Hobbit” films grossing around $816 million total between 2012 and 2014, Bilbo Baggins very nearly carried this franchise to the $2 billion mark. The jury’s still out on whether that’s any easier than carrying the One Ring.
Domestic Gross: $2.04 billion
It took a team of spandex-clad mutants to do it, but “X-Men” broke the $2 billion franchise barrier. True to form, the X-Men claimed the prize in their own off-kilter way — the 10 movies include timeline-warping jaunts and no less than four character spinoffs.
Without those spinoffs, the X-Men would barely have crossed the $1 billion line. Three Wolverine-centric movies have earned a combined $538.72 million at the box office, and 2016’s breakout hit “Deadpool” — based on a formerly obscure side character among the X-ranks — is the franchise’s highest earner at $363 million.
Domestic Gross: $2.11 billion
James Bond has a secret weapon for franchise dominance, and it’s not a tricky gadget — it’s sheer quantity. Between 1963 and 2015, the six different Bonds appeared in 25 movies.
Fittingly, 2015’s “Skyfall” — a critically acclaimed entry that masterfully bridges contemporary and classic “Bond” pathos — leads the pack at $304.4 million in gross receipts. Of course, inflation is on its side; in adjusted numbers, “Skyfall” plummets to number three, while 1965’s “Thunderball” takes the top spot with $661.2 million.
Domestic Gross: $2.41 billion
Between 1966 and 2016, the Caped Crusader spread his wings on the big screen 12 times. Before you start counting, yes, that figure includes more than just the Tim Burton films, the Chris Nolan flicks and the modern DCEU entries; three of Batman’s appearances have been in feature-length animated romps, including 2017’s “LEGO Batman Movie.”
Unsurprisingly, the Oscar-nominated, fan-worshipped “The Dark Knight” is the series’ crown jewel, standing at $533.3 million. However, 1989’s “Batman” clocks in at a close $556.5 when adjusted for inflation.
Domestic Gross: $2.63 billion
Harry Potter is not just the Boy Who Lived — he’s the boy who made a whole lot of money at the box office, too.
When your lowest-grossing movie still earns $234 million (that’d be the 2016 spinoff, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”), you know you’re in pretty magical shape. In 2011, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” set franchise records when it grossed $381 million, but the Potter-verse had already beaten a billion with 2005’s “Goblet of Fire.”
Domestic Gross: $3.73 billion
Star Wars might just be the most iconic blockbuster franchise in history, so it makes sense that it’s the one and only $3 billion franchise in the galaxy — and you don’t have to be Yoda to foresee that December’s “The Last Jedi” will easily carry the saga past the $4 billion mark.
In fact, the 40-year old franchise very nearly makes the billion-dollar list off just one movie. “The Force Awakens” — the highest grossing domestic movie of all time — sits at a Death Star-sized $936.7 million. However, the original Star Wars’ 1977 gross of $307.3 million translates to $1.26 billion in 2017 dollars.