Throughout cinema history, Hollywood has demonstrated that there are few things it loves more than a long-term viable franchise. Once a character or world strikes a chord with mainstream audiences, there’s every chance that the studio system will keep developing stories out of it. However, while countless film series have made a tremendous impact on the film world and pop culture in general, only a few can claim they are the most successful of all-time. We took a look at the five highest-grossing film franchises — based on their unadjusted domestic box office grosses, courtesy of Box Office Mojo — and delve into the integral roles they’ve played in changing the industry.
5. James Bond (1962-2015) — $2.11 billion in 25 films
“Bond. James Bond.” One could consider the fact that 007’s film career spans 25 films — with no signs of slowing down — as giving the character an unfair advantage over other top franchises. Still, his status as one of the most recognizable and enduring fixtures of the big screen cannot be underestimated. Whether in the guise of Sean Connery, Daniel Craig or any of the other actors to assume the role, Bond films are surefire events that have only grown in their appeal, as the 2012 release of Skyfall stands as the highest-grossing entry to date. It’s anyone’s guess who will succeed Craig in the films, but the series will likely continue to be a fan favorite.
4. Batman (1989-2012) — $2.23 billion in 10 films
Aside from the Superman films, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was the release that legitimized superhero cinema as an art form that didn’t necessarily have to be fueled by campy humor. Burton’s film instead leaned on the darker elements of the character, an approach that Christopher Nolan developed even moreso with his Dark Knight trilogy. Ben Affleck may be the latest to take on the cape and cowl, but the Caped Crusader’s filmography makes him among the most solo big-screen superheroes (sorry, Iron Man!) and cements his place as perhaps the most popular comic book character ever.
3. Harry Potter (2001-2011) — $2.39 billion in 8 films
In the realm of sci-fi/fantasy films, this eight-film chronicle of The Boy Who Lived is one of the only franchises that can compete with Star Wars for its pop cultural impact and unabashed fan love. Over the span of a decade, audiences saw stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up before their eyes, as the young heroes faced terrifying foes like Lord Voldemort, the Dementors and (shudder) puberty. The resulting films beautifully translate J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful books to the big screen and collectively represent one of the most thrilling, imaginative worlds ever to grace the silver screen. Bring on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
2. Star Wars (1977-2015) — $2.85 billion in 7 films
With Star Wars once sitting pretty as the highest-grossing film of all time (before Titanic hit theaters in 1997), it’s no surprise that the George Lucas-created space opera is among the biggest franchises of all time. After all, the 1977 original is largely credited (alongside Jaws) for creating the blockbuster, and despite the (deservedly?) divisive response to the prequels, the films remain beloved to generations of moviegoers, as proven by the release of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. With Disney now steering the series’ future releases, expect Star Wars to skyrocket ahead on this list in the near future.
1. Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-2015) — $4 billion in 12 films
With so many solo franchises and cross-over films within, is it any surprise that Marvel Studios’ Avenger-heavy big-screen efforts top this list? Since 2008, the films have shaken the industry with its shared universe approach to bringing comic book heroes like Captain America and Thor to life, and even more impressively, the brand loyalty for the studio’s storytelling has become so strong that offbeat releases like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have made household names out of characters that few mainstream moviegoers had likely even heard of prior to their film adaptations. Phase Three kicked off with thehighly successful Captain America: Civil War. So expect the MCU’s popularity to only grow in the near future.
- Middle-Earth (The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit) (2001-2014) — $1.85 billion in 6 films
- Spider-Man (2002-2014) — $1.58 billion in 5 films
- Shrek (2001-2011) — $1.42 billion in 5 films
- Jurassic Park (1993-2015) — $1.42 billion in 4 films
- The Hunger Games (2012-2015) — $1.40 billion in 4 films
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