20 Best Movies To Gross Over $1 Billion, Ranked


If hitting the $1 billion mark was once thought of as a major milestone, it’s now almost an expectation for certain films. Largely due to Disney’s pre-pandemic efforts, the $1 billion mark is now a barometer against which most blockbusters must measure. And while the pandemic did slow down the number of movies that reach it, cinemagoing has slowly but surely recovered, with 2023 delivering two billion-dollar hits.

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The movie industry might be struggling to earn back audience attention as it competes with streaming services, but the truth of the matter is that audiences will turn out in droves to see good movies. Over 50 movies have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office, but only a few can confidently be considered great. These 20 films are as high quality as they were financially successful, proving that there is such a thing as the right mix between art and commercialism.

Numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

20 ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (2015)

Worldwide Earnings: $2,071,310,218

Image via Walt Disney Pictures

Star Wars: The Force Awakens did everything a legacy sequel should do. While familiar characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (the late great Carrie Fisher) returned for rewarding roles, what drove the audience in masses to see the film repeatedly was the charisma of the new stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac as the next generation of heroes. The film also introduced Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, the most complex villain in the entire saga.

Alas, The Force Awakens was just more of the same. Basically a rehash of A New Hope, the film settled for safety rather than attempting to do something fresh with the venerable franchise. Still, fans appreciated this certainty, as The Force Awaken’s box office speaks for itself. And while time has not been necessarily kind to it, it is an enjoyable film and a worthy addition to the franchise.

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19 ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ (2006)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,066,179,747

A close-up of Davy Jones in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest'
Image via Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Gore Verbinski, the initial Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy represents some of the weirdest and most original studio blockbuster filmmaking of the 21st century. Who would have thought that a Disney amusement park ride would end up inspiring an epic trilogy with the scope and scale of The Lord of the Rings? Yet, against all odds, the films became true cinematic phenomenons of the noughties, featuring memorable characters and spectacular VFX that hold to this day.

2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest introduced Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in one of the greatest motion capture performances of all time. In hindsight, Dead Man’s Chest’s success is quite surprising, especially because its predecessor didn’t make anywhere near these numbers. It only speaks to audiences’ willingness to flood the movie theaters when big-screen spectacle is matched by movie star charisma and the reliability of a studio like Disney.

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18 ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,081,169,825

A masked mercenary glares into the eyes of a CIA agent on a plane.
Image via Warner Bros.

Although widely seen as a somewhat underwhelming film compared to the brilliance of its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises remains one of the superior superhero movies. It was clear that Nolan wasn’t trying to make the same crime thriller he had before and was more interested in crafting an emotional and spiritual epic that commentated on social issues.

While its reach far exceeded its grasp, The Dark Knight Rises stands as a suitable ending to what arguably remains the greatest trilogy in superhero cinema. It is one of the rare superhero movies where there are actual consequences and a definitive conclusion. It might fall prey to its own grand ideas and suffer from a truly flawed third act, but a worthy cast and some of Nolan’s most ambitious action setpieces make it a thrilling and worthy time at the movies—and clearly, contemporary audiences agree.

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17 ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)

Worldwide Earnings: $2,799,439,100

The Avengers standing in a group and looking ahead in Avengers: Endgame
Image via Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame serves as the perfect closing chapter for the Multiverse Saga, helping the epic franchise reach a conclusion that ushered out the first generation of Marvel’s heroes. Despite being three hours long, the film is brilliantly structured, with the first act focused on the Avengers’ collective grief, the second act focused on the time travel element, and the third act serving as a final standoff with Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Praised to no end for its ambition and emotional pay-off, Avengers: Endgame arguably remains the cinematic event of the new millennium. Not even Marvel’s Phases 4 and 5 have been able to live up to it. In more ways than one, Endgame was the end of an era, not only for its parent franchise but for the superhero genre as a whole. And while more heroic adventures will come, none will probably match the heights achieved by this film.

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16 ‘The Avengers’ (2012)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,520,538,536

The Avengers assemble in the Battle of New York scene in The Avengers
Image via Marvel Studios

After over a decade in existence and an increasingly countless quantity of movies and streaming projects, the MCU’s first team-up remains among their finest efforts. While the scope and spectacle of The Avengers may not be as impressive as it was in 2012, largely thanks to the increasing complexity of the saga’s storytelling, The Avengers is a perfect combination of heart, humor, and emotion sewn together by terrific writing and directing.

The Avengers proved what the MCU was capable of both critically and financially. It defied expectations and brought about both the superhero and cinematic universe craze that dominated most of the 2010s. The Avengers paved the way for many of the decade’s greatest box office successes by proving that an interconnected story could succeed on a large scale. And while the Avengers got too big for their britches, their first team-up will always stand out as proof of its brilliance.

The Avengers (2012) poster

The Avengers
Release Date
May 4, 2012

Director
Joss Whedon

Runtime
143 minutes

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15 ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2’ (2011)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,342,359,942

Promotional image for 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2'
Image via Warner Bros. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2 served as a perfect closing chapter on the saga, and ended up being director David Yates’ best achievement within the Potter franchise. Audiences had grown a strong attachment to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in the decade since their first appearances, and it was fulfilling to see a definitive ending to Harry, Ron, and Hermionies’ journeys.

Before the superhero boom of the early 2010s, Harry Potter was the movie event each summer. The films earned a strong and loyal fanbase that remains active today, over a decade since the last entry. And while the saga has lost some of its luster, largely thanks to the controversial comments of its creator, the original eight films can still stand as crucial entries in 21st-century cinema.

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14 ‘Avatar’ (2009)

Worldwide Earnings: $2,923,706,026

Neytiri and Jake in a Pandora forest in Avatar 2009
Image via 20th Century Studios

It’s nice to see that the highest-grossing film of all time is not only an original movie but a pretty good one, too! Avatar combined James Cameron’s passion for environmentalism with some of the most incredible world-building in cinematic history. The use of the then-innovative 3D technology, plus Cameron’s reputation as a true auteur, resulted in Avatar becoming a phenomenon in late 2009 and early 2010.

Unsurprisingly, since its initial theatrical release in 2009, Avatar’s standing has only increased, holding up as both a marvelous feat of technical wonder and a terrific piece of classical storytelling. Its success story is nothing short of impressive; after all, how often do you see a film that opened to $77 million rise to earn over $2 billion? Avatar is a one-of-a-kind achievement and further confirmation that Cameron really is a trailblazing, once-in-a-generation talent.

avatar_movie_poster

Avatar
Release Date
December 10, 2009

Director
James Cameron

Runtime
162

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13 ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,155,046,416

Captain America and his team running into battle in Captain America- Civil War
Image via Marvel Studios

Captain America: Civil War holds up years later as not only the best film that Joe and Anthony Russo have directed but also the rare MCU team-up movie where the individual characters stand out and have unique arcs. There’s a fulfillment of Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) journey as a leader as he questions the nature of the Sokovia Accords and risks his life to rescue his lifelong best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

Arguably the most important non-Avenger MCU entry, Civil War pushed the franchise into a new, darker direction. The film introduced several major players into the MCU, including Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Baron Zemo, while reintroducing Thunderbolt Ross. With truly gripping action setpieces and an emotionally resonant story that made audiences care about the heroes on screen, Captain America: Civil War remains one of Marvel’s greatest triumphs.

Captain America: Civil War poster

Captain America: Civil War

Political involvement in the Avengers’ affairs causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man.

Release Date
May 6, 2016
Cast
Chris Evans , Robert Downey Jr. , Scarlett Johansson , Sebastian Stan , Anthony Mackie , Don Cheadle , Jeremy Renner , Chadwick Boseman , Paul Bettany , Elizabeth Olsen , Paul Rudd , Tom Holland

Runtime
147 minutes

Watch on Disney+

12 ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ (2022)

Worldwide Earnings: $2,320,250,281

Jake Sully on rock in ocean looking to the distance in Avatar: The Way of Water
Image via 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water did the impossible: it topped its predecessor as both a technical accomplishment and on a story level. While the original Avatar often gets accused of rehashing classic tropes in favor of an uninspired story, the sequel went all out with the world-building, expanding the fascinating world of Pandora to breathtaking results.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Avatar: The Way of Water is the most incredible visual achievement in film history. It’s also true that it succeeds as an emotionally powerful film. Fleshing out the Sully family and the culture of the Na’vi. After years of facing doubters, James Cameron proved that, yes, people still cared about Avatar. « Never bet against Cameron » has always been around, but after The Way of Water’s success, it is now something of a Hollywood ethos.

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11 ‘Zootopia’ (2016)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,025,521,689

Judy Hopps running confidently and smiling in Zootopia
Image via Disney

In the past decade, Walt Disney Animation proved to be more inventive and consistent than Pixar. While Pixar largely focused on sequels, prequels, and reimaginings, Walt Disney Animation took on more creative stories that combined new, instantly iconic characters with incredible advancements in 3D animation. Zootopia is a particular standout because of its social message and relevance to modern conversations about discrimination, privilege, over-policing, and political corruption.

The fact that it included all these themes and messages so effectively while not being subtle at all is already praiseworthy. Add its gorgeous animation, stellar voice acting, and vibrant, compelling narrative, and Zootopia becomes one of Disney’s greatest modern achievements. Because Disney is, well, Disney, a sequel to Zootopia is already in the works. Hopefully, it will keep the essence that made the original such a commercial and critical hit.

zootopia-poster

Zootopia
Release Date
February 11, 2016

Director
Byron Howard , Rich Moore , Jared Bush

Runtime
108

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10 ‘Black Panther’ (2018)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,349,926,083

Black Panther with his mask off spreading his arms in Marvel Studios' Black Panther
Image via Marvel Studios

Black Panther was not only among the best installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also a cultural event, unlike anything the superhero genre had ever seen before. The film placed great emphasis on the richness of Black culture, becoming a landmark in representation and elevating the MCU into the prestigious territory it had long eluded it.

Even without the connective tissue of the MCU, Black Panther works brilliantly as the story of a rising hero coping with his father’s legacy as he attempts to lead a struggling nation. Black Panther became the first superhero movie ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and served as a perfect representation of the movie star magnitude of the late great Chadwick Boseman.

Black Panther Film Poster

Black Panther
Release Date
February 16, 2018

Director
Ryan Coogler

Runtime
134 minutes

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9 ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,334,407,706

Rose Tico and Finn talking at a Rebel base in Star Wars- The Last Jedi
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is one of the boldest achievements in the modern blockbuster era. Instead of crafting a generic sequel that simply replicated the plot beats of The Empire Strikes Back—much like its predecessor did with A New Hope—director Rian Johnson flipped the script. By choosing to analyze the core themes of the Star Wars saga and examine whether or not the Jedi Order is justified in its mission, The Last Jedi became the most important entry in the saga since the original trilogy.

Mark Hamill gives the performance of his career as an older, more cynical version of Luke Skywalker facing self-doubt and his questionable past. The Last Jedi was a true breath of fresh air in a franchise that had settled for rehashing familiar concepts for too long. It stands as an innovative and daring piece of filmmaking, one that dares to question the very nature of the franchise that birthed it.

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8 ‘Barbie’ (2023)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,445,638,421

Barbie smiling in front of a glass-less mirror in Barbie (2023)
Image via Warner Bros.

Margot Robbie owned 2023 as the star and producer of the year’s biggest movie. Barbie is a true reinvention of the famous doll, thanks to Greta Gerwig’s assured direction and her witty, unsubtle screenplay, written with her real-life partner, Noah Baumbach. Scene-stealing, Oscar-nominated performances from Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera further enhance this pink-colored extravaganza, taking it to the top of the box office charts.

Yet, there’s more to Barbie than just plastic. The film is a resonant exploration of womanhood and gender dynamics that coats its message under a heavy dose of humor and flare. Barbie is never preachy and is actually quite fair in its observations of the patriarchy and what it means to be a woman living in it. Barbie is among the best movies of the 2020s, and a major box office milestone for women in front of and behind the camera.

Barbie Film Poster

Barbie
Release Date
July 21, 2023

Runtime
114 minutes

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7 ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,495,696,292

Maverick flying a plane in Top Gun- Maverick’ (2022)
Image via Paramount Pictures

After years of development and further pushbacks due to the complications in theatrical moviegoing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick surpassed all expectations with its rousing tribute to the theatrical moviegoing experience. Not only was the film confirmation that Tom Cruise was still the greatest movie star in the world, but it became known as the film that « saved the business » due to audiences’ collective desire to see the film again and again.

It wasn’t just the audience that embraced it. Maverick was celebrated by critics as the perfect combination of Cruise’s daredevil instincts and his renowned artistry. Much of Top Gun: Maverick’s box office success was due to the use of IMAX screens, which made the incredible practical aerial combat scenes even more exciting. More than The Way of Water, Maverick was the movie event 2022, a throwback to the classic action movies Hollywood loved to make during the late 20th century.

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6 ‘Skyfall’ (2012)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,142,471,295

James Bond running down the street in Skyfall
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Skyfall is the greatest film in the entire James Bond franchise because it took on the challenge of analyzing the history of a character that had existed for 50 years. Where did 007 come from, and what relevance did he have in a modern era of espionage? Sam Mendes took these questions to heart with a probing examination of MI6 that also happened to feature some of the franchise’s best setpieces ever, lensed by brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Daniel Craig proved he was the most complex and charismatic actor to ever step into 007’s shoes, while Judi Dench delivered a haunting and sorrowful turn in what would be her last stint as M. However, it was Javier Bardem’s cunning and chilling villain that ran away with the film, cementing Skyfall as the best Bond movie of the modern era.

skyfall-james-bond-movie-poster

Skyfall
Release Date
October 25, 2012

Director
Sam Mendes

Runtime
143

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5 ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,067,316,101

Barbie and Ken smiling and talking in Toy Story 3
Image via Pixar

Choosing the best installment in the Toy Story series is a matter of choosing one out of three masterpieces and an above-average but highly unnecessary fourth entry. While all four films are emotionally gut-wrenching and narratively complex in their own ways, Toy Story 3 wrestles with the difficult themes of growing up and moving on. It also might just be the funniest film in the franchise, thanks to the Spanish-speaking Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the introduction of Michael Keaton as Ken.

Toy Story 3 was also a critical hit, becoming the third (and to this date, most recent) animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The film conquered the box office, effortlessly hitting the $1 billion mark and proving that nostalgia can be a powerful tool as long as it’s done right.

toy story 3 poster

Toy Story 3
Release Date
June 16, 2010

Director
Lee Unkrich

Runtime
103

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4 ‘Titanic’ (1997)

Worldwide Earnings: $2,264,743,305

Jack and Fabrizio at the Titanic's bow raising their arms in celebration and laughing in Titanic
Image via Paramount Pictures

The most recent re-release of Titanic proves once again that Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose’s (Kate Winslet) romance still holds great power over audiences worldwide. Cameron’s timeless love story hasn’t aged a day since its initial release, and the three-hour running time flies by, thanks to the film’s unique blend of romance, heightened drama, and technically dazzling visual effects.

Titanic’s financial achievements changed the box office forever. If that wasn’t good enough, it was also a huge critical hit. Titanic ties the record for most Academy Award wins with its eleven victories, including Best Picture and Best Director. Today, Titanic remains widely celebrated as one of the all-time great Best Picture winners, a triumphant cinematic achievement that stands as a before and after in cinematic history.

Titanic Movie Poster

Titanic
Release Date
November 19, 1997

Director
James Cameron

Runtime
194 minutes

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3 ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,109,802,321

Ian Malcolm, John Hammond, Ellie Sattler, and Alan Grant watching a dinosaur egg hatch in Jurassic Park
Image via Universal Pictures

Five sequels and two decades later, nothing will ever top the original Jurassic Park. Once again, Steven Spielberg proved why he is the greatest living filmmaker with a timeless blockbuster adventure that featured all the heart, humor, thrills, and sense of awe that modern cinema is sorely lacking. The film was a groundbreaking technical achievement, leaving audiences in awe of the heights cinema could reach.

Jurassic Park wasn’t special just because of its visual accomplishments, which were extraordinary in 1993 and remain a wonder today. It inspired audience love because of its rich characters and the charisma that Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum brought to the screen. With Spielberg’s trademark touch behind the camera and a parade of wonderous dino creations on display, Jurassic Park became the defining movie of the early ’90s—and remains one of the single best blockbusters in motion picture history.

jurassic-park-poster-bottleneck-variant

Jurassic Park
Release Date
June 11, 1993

Runtime
127

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2 ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,006,234,167

Bruce Wayne looking intently ahead while his Batman suit rests behind him in The Dark Knight
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

The Dark Knight isn’t just the best superhero movie ever made or the best film in Christopher Nolan‘s filmography; it has stood the test of time as a modern cinematic classic. The film combined the rapid pacing Nolan inherited from Michael Mann, an all-time great villainous performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, and fascinating insights into escalation, political corruption, and the rise of domestic terrorism.

Few films can compare with The Dark Knight’s rich, complex legacy. It was the film of the moment, breaking box office records and dominating the conversation for much of 2008 and the immediate years after. The Dark Knight leaves behind a great legacy for Nolan; its omission from the Best Picture lineup is credited with inspiring the Academy Awards to go from five to ten nominees.

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1 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)

Worldwide Earnings: $1,147,633,833

Frodo holds the ring on a chain in Lord of the Rings Return of the King
Image via New Line Cinema

While all three films within The Lord of the Rings trilogy are masterpieces in their own right, The Return of the King provided the most perfect ending that fans of J.R.R. Tolkien could have asked for. Thrilling to the point of becoming breathtaking, Return of the King is among the rare movies deserving of the title « epic. » Every aspect is excellent, from the production values to the score, to the acting, to the editing and cinematography. The film is a beautiful piece of cinema that transports audiences to a new world, making Frodo’s quest feel all the more personal and vital.

Return of the King is the greatest achievement within Peter Jackson’s trilogy on both an action and emotional level. No battle was more epic than the massive Battle of Gondor, and no moment had quite the same power as seeing Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd) reunited for the first time since the beginning of their journey. Return of the King is pretty much a perfect movie and the ultimate presentation of the Fantasy genre on screen.

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NEXT: Every Adventure Movie That Won Best Picture at the Oscars, Ranked

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