ByBenjamin Eaton, writer at
Resident bookworm and semi-professional nerd. Find me on Twitter: @Singapore_Rice
Benjamin Eaton

Literature is a popular stomping ground for Hollywood, and always has been. Movies based on novels, plays, short stories and poems are still regular heavyweight contenders at the global box office, often becoming some of the industry's most profitable titles. So much so, in fact, that the film rights to many books often rivals the cost of their initial publication, as studios clamor to get their hands on the next billion dollar franchise.

Here's a look at the top 5 highest-grossing movie adaptations ever, and the upcoming films that could close the book on their contenders.

Top 5 Highest Grossing Adaptations:

5. Alice In Wonderland (2010)

'Alice In Wonderland' [Credit: Disney]
'Alice In Wonderland' [Credit: Disney]
  • Directed By: Tim Burton
  • Un-adjusted Worldwide Gross: $1.025 Billion

Tim Burton broke the bank with Alice In Wonderland, ushering in a new era of Disney live-action remakes. During its theatrical run, it became the second highest grossing children's book adaptation of all time, warranting a sequel that delved into the maddening background of Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter.

4. Jurassic Park (1994)

  • Directed By: Steven Spielberg
  • Un-adjusted Worldwide Gross: $1.029 Billion

Of all the movies in the prehistoric franchise, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park draws most heavily on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name. The source material has informed every concurrent sequel, helping the franchise to well over $5 billion worldwide. Colin Trevorrow's eclipsed Spielberg's classic creature feature, but it's more of an original story than an adaptation or, if you will, more of an Indominus than a T-Rex.

3. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Denethor in 'Return of the King' [Credit: New Line Cinema]
Denethor in 'Return of the King' [Credit: New Line Cinema]
  • Directed By: Peter Jackson
  • Un-adjusted Worldwide Gross: $1.119 Billion

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is widely considered the gold-standard for book-to-movie adaptations, treating the source material with reverence while giving it a spectacular new lease of life for the screen. The franchise won numerous Academy Awards and revolutionized cinema with a variety of new filming technologies. Talk about one franchise to rule them all.

2. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

  • Directed By: Bill Condon
  • Un-adjusted Worldwide Gross: $1.252 Billion

Beauty and the Beast is easily the most recent release on the list, but Disney's live-action update has already taken second place. The Emma Watson fairy tale takes the live-action era of Disney movies to new heights, and with more and more reboots coming down the line, it's a safe bet that more live-action Disney remakes will be creeping over that coveted billion dollar mark over the next few years.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
  • Directed By: David Yates
  • Un-adjusted Worldwide Gross: $1.341 Billion

At the time of its release, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was an unparalleled cinematic event. It had the weight of seven globally-renowned novels and seven box office hits behind it, as well as a devoted fanbase that had grown up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Warner Brothers will be hoping to replicate that success as their budding prequel saga Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them begins to explore the dark days of Gelert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

So, which upcoming titles could make the list? With the exception of Jurassic Park, every film on this list had an established fanbase that went beyond the source material before production began. This goes to show the immense power remakes and sequels have, making it even less surprising as to why studios often reimagine popular titles from the past. With that in mind, let's take a look at the films looking to claim a place on this prestigious list.

Upcoming Adaptations That Could Enter The Top 5:

Ready Player One (2018)

'Ready Player One' [Credit: Warner Bros]
'Ready Player One' [Credit: Warner Bros]
  • Directed By: Steven Spielberg

Many young adult novels never quite capture an audience as well as on the page, but is uniquely suited to the cinematic treatment. The novel is woven from 1980s pop culture references, and it's hard not to overstate this movie's chances at the box office with Steven Spielberg at the helm. With his regular collaborator, John Williams, stepping in to compose the score, it seems like a sci-fi classic in the making.

As with any hit, however, the timing needs to be right. The science fiction epic will release just after Star Wars: The Last Jedi has completed its theatrical run, so Ready Player One will be the only game in the arcade when it releases in 2018, which can't hurt its chances.

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them 2 (2018)

Grindelwald in 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
Grindelwald in 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
  • Directed By: David Yates

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them didn't quite reach the commercial heights of other J.K. Rowling properties, but it laid a confident groundwork for future sequels to recapture that magic. With the sequel due to explore the younger days of beloved headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is guaranteed to surpass its predecessor at the worldwide box office.

Fantastic Beasts made $814,037,575 worldwide, so its sequel certainly has a chance of entering the top five highest grossing adaptations of all time. Whether it can aim for the billion dollar mark remains to be seen, but with more and more movies climbing past that coveted position, Warner Bros. will have their Nifflers on alert with the future of Fantastic Beasts.

Mortal Engines (2018)

'Mortal Engines' [Credit: Universal]
'Mortal Engines' [Credit: Universal]
  • Directed By: Christian Rivers

The mechanical dystopia of Phillip Reeves' will be helmed by Christian Rivers, supported by the mastery of Peter Jackson. Young adult dystopias have varied in quality since the staggering success of The Hunger Games, but this imaginative story about nomadic cities in a post-apocalyptic world could mark a spectacular return to form from the genre.

The film is not only being filmed in the natural splendor of New Zealand with an extraordinary visionary style akin to Miyazaki animations, but also features an epic love-story. If The Hunger Games: Catching Fire can gross $865,011,746 worldwide, there's a chance Mortal Engines could break the billion dollar mark if it resonates with the young adult demographic.

The Little Mermaid

'The Little Mermaid' [Credit: Disney]
'The Little Mermaid' [Credit: Disney]
  • Producers: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken

The official live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid is still a painfully long way off, with actor, creator, and Disney super-fan Lin-Manuel Miranda pegged for the role of creative producer alongside songwriter, Alan Menken. However, Miranda recently offered an update on their currently legless production of the remake:

“We’re in super-early talks — I literally don’t have a title for what my job on The Little Mermaid is yet. Right now, it’s the guy who wears the ‘don’t mess it up’ hat. If I could sign a contract with that job title on it, that would be great! But that’s sort of where we are.”

Miranda's well-documented appreciation of the original animation shines in his determination to make this remake successful, and it's a very exciting prospect, especially given the runaway success of Beauty and the Beast.


  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Release: N/A

Disney and Tim Burton have been creating successful titles together for years, but when you factor in that the story of Dumbo has remained comparatively untouched since its release in 1941, you start to get a sense of the scale of this live-action Disney remake.

Based on the popular children's story by Helen Aberson, the live-action Dumbo is likely to take a different approach than the original animation, just as Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book have in recent years. Adding to Burton's prestige is the emerging cast of A-list talent, with Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Colin Farrell and Michael Keaton confirmed to star.

Although these titles will be looking to outperform the current top five, this isn't the full story. To really make their mark on cinematic history, they'd have to contend with the top five highest grossing adaptations when adjusted for inflation.

Top 5 Adaptations When Adjusted For Inflation:

Adjusting ticket prices for inflation has become common practice for gauging the long-term success of any movie, and doing so gives us a very different list of adapted box office hits.

5. The Exorcist (1973)

  • Directed By: William Friedkin
  • Worldwide Gross Adjusted For Inflation: $1.794 Billion

William Friedkin helmed the infamous horror flick centering on a demonic possession with a notoriously labored production. The screenplay for The Exorcist was initially turned down in droves, and folktales about its tortured development gave it a cult status.

4. Jaws (1975)

'Jaws' [Credit: Universal]
'Jaws' [Credit: Universal]
  • Directed By: Steven Spielberg
  • Worldwide Gross Adjusted For Inflation: $2.027 Billion

Spielberg pioneered a phobia with Jaws, making millions of movie-goers the world over afraid to get back into open water. The novel of the same name was written the year before by Peter Benchley and it became a widely popular book-club read, spawning a franchise with one of the most iconic soundtracks ever scored.

3. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

 'Doctor Zhivago' (Credit: MGM)
'Doctor Zhivago' (Credit: MGM)
  • Directed By: David Lean
  • Worldwide gross Adjusted For Inflation: $2.073 Billion

The historical epic Doctor Zhivago, starring Sir Alec Guinness, won five Oscars - including Best Adapted Screenplay. It is currently the eighth highest grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation, and is considered one of the greatest British films of all time by the British Film Institute.

2. The Sound of Music (1965)

'The Sound of Music' [Credit: Fox]
'The Sound of Music' [Credit: Fox]
  • Directed By: Robert Wise
  • Worldwide Gross Adjusted For Inflation: $2.366 Billion

The Sound of Music is a testament to the power of literary adaptations, and how deviating from the source material isn't always a harmful approach. This timeless classic was adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which was in turn adapted from the memoirs of the real-life Maria von Trapp. Rodgers and Hammerstein took the musical themes of the memoir and used that as the spine for their adaptation, taking liberties that many wouldn't consider attempting.

1. Gone With the Wind (1939)

'Gone With The Wind' (Credit: MGM)
'Gone With The Wind' (Credit: MGM)
  • Directed By: Victor Fleming
  • Worldwide Gross Adjusted For Inflation: $3.440 Billion

Margaret Mitchell's novel 'Gone With the Wind' and the Victor Fleming film based on it both remain iconic pieces of art in their own right. While the novel is criticized for its attitudes towards people of color, the film broke ground by becoming the first movie ever in which an African American won an Academy Award. It's widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, and it's been preserved in the National Film Registry for its cultural significance.

"Filmed and presented on a scale not seen in modern productions, Gone with the Wind is, if not the definitive Hollywood film, then certainly near the top of the list."

- Rotten Tomatoes

It's hard to believe any adaptation will ever gross as much as Gone With the Wind did in 1939 once inflation is considered. Once the adjustment is considered, it is by far the most successful, making more than twice as much as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Do you think any of these upcoming adaptations have a chance of toppling one of the champions from the worldwide box office? Sound off below!


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