ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

Leafing through the highest grossing movies of all time is like entering a time capsule of the cultural cinematic zeitgeist of various decades, and it truly highlights how diverse our taste in movies is as viewers.

From sci-fi epics in a galaxy far, far way to dancing quiffs and regal lions, these movies show us that almost any type of film, be it animated, action-packed or musical, has the potential to make it big and is a true celebration of the variety we get to drink in as theatergoers.

The list below has been adjusted for inflation, because a 1977 dollar is a whole different ball game to a 2009 dollar. The gross estimates you see are based on how much the movie would have raked in if it sold as many tickets today as when it was originally released.

So, get ready to load up your Netflix library to sample some of the most successful movies of all time, if you haven't seen them already, and let the fun begin!

21. Ghostbusters (1984) - $576,147,288

Director: Paul Feig

A seminal '80s classic, Ghostbusters entered our cultural consciousness and has remained lodged there ever since. Rarely does a movie have such a powerful pop culture influence, let alone one about blokes battling spirits, but this Paul Feig gem managed to pull it off with aplomb.

Fun Fact: It's hard to believe because of the perfect comic timing, but almost none of the scenes were filmed straight off the script. Almost every scene has a a few ad-libs thrown in and nearly all of Bill Murray's lines were crafted on the spot.

20. Independence Day (1996) - $583,851,987

Director: Roland Emmerich

The Will Smith-fronted Independence Day took theaters by storm with its dramatic tale of aliens, heroism and mankind's will to survive against a foe who is so technically advanced it makes us look like mere chimps.

This patriotic epic really comes into its own with the explosive action scenes that show buildings being obliterated along with heroic men's lives in beautifully choreographed fashion.

Fun Fact: The scene where Will Smith drags an unconscious alien across the desert was filmed on salt flats in Utah and contains a memorable improvised line about the stench of the place. When Smith says, "And what the hell is that smell?!" he is referring to the rank odor of millions of decaying brine shrimp merrily decomposing at the bottom of the lake. Yum!

19. Spider-Man (2002) $585,756,409

Director: Sam Raimi

The classic superhero story of weedy nerd turned superpowered spider took cinemas by storm as Marvel fans in their droves flocked to get a look at Spidey's iconic scarlet spandex on the silver screen.

Starring Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, the movie's upside-down kiss scene is frequently ranked in lists of the most iconic cinematic smooches of all time, and who can argue with that? Relive the scene below:

Fun Fact: Hugh Jackman was supposed to have a brief cameo in the movie as Wolverine but when he rocked up to New York to shoot the scene he couldn't get his hands on the Wolverine costume from X-Men, so the entire concept was put to bed.

18. Shrek 2 (2004) $592,504,152

Shrek meets Fiona parents.
Shrek meets Fiona parents.

Director: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon

Centering around Shrek and Princess Fiona visiting her parents for a posh dinner party to celebrate their new marriage, this comedy romp delivers the laughs as the harsh green truth that their daughter is an ogre sinks in.

Eddie Murphey's turn as Donkey is just as hilarious as in the first movie, and Michael Myers continues to play his comic timing with all the precision of a master watchmaker.

Fun Fact: The talented Antonio Banderas also voices Puss in Boots in Spanish and Italian.

17. Grease (1978) $602,892,685

Director: Randal Kleiser

Whipping up an all-singing-all-dancing musical storm before High School Musical was even a glimmer in its amorous parent's eyes, Grease comes in at No. 17 on the highest grossing movies of all time list.

Sure, so-called teenagers look about as school aged as Ian Somerhalder in the first season of Vampire Diaries, but who can forget the iconic costume design and even more iconic karaoke classics? It's electrifying!

Fun Fact: Thanks to a popped zipper, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into the trousers she wears in the final carnival scene.

16. The Dark Knight (2008) $626,080,555

Director: Christopher Nolan

Featuring Heath Ledger's unforgettable final point as the manic, grease paint smeared Joker, The Dark Knight was heralded as a return to form for Batman and saw Christian Bale throwing himself into the role with vigor.

As the Caped Crusader takes on one of the biggest psychological battles of his life to fight injustice, the people of Gotham are subjected to a reign of terror from the erratic Joker and it's an explosive thrill ride from start to finish.

Fun Fact: Heath Ledger designed the Joker make-up himself using cheap face paint and beauty products from a drugstore. His reasoning was that the Joker would have come up with his own threatening look and used whatever resources were easily available to him.

15. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) $627,524,656

Director: Steven Spielberg

The second appearance of aliens on the highest grossing movies of all time list sees heavyweight director Steven Spielberg making his first appearance.

Showing various parallel storylines unfolding along side each other, the movie revolves around a man who feels inexplicably drawn to a remote patch of wilderness after and encounter with a U.F.O.

Fun Fact: Steven Spielberg once said that absolutely nothing in his life has been more difficult than editing the final 25 minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

14. Jurassic World (2015) $652,198,010

Director: Colin Trevorrow

The Jurassic Park crew didn't learn from their mistakes and Jurassic World sees the dinos running wild and threatening to devour more people like mere peanuts than the first time round.

Fronted by the ever popular Chris Pratt and featuring appearances from all our favorite scaly chums, including the velociraptors and T-Rex, Jurassic World was box office gold on an Indominus Rex scale.

Fun Fact: Pratt actually predicting his casting in the film in the Season 2 Parks and Recreation DVD where he reads a fake text from Steven Spielberg saying he has been cast in Jurassic Park 4.

13 The Avengers (2012) $660,081,224

Director: Joss Whedon

The first time the Avengers assembled was box office gold for Marvel and this superhero assembly epic is the second comic book offering to make it into the highest grossing movies ranking.

With typical Whedon humor and beautifully choreographed group fight scenes, this mismatched group of heroes brings the badass from start to finish and then washes it all down with a nice shawarma.

Fun Fact: To prepare for the role of Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner was trained by Olympic archers.

12. Forrest Gump (1994) $677,605,996

Forrest Gump famous bus stop scene
Forrest Gump famous bus stop scene

Director: Robert Zemeckis

What he lacks for in intelligence, Forrest Gump makes up for in charm and accent. This epic love story sees Gump wining medals, starting a ping pong craze, writing songs and meeting the president several times, but none of this matters because all he can think of is his childhood sweetheart, Jenny.

Fun Fact: Tom Hanks's younger brother, Jim Hanks, doubled for him in a lot of his numerous running sequences.

11. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) $708,393,874

Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Director: Steven Spielberg

Spielberg's second entry into the highest grossing movies of all time is the unforgettable Indiana Jones epic that sees Harrison Ford cracking his whip against the worst villain of them all: the Nazis.

Fun Fact: Most of the body blows you hear throughout the movie's numerous fight scenes were created by hitting a pile of leather jackets with a baseball bat. Sounds bizarrely therapeutic tbh.

10. Jurassic Park (2003) $760,802,636

Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park

Director: Steven Spielberg

Apparently people just can't get enough of dinosaurs (especially when they are nomming someone sitting on the toilet) and Jurassic Park sees the reptilian overlords (not the David Ike sort) dominating the cinema.

The preview tour gone terribly wrong has terrorized kids for over a decade and it still holds its own today in terms of effects if you want to have a nostalgic peek back into your childhood.

Fun Fact: Jurassic Park actually gave studying paleontology a huge boost and universities saw a record increase in students.

9. Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace (1999) $761,329,663

Sith Lord Darth Maul
Sith Lord Darth Maul

Director: George Lucas

People might have been foaming at the mouth with rage at Jar Jar Binks, but they still paid for the privilege of seeing his giant Gungan face flapping away on the big screen.

Being heralded as one of the most disappointing movies of all time by many critics hasn't held this juggernaut back in terms of earnings, and while it wasn't a fan favorite, it was certainly profitable.

Fun Fact: Qui-Gon Jinn's communicator is a redecorated Sensor Excel Razor for Women. Sharp!

8. The Lion King (1994) $761,640,898

Director: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Disney's Hamlet with lions has a well deserved spot at number eight, and this beautifully rendered African epic has everything it needs to qualify as an animated masterpiece.

Whether you fall in love with the charming characters, catchy songs or unforgivingly dramatic script, The Lion King will always stay with you like the big Mufasa in the sky.

Fun Fact: A few weeks before the film opened, Elton John was given a special screening and was shocked to see the love song he wrote had been left on the cutting room floor. He successfully lobbied to have it put back into the animation and "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" won him an Oscar for best original song.

7. Star Wars Ep. VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983) $783,793,564

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader

Director: Richard Marquand

Featuring the much debated Ewoks, Return of the Jedi sees our favorite space rebels attempting to obliterate the second Death Star while Luke battles for Vader's soul in a struggle to drag him back from the Dark Side of the Force.

With a beautiful score and some surprisingly moving moments, such as when we see Vader unveiled as a very sick-looking and shockingly vulnerable man, Return of the Jedi delivers typical Star Wars excellence

Fun Fact: Harrison Ford thought it would be powerful if Han Solo sacrificed his life to save his friends, but George Lucas disagreed with him because he envisaged Han playing a heroic part in the finale.

6. Star Wars Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) $813,975,948

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker lightsaber duel
Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker lightsaber duel

Director: Irvin Kershner

1980's The Empire Strikes Back shows Luke Skywalker receiving master Jedi training from Yoda after the Rebels were brutally overpowered by the Empire. This is also the movie where the fan favorite Boba Fett is introduced.

The darker tone of the movie and the more in-depth look at Luke's spiritual journey make The Empire Strikes Back a huge fan favorite, but there are still two Star Wars films above it in terms of highest grossing movies.

Fun Fact:

5. Avatar (2009) $832,120,706


Director: James Cameron

Best known for its stunning, immersive visual effects, James Cameron's passion project Avatar dragged people to the cinema in their droves to check it out on the big screen.

Following a paraplegic marine who is dispatched to the moon of Pandora, this tale sees his struggle between following orders and doing what he knows is right on behalf of the peaceful Na'vi people and the natural world.

Fun Fact: The Na'vi language was created from scratch by linguist Dr. Paul R. Frommer. There are around 1,000 words in all that were designed to be easy to pronounce while not sounding like any existing language

4. Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens (2015) $936,390,462

Director: J.J. Abrams

After the disappointment of The Phantom Menace, Star Wars fans were finally given the wish fulfillment that they had been longing for in the beautifully executed Disney The Force Awakens.

With a look that was true to the original trilogy, thrilling new characters and a soul destroying death, The Force Awakens was an emotional roller coaster that dragged fanatics back to the cinema again and again.

Fun Fact: Poe Dameron is named after J.J. Abrams's former personal assistant, Morgan Dameron, and her daughter's stuffed polar bear named Poe.

3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $1,132,713,953

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Director: Steven Spielberg

Despite the fact that the friendly alien is inexplicably terrifying looking, E.T. won the hearts of cinema goers with his earnest quest to return home, despite the best efforts of immoral government scientists.

With a stellar performance from a young (and totally adorable) Drew Barrymore and one of the most memorable scenes in movie history as E.T. glides in front of the moon on a push bike, this out of this world movie is a children's classic.

Fun Fact: A lot of the puppetry in E.T. was performed by a 2'10" tall stuntman but the kitchen scene was performed by a 10-year-old boy who was born without legs and compensated by becoming an expert at walking on his hands.

2. Titanic (1997) $1,147,349,023

Director: James Cameron

A class-crossing love story that also happens to feature a sinking ship, Titanic had cinema-goers sobbing into their tissues as Jack's gorgeous face blubbed under the ocean for the last time.

People praise the stunning visual effects of the dramatic sinking scene, but personally I think the best thing about this movie is the introduction of the line "draw me like one of your French girls." Merci, James.

Fun Fact: After learning that she would have to go full frontal in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet decided to break the ice when they first met and flashed him.

1. Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope (1977) $1,385,076,305

Luke Skywalker blu lightsaber
Luke Skywalker blu lightsaber

Director: George Lucas

The first Star Wars movie blew cinema goers away with its expansive, lovingly crafted world and proved that everyone can enjoy sci-fi. With well fleshed-out characters and a compelling storyline, A New Hope got the franchise off on the best possible foot and it still holds the record as the highest grossing movie ever. Out of this world!

Fun Fact: George Lucas was so sure the film would flop that instead of attending the premiere, he went on vacation to Hawaii with his best bud, Steven Spielberg, to avoid the embarrassment.

Which highest grossing movie of all time is your favorite?

(Source: The Numbers)


Latest from our Creators