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Updated: May 6, 2021 @ 2:47 pm
Stacker compiled a list of the 50 highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, from the Mummy to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, using data from The Numbers.
Among the most anticipated movies every year are the inevitable sequels and prequels to favorite films, from "Star Wars" to "Ghostbusters." With so many popular film universes enthusiastically expanding and growing, we decided to take a look at some old favorites to see which franchises are the highest-grossing of all time.
Movie studios continue to turn out blockbusters that are flashier and more technologically advanced than ever before, many now being pre-released on streaming platforms as well as in theaters. But how do the newest smash hits stand up to everyone’s old favorites? Stacker scoured The Numbers for film franchise data as of March 15, 2021, and ranked them according to inflation-adjusted total domestic gross for all movies in their series. The number of movies in each series includes upcoming films. Franchises within franchises were not included, but franchises that had identities outside of a single franchise were included. For example, “Iron Man” is absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but “Batman” and “Superman” have franchises outside of the DC Extended Universe that qualify them to rank on their own.
Keep reading to discover which franchises are the highest-grossing in the United States as of spring 2021.
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- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $880,670,530
- Worldwide box office: $1,423,076,742
- Movies: 4
- Years: 1999–2008
Brendan Fraiser and Rachel Weisz starred in this iteration of the horror-action franchise, which was itself a reboot of the 1930s originals. The plot of the trio of films surrounds the resurrection of a mummified Egyptian priest who attempts to unleash a curse on the world and the team of archeologists who are intent on stopping him. The franchise was rebooted again in 2017 with Tom Cruise in the lead role. Reviews were overwhelmingly negative.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $901,452,858
- Worldwide box office: $1,431,887,245
- Movies: 5
- Years: 1988–2013
Die Hard is unique among the other franchises on this list, in that it was never intended to be or written as a multi-chapter story. Each of the first four films is adapted from other material—two novels, a pre-existing screenplay, and a Wired article—with only the fifth installment written specifically for the franchise. This helps to explain why the series, about a police detective who continually finds himself in the midst of grave danger, did so well at the box office and with audiences, standing far apart from the rest of the predictable action-thriller crowd.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $903,900,054
- Worldwide box office: $378,233,670
- Movies: 11
- Years: 1964–2009
One of the longest-running franchises on the list, Pink Panther began with an eponymous film starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and finished with “The Pink Panther 2” starring Steve Martin as the bumbling detective. Each of the 11 movies follows the inept investigator as he attempts to solve a variety of crimes, which primarily involve stolen jewels, and are laugh-out-loud funny. The live-action film series spawned the “Pink Panther” cartoons, which also ran for 11 seasons, and a real-life gang of jewel thieves.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $931,639,728
- Worldwide box office: $1,149,359,568
- Movies: 7
- Years: 1990–2019
In 1990, four martial-arts-wielding turtles stepped out of the comics and onto the big screen. Despite actors having to wear 70-pound costumes and a major studio pulling out, the first film in this namesake series became the highest-grossing independent film of its time. Three additional films followed before Michael Bay rebooted the series in 2014. The reboot was a success as well—turtle power, indeed.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $948,249,210
- Worldwide box office: $1,631,254,389
- Years: 1999–present
When the first “Matrix” film made its debut in 1999 it was hailed as a “revolution in filmmaking” and quickly became the highest-grossing rated-R movie up to that point. Unfortunately, the cyberpunk series, about the imprisonment of humanity in a virtual reality system by artificial intelligence, didn’t manage to keep the same steam in its sequels, which are generally considered far inferior. Fans are clinging to hope that a fourth installment, set to hit theaters in December 2021, will return the franchise to its former glory.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $963,256,073
- Worldwide box office: $910,977,412
- Years: 1990–2014
The character of Jack Ryan, a marine-turned-CIA-operative-turned-president, made his first appearance in the Tom Clancy novel “The Hunt for Red October.” Similar to James Bond, there have been several well-known actors who have portrayed the man over the course of the films and an Amazon TV series, including Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, and John Krasinski. Movies in the series include: “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “The Sum of All Fears,” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $976,408,853
- Worldwide box office: $2,082,703,660
- Years: 1995–2019
If this list proves anything, it’s that reviving a franchise that has been dormant for years is not often done easily or well. This was not, however, the case for “Jumanji.” The world of the 1995 film was brought back to life on the big screen in 2017 with an all-star cast that included Duane Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. The movie grossed more than $900 million and set the stage for many more Jumanji films to come.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $990,032,980
- Worldwide box office: $961,569,354
- Movies: 3
- Years: 1985–1990
Back to the Future is one of those rare franchises where all the movies are considered to be equally well-made (even if there's a diminishing return on the inside nods to earlier installments). Approval ratings for the films, which follow a high school student named Marty McFly who travels through time in a DeLorean time machine, lie between 80–96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Produced by Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment, all three films star Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $996,150,750
- Worldwide box office: $190,774,302
- Years: 1970–1979
The Airport franchise may be one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually any good. The first film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, but Burt Lancaster, one of its stars, called it a piece of junk, and the New York Times compared it to a 137-minute television commercial. The series only went downhill in quality after that, rendering the final few movies almost unwatchable.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $997,107,761
- Worldwide box office: $1,874,246,451
- Movies: 2
- Years: 2004–2018
The 3D animated action-adventure film series explores the nature of family and how work can often define people. Voiceover talent for the movie characters include stars Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Samuel L. Jackson. “The Incredibles” hit the box office with a bang and won two Academy Awards for best animated feature and best sound editing. The “Incredibles 2” surpassed its predecessor’s box office success grossing $584 million and pulled in favorable reviews.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,020,215,693
- Worldwide box office: $739,721,125
- Years: 1984–present
Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Rick Moranis all starred in the first installations of the Ghostbusters franchise, which saw a group of scientists battling the supernatural. The comedy-action series was revived in 2016 with an all-female cast, much to the chagrin of some audiences. In response to the criticism, the studio announced a new installment, due out in late 2021, that will go back to the original universe and include much of the original cast.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,043,887,458
- Worldwide box office: $1,629,599,887
- Movies: 8
- Years: 1979–present
The sci-fi horror franchise centers around four core movies starring Sigourney Weaver—1979’s “Alien,” the 1986 sequel “Aliens,” 1992’s “Alien 3,” and “Alien Resurrection” in 1997. The original budget for “Alien” was $4.2 million, which 20th Century Fox doubled to $8.4 million after seeing director Ridley Scott’s storyboards. The original series built such a cult following over the years that it spawned a prequel series in 2014, earning it a place on the list.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,044,816,648
- Worldwide box office: $3,206,624,261
- Years: 2002–2016
The animated action-adventure comedy about a group of animals set in the Pleistocene era features the voices of well-known stars such as Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, and Ray Romano. Despite the scientific inaccuracies of the films, they have gone on to gross $6 billion at the box office and retail sales, making Ice Age one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,056,122,490
- Worldwide box office: $1,665,926,127
Matt Damon is now synonymous with Jason Bourne, the focal point of these action-spy thrillers. The films are based on a trilogy of novels by Robert Ludlum. The franchise’s most successful film, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” won Oscars for best film editing, best sound mixing, and best sound editing.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,065,009,468
- Worldwide box office: $952,592,350
- Years: 1987–1998
One of the most classic action franchises to come out of the 1980s, the “Lethal Weapon” movies follow two Los Angeles Police Department detectives, played by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, as they work to take down leaders in the city’s violent underworld. The first two movies were wildly successful with critics and audiences, while the second two fared substantially worse. The production of a reported fifth movie in the series, which would be the last, is still up in the air.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,065,089,020
- Worldwide box office: $866,371,962
- Years: 1990–2013
Even the most die-hard “Home Alone” film fans might be surprised to find that there are five movies in this franchise. The first two, starring Macaulay Culkin, are the most famous. John Hughes directed and produced the first three.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,076,508,619
- Worldwide box office: $712,145,974
- Years: 1984–2011
The Beverly Hills Cop franchise stars Eddy Murphy as a Detroit cop who solves crimes in Los Angeles alongside several other detectives and police agents. The first film in the series was hands-down the most successful and has been credited with reviving the buddy-cop genre. While neither follow-up ever found the same success, fans are still holding out hope that the upcoming fourth installment, a Netflix production, will restore the franchise to its former glory.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,077,985,211
- Worldwide box office: $1,961,100,977
- Years: 2003–2016
The Disney animated films “Finding Nemo,” released in 2003, and “Finding Dory,” in 2016, are two of the highest-grossing films of all time at a lifetime gross in excess of $940 million and $1 billion, respectively. Much of their success is due to the fact that the plot of each film appeals to both children and adults.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,085,454,828
- Worldwide box office: $2,074,483,263
- Movies: 6
- Years: 1984–2019
The sci-fi franchise solidified star Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bona fide Hollywood action hero in his role as the Terminator in four of the five movies in the franchise. Schwarzenegger also appeared in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” the sixth and most likely final film in the franchise that hit theaters in 2019.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,092,899,072
- Worldwide box office: $1,940,844,428
- Years: 1997–2019
The sci-fi buddy comedy series was based on a comic book of the same name by Lowell Cunningham. It stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as covert agents tasked with overseeing the alien population in New York City. Smith also wrote the “Men In Black” theme song, which went on to sell more than 3 million copies. “Men In Black: International,” released in 2019, was the fourth film in the franchise.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,117,460,425
- Worldwide box office: $1,216,915,731
- Years: 1933–present
The King Kong franchise is a tough one to nail down, as the character has been owned by and licensed to many different studios throughout the years, and has appeared as a side character in dozens of other properties. Originally dreamed up in 1933 by producer Merian C. Cooper, King Kong has been brought to life with varying degrees of success and in various temperaments, throughout the six films included in this roundup. Regardless of the success of each of the various iterations of the giant ape, King Kong remains one of Hollywood’s largest, and most influential, faces.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,180,045,968
- Worldwide box office: $451,197,486
- Years: 1964–2018
When the second installment in the Mary Poppins franchise hit theaters in 2018 it set a record for the largest gap between live-action franchise installments premiering 54 years after the original. Both movies about a magical nanny and her charges are based on eight P.L. Travers books.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,281,209,978
- Worldwide box office: $522,446,253
- Years: 1973–2005
As with many other franchises, the Exorcist franchise films peaked with the release of the original, and it’s been all downhill since. The horror movies, which all feature some kind of demon possession, have included sequels and prequels and even spawned a short-lived TV series.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,342,067,425
- Worldwide box office: $3,710,909,442
- Years: 2010–present
The animated comedy franchise focuses on Gru and his yellow-colored Minions, which also became a spinoff of the series. The sixth film in the series, “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” is slated to be released in 2022.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,375,730,437
- Worldwide box office: $2,640,596,802
- Years: 1994–2019
Opening with what was, at one point, the highest-earning animated film of all time, “The Lion King” broke records for being the biggest stage and screen franchise to ever exist at the time, pulling in more than $11.6 billion at its combined box offices. That doesn’t mean, however, that every entry in the series is a winner—direct-to-video sequels like “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” didn’t fare well with critics or audiences. The 2019 live-action remake with voiceover work provided by Beyonce and Donald Glover, on the other hand, was celebrated for its incredible visual effects.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,382,261,890
- Worldwide box office: $2,115,122,276
- Movies: 9
- Years: 1968–2017
The Planet of the Apes franchise of nine movies spans nearly 50 years and also includes books. The movies are based on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel of the same name, comics, and a revision series. The franchise’s highest-grossing movie “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” features a star-studded cast and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,475,963,881
- Worldwide box office: $708,714,979
- Years: 1953–2009
Beginning with Walt Disney’s animated 1953 classic, the Peter Pan franchise has spanned a number of decades, as well as several mediums such as animated movies, live-action films, stage productions, and novels. The original film was by far the most popular, earning more than $87 million at the box office, but Disney seems to be holding out hope that new additions could be just as major. In 2020, the studio announced a new franchise addition, the live-action “Peter Pan & Wendy,” slated for a 2022 release.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,602,721,178
- Worldwide box office: $3,577,423,206
- Years: 1996–present
The American action-adventure series stars Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, the protagonist of the series. The sixth and most recent film, “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” was released in July 2018 and brought in more than $61 million during its first weekend in theaters. There are two more films scheduled to be released, in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,619,703,800
- Worldwide box office: $3,317,470,739
- Years: 2008–2012
The vampire romance saga plays out over five films and stars pop-culture icons Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. It’s based on the Twilight series of books by Stephenie Meyer. “Twilight,” the first film of the franchise, made $35.7 million on its first day, which greenlit the sequel and the rest of the series.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,631,329,408
- Worldwide box office: $2,958,353,344
- Years: 2012–2015
The dystopian future chronicled in author Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of young adult novels plays out on the big screen over four movies. The series features an ensemble cast of stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland. “The Hunger Games” kicked off box office success for the series, setting a record for the biggest opening day and opening weekend for a non-sequel film.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,724,342,053
- Worldwide box office: $737,573,891
- Years: 1975–1995
The original film “Jaws,” based on a novel from Peter Benchley and directed by Steven Spielberg, was a smash hit, earning $260 million at the box office and becoming the first summer blockbuster. The sequels, which follow the human-hungry great white shark as he attacks groups of people in various parts of the world, seemed to get worse with each addition. The last two, in particular, had none of the original cast or crew members involved, and feel much more gimmicky and poorly edited.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,795,869,314
- Worldwide box office: $3,054,457,147
- Years: 1995–present
The computer-animated film series operates under the belief that all toys are secretly alive. “Toy Story” is one of the most critically acclaimed animated franchises to date with numerous Academy Award nominations, including a special achievement award Oscar for “Toy Story,” and best animated feature and original song awards for “Toy Story 3.”
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,873,340,793
- Worldwide box office: $4,846,579,018
- Years: 1986–2018
The sci-fi action movie series is based on the eponymous shape-shifting toys made by Hasbro in the 1980s and “Transformers: The Movie,” an animated film released in 1986. Michael Bay directed all five live-action movies in the series, with Travis Knight helming the “Bumblebee” spin-off in 2018. Despite critical reviews, the franchise has received numerous Oscar nominations in the sound and visual effects categories.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,922,566,139
- Worldwide box office: $4,522,054,705
- Years: 2003–2017
The Walt Disney fantasy film series is based on its namesake theme park ride. It stars Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush in their roles throughout the series and also features Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and other big names. It was the first franchise where more than one film grossed $1 billion worldwide.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,952,455,721
- Worldwide box office: $1,513,943,877
- Years: 1976–2018
The first five movies in this sports drama series center around boxer Rocky Balboa played by Sylvester Stallone. “Rocky” was Stallone’s breakout role, and went on to be the highest-grossing picture of 1976. The film is reportedly based on experiences from Stallone’s own life.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $1,963,221,534
- Worldwide box office: $3,545,629,858
- Years: 2001–present
This DreamWorks Animation series is based on a picture book by William Steig. "Shrek 2" was far and away the franchise's most successful. The eighth installment is expected in 2022.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,003,537,543
- Worldwide box office: $5,893,123,543
This series about illegal street racing and heists is one of Universal Pictures’ biggest franchises of all time. Series star Paul Walker died during the filming of “Furious 7;” that installment became the most profitable movie of the franchise.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,062,013,938
- Worldwide box office: $2,553,272,239
- Movies: 10
- Years: 1978–present
The most popular character in the DC Comics universe comes alive on screen in this film franchise. The most successful installment of the franchise is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” When it opened in 2016, it was the largest domestic opening for Warner Bros. ever.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,074,807,903
- Worldwide box office: $1,961,339,569
- Years: 1981–present
This series follows archaeologist and hero Indiana Jones on adventures around the world. The franchise solidified actor Harrison Ford as both a leading man and action hero as he performed many of his own stunts. The American Film Institute ranked him as the second-greatest film hero of all time.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,282,784,822
- Worldwide box office: $5,634,573,306
- Movies: 26
- Years: 2013–present
The DC Universe includes such superhero flicks as “Justice League,” “Man of Steel,” and “Suicide Squad.” “Wonder Woman,” the fourth movie in the franchise and most successful, is considered one of the best superhero films of all time. These box office figures represent only nine of the films in this franchise, with a plethora in the works for die-hard fans.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,534,166,734
- Worldwide box office: $5,847,200,020
- Years: 2001–2018
The Middle Earth fantasy franchise includes all three of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies and “The Hobbit” trilogy, which were based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novels. Although the reviews for “The Hobbit” weren’t as favorable as those regarding “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, all three films outperformed the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,608,988,389
- Worldwide box office: $2,266,907,732
- Movies: 13
The Star Trek series spun off the television series that ran from 1966–1969 on NBC. Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, “Star Trek,” the 11th film to be released, was the first one in the rebooted series and remains the most successful film in the franchise.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,720,632,485
- Worldwide box office: $5,008,426,006
- Years: 1993–present
This American sci-fi action series, based on the eponymous novel by Michael Crichton, imagines what might happen if genetic scientists made it possible for dinosaurs to return to Earth and inhabit a theme park. Notable stars in the series include Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Chris Pratt, and Bryce Dallas Howard. The most recent film “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” was released in 2018, with a sixth in the series, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” expected in 2022.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $2,918,256,552
- Worldwide box office: $6,075,582,788
- Movies: 14
- Years: 2000–present
The superhero series based in the Marvel Universe centers around a team of superheroes with mutant abilities. Before it appeared on the big screen, “X-Men” was a series of comic books created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. “Deadpool,” released in 2016, and “Deadpool 2,” released in 2018, will be followed by the production of “Deadpool 3,” scheduled to be out in 2022.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $3,308,258,394
- Worldwide box office: $7,222,451,799
- Years: 2002–present
The web-wielding superhero of the Marvel Universe is also one of its most popular and successful to date. The protagonist in the franchise is based off the comic book character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Prominent stars in the franchise include Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, J.K. Simmons, Emma Stone, and Denis Leary.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $3,658,659,822
- Worldwide box office: $9,215,022,636
- Movies: 12
J.K. Rowling published “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” more than 20 years ago, and little did she know that the book would not only change children’s book publishing but also that it would spawn one of the most successful movie franchises ever. The films released to date in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World franchise saw obsessed fans lined up in full Potter regalia to see the stories of their favorite magical characters come alive on the big screen.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $3,967,034,621
- Worldwide box office: $6,040,885,610
- Movies: 23
- Years: 1989–present
The caped crusader has had many incarnations over his multi-decade reign on the big screen. Batman is one of the most prominent characters in the DC Universe, originally created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Batman is also one of the most successful film franchises to date with “The Dark Knight” not only being one of the most successful at the box office, but also a film considered by critics as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $5,963,688,920
- Worldwide box office: $7,119,553,831
- Movies: 27
- Years: 1963–present
The epic spy franchise is based on the series of novels by Ian Fleming. The story centers around the secret agent James Bond, a character that has been played by seven different actors over the years. The successful franchise expects to release its next film, “No Time to Die,” in October 2021.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $8,082,302,972
- Worldwide box office: $10,320,189,178
- Movies: 15
- Years: 1977–present
With legacy “Star Wars” films combined with the small but mightily performing “Star Wars Anthology” movies, it’s no wonder that the titles in the franchise make it one of the most successful of all time. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” brought back stars Harrison Ford and the late Carrie Fisher to join up-and-comers Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega.
- Domestic box office (inflation-adjusted): $9,144,251,845
- Worldwide box office: $22,557,315,232
- Movies: 31
- Years: 2008–present
The Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise averages more than two films per year and reigns supreme as the highest-grossing movie franchise in the history of the U.S. box office. Two of Marvel’s highest-grossing films are “Avengers: End Game,” at more than $858 million, and “Black Panther,” with more than $700 million at the domestic box office.
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