1. $2.847 BILLION
Domestic: $760.5 million (including re-releases)
Release date: December 18, 2009
The world had to wait some 12 years for James Cameron to follow up the biggest film of all time with what would become the new biggest film of all time. Nobody believed he was going to surpass Titanic’s numbers with this tale of an alien planet and the paraplegic Marine who teams up with its inhabitants in the battle for Unobtanium. But he did. At the peak of a 3-D reemergence, aided by the filmmaker’s usual technological gamesmanship (and higher ticket prices), Avatar‘s seven straight weekends at number 1 led to over $595 million at the North American box office. Then, two days later on Feb. 2, 2010, its 47th day of release, the movie became the highest domestic earner ever. Avatar held that record for five years and eleven months and went on to become the only film ever to earn $2 billion outside of the U.S. and Canada, making it the world’s highest grosser at the time. It held onto its impressive global record for nearly 10 years, until Avengers: Endgame came along and snatched the crown. But with Avatar 2 coming soon, the now Disney-owned-and-rebranded 20th Century Studios decided to remind everybody the franchise existed, re-releasing the film in China in March of 2021 and, whether intentional or not, pushing it back into pole position.
2. $2.798 BILLION
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Domestic: $858.4 million (including re-releases)
Release date: April 26, 2019
The journey that began in 2008 with Iron Man was coming to an end – at least for some of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences that had been holding their breath for an entire year after perhaps the biggest cliffhanger since Empire Strikes Back could not wait to buy their tickets – and did they ever buy those tickets when they finally could. Opening weekend for Avengers: Endgame in April 2019 surpassed Infinity War’s year-long record by nearly $100 million. In just eight days, the film had grossed a half-billion domestically. On day 10 it was over $621 million. One by one the records fell, leading many to ignore the words “if” and “can” and focus instead on “when” Avatar’s previous record ($2.787 billion) as the highest-grossing movie would fall. But Endgame began to show signs early in its run that its impressive sprinting start might not be enough for it to ultimately come out ahead of James Cameron’s epic; it only had the second-biggest second weekend ever and the fourth-best third weekend. In the era of the modern blockbuster, even a record-breaker can be front-loaded and only spend three weeks atop the charts. It really all came down to a final dash near the finish line. After just six weeks of release, Endgame was about $73 million away from dethroning Avatar – substantial ground to make up. But then Marvel and Disney re-released the film on June 28 with new goodies over its end credits. And then, over the weekend of July 19, 2019 – its 13th week of release – when another Disney release would begin its run for the top 10 all-time earners (hello, Lion King), Endgame squeaked ahead. It may not have been able to catch The Force Awakens for the all-time domestic leader, but by the time summer was over, it would pull in front of Avatar and become the king of the world… at least for a while. With a 2021 re-release in China, Avatar did ultimately take back the crown, but it doesn’t diminish the incredible achievement of Endgame.
3. $2.202 BILLION
Domestic: $659.4 million (including re-releases)
Release date: December 19, 1997
James Cameron makes expensive movies. The Abyss, Terminator 2, and True Lies were all the most expensive movies of their time upon release. In 1997, Cameron blew out the budget again and this time there was worry he may have gone too far. Though delayed from July until December, Titanic nevertheless became a global phenomenon the likes of which the box office had never seen at the time. After 15 straight weeks at number 1, 14 Oscar nominations and 11 statuettes, Titanic, its stars and its song were ingrained in the hearts and tear ducts of the world, and the movie would hold the all-time box office record for 12 years – until Cameron would eclipse himself once again with Avatar.
4. $2.070 BILLION
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Domestic: $936.7 million
Release date: December 18, 2015
Twelve years after the completion of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, J.J. Abrams was tasked with making Episode VII – a monumental undertaking, and a risky one. Were people still interested after the prequels? Were they burnt out? The approach was to mix the old and the new, and it worked. Abrams gave a brand-new cast of characters the chance to interact with the original trio of Luke, Han, and Leia, and generations of fans were so ready for the adventure that they gave the film the highest opening weekend in history ($247.9 million). In just under three weeks, The Force Awakens became the all-time domestic champion, passing Avatar and joining the $2 billion club within 54 days. It still remains the highest-grossing domestic release of all time.
5. $2.048 BILLION
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Domestic: $678.8 million
Release date: April 27, 2018
Just shy of 10 years since it began, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gathered nearly every one of its characters for a galaxy-wide showdown with the series’ Big Bad, Thanos. The movie featured one of the gutsiest cliffhangers in any franchise’s history, leaving audiences to wait in shock for an entire year to discover how Phase 3 of the epic series would end. The film bested The Force Awakens’ three-day opening weekend record with $257.6 million, and hit the $2 billion mark in 48 days. Domestically, it would ultimately come up just short of Black Panther, which was released two months prior.
6. $1.901 BILLION
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Domestic: $804.8 million
Release date: December 15, 2021
Speaking of gathering Marvel characters for an epic showdown, 2021 provided an unexpected box office champion that would swing triumphantly into the top 10. That is to say, the success of
Spider-Man: No Way Home wasn’t unexpected because of the film itself, which was an ambitious, multiverse-expanding entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that brought together some of the most beloved characters in the web-slinger’s big-screen history in a funny, heartbreaking, thrilling spectacle. No, it was unexpected because it managed this herculean feat even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to keep audiences largely at home. If there was one movie in all of 2021 — or, hell, even going back as far as 2020 — that moviegoers were willing to risk going to the theater for, it was absolutely No Way Home, and boy did they ever show up. The film became not only the highest-grossing Spider-Man movie ever made, but also the most successful movie ever released by Sony Pictures en route to dominating 2021 and settling into the top 10 here. The future of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is still up in the air, but he has earned himself a rather secure spot on the all-time box office list
7. $1.671 BILLION
Jurassic World (2015)
Domestic: $653.4 million
Release date: June 12, 2015
Twenty-two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park became the Jaws for a new generation, it was time for that generation’s kids to have their own version of dinosaur mayhem. The second-best–reviewed film in the Jurassic series (72% on the Tomatometer vs. the original’s 91%), Jurassic World trampled a competitive summer full of Avengers, Minions, and inner feelings, and became just the third film since Titanic in 1998 to pass $600 million in domestic box office.
8. $1.663 BILLION
The Lion King (2019)
Domestic: $543.6 million
Release date: July 19, 2019
Having found success with its live-action re-imaginings of The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, Disney tripled down in 2019 with three “new” remakes. Dumbo was a bit of a bust, Aladdin was a success, but The Lion King truly roared. That made sense given that the 1994 original, at the time, was one of the studio’s most successful films in the middle of its rebirth, and director Jon Favreau’s CGI-fueled version traced it for a new generation. The result is the highest-grossing domestic release to receive a Rotten score on the Tomatometer, at 53%. But its $191 million opening was the eighth highest of all time and it became the 14th film to pass a half-billion domestically and just the ninth film to rack up $1 billion overseas.
9. $1.519 BILLION
Marvel’s the Avengers (2012)
Domestic: $623.4 million
Release date: May 4, 2012
Want proof that Avengers work best together? Consider that the first combined outing for Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America bested the $1.4 billion that their origin stories had made combined. Five films into the MCU (including Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk), the team was finally assembled for a singular battle against Loki and his inherited army. Joss Whedon’s movie became the first ever to make over $200 million in a single weekend and was Marvel’s first entry into the Billion Dollar Club, which had just 12 members at the time.
10. $1.515 BILLION
Furious 7 (2015)
Domestic: $353 million
Release date: April 3, 2015
What started out as a Point Break derivative – with cars! – became one of the unlikeliest mega franchises ever. Vin Diesel’s return in the series’ fourth film is what really got the Fast and Furious franchise engines revving, and Dwayne Johnson’s addition in the fifth film added some humor and helped get the critics on board. But it was the full embrace of the series’ now-signature bombast, as well as the untimely death of Paul Walker, that brought the combo of curiosity and tribute that helped make James Wan’s Furious 7 the franchise’s most successful entry. It hit with audiences – the opening weekend haul of $147 million was almost $50 million more than any previous entry – as well as with critics (it’s the highest-rated movie in the series at 81% on the Tomatameter).