If today’s line up of films is anything to go by, the fastest way to get a movie to exceed the 1 billion dollar mark at the box office is to throw as many capes, dinosaurs, fast cars, and superhero powers at it as possible (if you can also add Robert Downey Jr’s name to the list of credits, so much the better). Action films have always been popular, providing just the kind of escapist fun that made us fall in love with cinema in the first place. If you want to find out just how popular, keep reading.
20. Jurassic Park - Worldwide Gross: $1,038,812,584
Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
It may be 26 years old, but Jurassic Park still ranks as one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Thanks to its groundbreaking use of CGI, Jurassic Park was considered a cinematic landmark at the time of its release, earning its director Steven Spielberg some of the highest praise of his career and the film itself more than twenty awards (including three Academy Awards for visual effects and sound design). With $1,038,812,584 in worldwide gross, it ranks as the 20th highest-grossing action film of all time.
19. The Dark Knight Rises - Worldwide Gross: $1,084,439,099
Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
2012’s superhero film The Dark Knight Rises represents the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, picking up 8 years after the events of its prequel, 2008’s The Dark Knight. Fittingly, Nolan’s final input into the franchise proved to be the most successful, winning mass critical acclaim for its direction, screenplay, performances, and musical score, and becoming the highest-grossing Batman film of all time. As Cinevue summed things up, “The Dark Knight Rises is the pinnacle of epic movie-making and its scale and grandeur are unprecedented in cinema history. Nolan's biggest achievement -- and the real star of his third Batman film -- is Gotham city itself”.
18. Transformers: Age of Extinction - Worldwide Gross: $1,104,039,076
Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
The fourth installment in the Transformers franchise comes in at number 19. Despite receiving an overwhelmingly negative critical reception, it fared exceptionally well at the box office, becoming the only film of 2014 to exceed the 1 billion dollar mark (taking $1,104,039,076 in total) and earning a position as the 26th highest-grossing film of all time in the process.
17. Skyfall - Worldwide Gross: $1,110, 526,981
Director: Sam Mendes. Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
The first (and only) James Bond to make the list is Skyfall, 2012’s monster hit that saw Daniel Craig back to his best as everyone’s favorite spy. The film perfumed outstandingly well at the box office, becoming the only installment in the franchise to ever exceed 1 billion dollars in worldwide gross, the highest-grossing film worldwide for both Sony Pictures and MGM (until 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home stole its thunder), and the highest-grossing film in the UK. It also picked up numerous accolades (including two Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, and two Grammy Awards), cementing the transition of the franchise from a fun but lightweight series into a serious cinematic contender.
16. Spider-Man: Far From Home - Worldwide Gross: $1,114,379,633
Director: Jon Watts. Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal
The first film of 2019 to make our list is Spider-Man: Far From Home, the sequel to 2016’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. The stellar performances of its leads, Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal, won much critical acclaim, as did its humorous script and stunning visual effects. At the box office, it did well enough to become Sony Pictures' highest ever-grossing film and the 26th-highest-grossing film of all time.
15. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Worldwide Gross: $1,123,790,543
Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson
The 2nd Transformers film to make our list is the franchise’s third installment, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Although critics were quick to point out the film’s weak storyline, performances, and screenplay, they were equally eager to heap praise on its special effects, action scenes, scores, and 3D work; whatever the critical consensus, the film managed to perform well enough at the box office to become the second-highest-grossing film of 2011 and the highest-grossing film in the Transformers series.
14. Captain Marvel - Worldwide Gross: $1,126,129,839
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
2019’s Captain Marvel represents the twenty-first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film proved popular enough at the box office to become the third highest-grossing film of 2019 so far, and the ninth highest-grossing superhero film of all time.
13. Captain America: Civil War - Worldwide Gross: $1,140,069,413
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
In at 13th place we have Captain America: Civil War, a film that was as much of a success with critics as it was with viewers (NPR summed up the consensus with the comment, “It's the Vibranium standard for super-team flicks”). Critics lavished praise on the cast’s performances (particularly those of Evans and Downey), while viewers lapped it up to the tune of $1,140,069,413 in worldwide box office sales, making it the highest-grossing film of 2016.
12. Aquaman - Worldwide Gross: $1,146,894,640
Director: James Wan. Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe
Another superhero film to make the list is 2018’s Aquaman. Critics may have hated its dialogue, runtime, and plot, but viewers clearly had no such concerns, forking out $1,146,894,640 in worldwide gross, and making it the highest-grossing DCEU film, the highest-grossing film based on a DC Comics character, and the fifth highest-grossing film of 2018.
11. Iron Man 3 - Worldwide Gross: $1,215,392,272
Director: Shane Black. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow
If an actor's worth is determined by the number of films they appear in that exceed the 1 billion dollar mark, Robert Downey Jr. must be one of the finest actors out there. With the third film in the Iron Man franchise, director Shane Black hit gold, earning $1,214,811,252 in worldwide gross (the 2nd highest in 2013 after Frozen) and taking the total earnings for the franchise to a $2,423,918,805.
10. The Fate of the Furious - Worldwide Gross: $1,234,846,267
Director: F. Gary Gray. Cast: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson
The Fast and the Furious is clearly a franchise to be reckoned with; here, at number 10, we have its eighth installment, The Fate of The Furious. Starring the likes of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, and Michelle Rodriguez, the film offers viewers exactly what they’ve come to expect of the franchise – lots of action, plenty of kick-ass scenes, and a little bit of humor thrown in for good measure. The combination proved enough to earn it a position as the third highest-grossing film of 2017.
9. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Worldwide Gross: $1,305,772,799
Director: Colin Trevorrow. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
The 2nd installment in the Jurassic World franchise might not be its biggest earner (stay tuned to find out which one is) but with $1,305,772,799 taken in worldwide gross, it still ranks as one of the most successful action movies of all time.
8. Black Panther - Worldwide Gross: $1,348,258,224
Director: Ryan Coogler. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o
2018’s Black Panther proved a massive success with both viewers and critics alike, taking $1,348,258,224 at the box office (and becoming the highest ever grossing film by a black director (Ryan Coogler) in the process) and earning a place on multiple Best Films of 2018 listings. To add to its list of credits, it also holds the title of being the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be awarded an Oscar.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron - Worldwide Gross: $1,403,013,963
Director: Joss Whedon. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
The sequel to 2012’s The Avengers may not have grossed quite so much as its predecessor ($1,403,013,963 compared to $1,517,935,897), but it still manages to rank as one of the biggest hits of 2015, and the 20th highest-grossing film of all time.
6. The Avengers - Worldwide Gross: $1,517,935,897
Director: Joss Whedon. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
For a while, everything director Joss Whedon touched turned to gold. He may have dialed back his prolific output since his high-profile divorce tarnished his previously spotless reputation (with former wife Kai Cole blasting him as a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals”, but his history of producing some of the greatest TV and films of the 1990s and 2000s stands undiminished. The Avengers won him glowing reviews for his vision and creativity and became the first Marvel feature to exceed the 1 billion dollar mark at the box office.
5. Furious 7 - Worldwide Gross: $1,518,722,794
Director: James Wan. Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson
The final film of the Fast and The Furious franchise to feature Paul Walker, and it's 7th overall, is its highest-grossing yet, taking $1,516,045,911 in worldwide gross. Thanks to a very successful opening weekend, the film holds the title of 10th highest-grossing opening of all time (although with a gross of just over $397 million, it narrowly misses out on being the highest-grossing opener in the franchise to The Fate of the Furious (2017), which took over $541 million during its opening weekend).
4. Jurassic World - Worldwide Gross: $1,648,854,864
Director: Colin Trevorrow. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
Next up is Jurassic World, the first installment in Colin Trevorrow’s reimagining of Steven Spielberg’s 1990’s masterpiece. Some say the reboot isn’t a patch on the original, but in terms of worldwide gross, it beats it hands down. With $1,671,713,208 in worldwide sales (and the accolade of being the first-ever film to gross over $500 million during its opening weekend), Jurassic World is the 6th highest grossest film of all time and the 4th highest-grossing action film.
3. Avengers: Infinity War - Worldwide Gross: $2,048,134,200
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Avengers: Endgame may be the highest-grossing film in the franchise, but Avengers: Infinity War didn’t exactly put on a poor showing at the box office either. As the highest-grossing film of 2018 and the first-ever superhero to pull in more than $2 billion in worldwide sales, it more than recouped its $321.1 production budget, given Disney bosses the confidence to continue to invest in the franchise (a decision which, as we’ll shortly see, proved more than justified).
2. Avatar - Worldwide Gross: $2,789,705,275
Director: James Cameron. Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
The very fact that Avatar managed to spend 10 whole years as the top-grossing movie of all time tells you everything you need to know about James Cameron’s 2009 monster hit, Avatar. It may have been knocked off the top spot this year, but with 4 sequels in the planning (according to the Radio Times, Avatar 2 is due to be released in 2021, Avatar 3 is set for a 2023 release, Avatar 4 is rumored to be arriving in 2025, and Avatar 5 in 2027), it’s a safe bet the franchise will win back its crown soon.
1. Avengers: Endgame - Worldwide Gross: $2,795,375,001
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
The twenty-second film in the MCU series has turned out to be its most successful (for now at least). The 2019 release of Avengers: Endgame finally put an end to James Cameron’s 10 year reign at the top of the charts, and proved that the franchise (which has seen previous success with 2012's The Avengers, 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron and 2018's Avengers: Infinity War) is one of the biggest forces to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson