50 Facts About the 50 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time
A lot can be learned about the entertainment industry by looking at its highest-grossing films. Which stars were paid the most? Which film had the biggest scandal? And which one was the most dangerous to make?
We looked at Hollywood’s highest-grossing films adjusted to inflation, crunched some numbers and pored over the books to find some of the most interesting facts and pieces of trivia about the 50 movies that made the biggest impact at the box office.
For an in-depth look at the 50 movies, their numbers and their rankings, check out our companion piece.
1. Most Over Budget
“Titanic” was over budget by $100 million — approximately $160 million in 2019 dollars. But the ever-expanding budget of “Cleopatra” dwarfs that amount. The 1963 epic was originally greenlit by Fox as a $2 million project, but that amount swelled as bigger stars were added. A chairman of Fox at the time said, “The film cost $20 million more than it should have cost.” Director Joseph Mankiewicz — who took over after the first director was fired — said that “Cleopatra” “was conceived in a state of emergency and wound up in a blind panic.”
“Cleopatra” wound up costing $44 million. If the film was originally slated for $2 million, “Cleopatra” went over budget by $352 million in 2019 dollars. If it only went over budget by $20 million, as the Fox exec suggested, then it went over budget by $168 million in 2019 dollars.
2. Worst Rated by Audiences
The vast majority of these flicks enjoy at least a 70 percent audience score at Rotten Tomatoes. But “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has a 44 percent average rating from 210,600 users. The force was not strong with that movie.
3. Worst Rated by Critics
“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” made a boatload of money — about $814 million when adjusted for inflation — but it wasn’t a critical darling. The film holds a 53 percent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 59 percent average audience rating from over 1.2 million users, 14 percentage points higher than “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
4. Highest Rated by Audiences
“The Godfather” is one of the highest-rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes and holds a 98 percent average audience score from over 732,000 users. The next movie on this list that comes closest is “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” which holds an average 97 percent score from over one million users.
5. Highest Rated by Critics
Two movies on this list scored a perfect 100 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes: “Pinocchio” and “Mary Poppins.” Runners-up include “The Godfather,” “E.T.,” “Jaws,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” all of which hold a 98 percent critical score.
6. Movie With the Biggest Scandal
To say that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton caused a stir while filming “Cleopatra” would be an understatement. Both of the film’s stars were married to other people, and their affair was heavily publicized by tabloids. Fox sued Taylor and Burton for $50 million for “breach of contract and with depreciating the commercial value of the movie by their ‘scandalous’ conduct before and during the filming,” according to a New York Times article from 1964.
7. Number of Tickets Sold
Combined these films have sold 4.37 billion tickets — and those numbers are just for American box office performance.
8. Actors With the Most Starring Roles
All of the original “Star Wars” cast members appeared in five of the top 50 highest-grossing films. Harrison Ford has starred played Han Solo in all three “Star Wars” original films along with episode VI. He missed out on VII, but he starred as Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill appeared in the three original movies and the two sequels, although Hamill only had a cameo in VI.
9. Best Decade
So far, the 1960s was the best decade for the biggest highest-grossing movies when adjusted for inflation. Ten of the 50 highest-grossing films were produced during that decade. They are “Goldfinger,” “Cleopatra,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Jungle Book,” “Thunderball,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Graduate,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “Dr. Zhivago” and “The Sound of Music.”
10. Dirtiest Movie
The movie with the most swear words is “Beverly Hills Cop.” According to a transcript of the movie, there are 58 F-bombs and 42 uses of the S-word, mostly thanks to Eddie Murphy’s improvisational talents (the original script is a bit tamer in that regard).
11. Number of R-Rated Films
But very few R-rated movies made the list. In fact, there were only three: “The Exorcist,” “The Godfather” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”
12. Biggest Kill Count
The movie with the highest number of deaths is “Titanic,” which has a total of 307 deaths, according to MovieBodyCounts.com. In reality, the Titanic disaster was nearly five times deadlier: 1,517 people perished when the ship sank in 1912.
13. Most Controversial
“The Exorcist” is one of the most controversial major pictures ever made, and easily the most controversial on this list. In Britain, the film was physically pulled from shelves seven years after its release, where it remained in rental and purchase purgatory for 11 years (only cinemas were allowed to show it, with a new “18” rating certificate, starting in 1991). The British Board of Film Classification finally put the film back on shelves in 1998.
14. Fastest to $1 Billion
“Avengers: Endgame” is the fastest movie to achieve $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. It did so in just five days. Previously, the record was held by “Avengers: Infinity War,” which held the record at 11 days. And before that, it was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and then “Jurassic World.”
15. Biggest Sets
The film “Cleopatra” required a total of 79 production sets to be built. “Cleopatra” was filmed in Italy, and the film required so many raw materials that it created a shortage in basic building materials throughout the country.
But in sheer size, even those sets may pale in comparison to James Cameron’s “Titanic.” Cameron built a full-sized scale model of the actual Titanic and placed it in 17 million gallons of water. The ballroom set with the grand staircase was meticulously crafted out of solid oak. It was destroyed in one climatic scene, and Cameron only had one shot to get it right (he did).
16. Best-Selling Soundtrack
“Forrest Gump” has the best-selling soundtrack out of any flick on this list. The album, which contains music from artists such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac and Lynyrd Skynyrd, sold 12 million copies. It was remastered and reissued into three vinyl LPs colored red, white and blue in 2014 for the film’s 20th anniversary.
17. Best Composer
John Williams has the most celebrated orchestral tunes on this list. He performed the iconic music of “Jaws,” and all three of the original “Star Wars” films. He also scored “E.T.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Home Alone,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” He’ll win an award for what will assuredly be another hugely-grossing movie: the 87-year-old musical genius composed the score to the upcoming “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
18. Highest Paid Actor
Robert Downey Jr.’s role as Iron Man in both “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” have made him ludicrous amounts of money. He was paid $20 million upfront per movie, but according to Forbes, the 54-year-old movie star also received 8 percent in back-end points — meaning he received a total of $75 million just for “Avengers: Endgame.”
19. Highest Paid Actress
This one’s tricky. In modern times, it’s Scarlett Johansson, who earned $20 million per “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” But then there’s Elizabeth Taylor, whose role in “Cleopatra” earned her over $20 million by 1964 — about $168 million in 2019 dollars. But it’s unclear how much of that money Taylor kept.
As previously mentioned, Taylor and co-star/scandalous lover Richard Burton were sued by Fox for $50 million. Taylor was specifically sued for $20 million under the charge that she breached her contract. Taylor’s pay was $750,000 against 10 percent of gross receipts; Fox said that the actress had received over $20 million. And to further confuse things, many people sued one another over the filming of “Cleopatra.” It’s not clear how much Fox won from Taylor, if anything. According to a 1998 article by Variety, “By the late 60s, after several rounds of depositions and negotiations, all of these various actions were eventually resolved.”
20. Lowest Paid Actors
The lowest paid actors were either the cast of “Love Story” or Harrison Ford in the original “Star Wars.”
“Love Story” had only a $2 million budget, and the two leads were not established actors. As Ali MacGraw told Town and Country, “[N]one of us thought it was going to be what it turned out to be. Especially me: I was an unknown; Ryan [O’Neal] was a TV star; there was no budget.” Although MacGraw may have been speaking modestly. She had won a Golden Globe for her role in “Goodbye, Columbus” in 1969, but it’s possible she was chosen for “Love Story” before the award was given.
Plus, the details of the “Love Story’ salaries are obscured. However, Ford revealed that he was paid $1,000 a week for his role as Han Solo in the first “Star Wars,” which would have netted him around $10,000 — about $42,300 in 2019 dollars.
21. Total Grosses
Altogether, these 50 films have made an incredible $41.3 billion at the box office, when adjusting for inflation.
22. Biggest Budget
Not accounting for inflation, “Avengers: Endgame” is the most expensive, with a production budget of $356 million. However, when adjusting for inflation, “Cleopatra” was made for $44 million in 1963 — about $369 million in 2019 dollars.
23. Smallest Budget
“Love Story” had a budget of about $2 million in 1970 and earned $160.4 million at the box office. Adjusted for inflation that translates to $631 million in box office takes on a $13.2 million budget.
24. Total Cost to Produce
Not accounting for inflation, these films cost roughly $3.5 billion to make. And that’s not accounting for advertising.
25. Best Bang for the Buck
For every dollar spent on “Gone with the Wind,” $52 of was returned. The film made $201 million and had a budget of $3.85 million. That’s impressive — but “Love Story” cost only $2 million to produce and made $106.4 million at the box office. That’s $53 for every dollar invested in the 1970 romance.
26. Deadliest Movie
The filming of several of these movies led to injuries. For example, James Caan broke two of a guy’s ribs and cracked one of his elbows during a fight scene in “The Godfather”— but only one had a death on set. That was during the filming of “The Dark Knight,” when cameraman Conway Wickliffe’s 4x4 crashed into a tree.
27. Most Dangerous Movie
Not accounting for tragic accidents, “Titanic” was the most dangerous film in the top 50 highest-grossing movies. Here’s a brief list of injuries and illnesses:
- Kate Winslet almost drowned during one scene because her coat snagged on a gate as water rose around her. She also contracted hypothermia and chipped an elbow.
- Somebody laced the lobster chowder from catering with PCP, sending 50 people to the hospital.
- To avoid bathroom breaks, some people peed in the water.
- When the Titanic needed to sink, director James Cameron used a tilting set. Here’s how author Kim Masters described it: “In their period costumes, they careened down the deck to the end, slamming into one another at high speeds. ‘These people are getting banged up horribly,’ Cameron remarked. (One night's work produced two broken ribs and a sprained ankle.) An extra with a bandage on his head was admonished to keep his face turned away from the camera.”
28. Most Oscars
Both “Ben-Hur” and “Titanic” won 11 Academy Awards. “Ben-Hur” was nominated for 12 out of 15 categories, while “Titanic” was nominated for 14 out of 17 categories.
The only other movie to win 11 Oscars was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” That movie is the 59th highest-grossing film when adjusted for inflation.
29. Directors With the Most Movies
Stephen Spielberg leads with four movies: “E.T.,” “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park.” Several directors were runners up with two films that made the list. They are:
- James Cameron for” Avatar” and “Titanic”
- George Lucas for “Star Wars” and “The Phantom Menace”
- George Roy Hill for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting”
- Anthony and Joe Russo for “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”
30. Most Tickets Sold
“Gone With the Wind” is both the highest-grossing film and the one with most tickets sold, with an estimated 202 million ticket sales in 1939. That’s nearly 60 million more tickets than “Star Wars: A New Hope,” which sold 143 million in 1977.
31. Fewest Tickets Sold
“Goldfinger” sold only an estimated 51 million tickets when it released in 1965, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s only a fraction less than “Sleeping Beauty,” which sold 51.6 million tickets.
32. Most Flagrant Use of Product Placement
E.T. will phone home…right after he eats these delicious Reese’s Pieces. While many of the highest-grossing films have their share of advertisements (like the use of Starbucks in “Jurassic World”), none can match the over-the-top product placement of “E.T.”
According to Wired, Mars Inc. paid $1 million to showcase Reese’s Pieces candy in the film, which tripled sales of its peanut-buttery line within two weeks after the film’s release. The film also includes some not-so-subtle inclusions of Coca-Cola, Coors, Pez and Speak n’ Spell.
33. Longest Movie
“Cleopatra” is the longest movie on the list with a runtime of 248 minutes. “Gone with the Wind” is only 10 minutes shorter at 238 minutes, followed by “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur,” which have a runtime of 220 minutes and 212 minutes, respectively.
34. Shortest Movie
Disney’s original classics are surprisingly short. “Sleeping Beauty” ranks as the shortest movie on this list, with a runtime of only 75 minutes. “The Jungle Book” is 78 minutes, and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” is 79 minutes. That’s quite different than Disney’s new offerings. The 2016 live action “Jungle Book” runs 106 minutes, while the 2019 “Lion King” is 118 minutes — 30 minutes longer than the original.
35. Average Runtime
Want to make the perfect blockbuster? Aim for a movie with a length of 134 minutes, which is the average runtime of the 50 highest grossing movies adjusted for inflation.
36. Number of Movies Based on Books
Twenty-one of the highest-grossing movies are based on books or short stories. Here they are:
- “Jurassic Park”
- “Forrest Gump”
- “Mary Poppins”
- “Gone with the Wind”
- “The Sound of Music”
- “The Ten Commandments”
- “Dr. Zhivago”
- “The Exorcist”
- “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
- “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”
- “The Graduate”
- “The Godfather”
- “Thunderball” (which was based on a book that was based on a screenplay)
- “The Jungle Book”
- “Sleeping Beauty”
And then there are seven movies adapted from comic books. Counting those, a total of 28 films were adapted from other works.
37. Most Expensive Script
Of the 50 highest-grossing movies, the most expensive script is likely for “Jurassic Park.” Author Michael Crichton sold the rights to his novel for $1.5 million, and then charged an additional $500,000 to pen the screenplay. Adjusted for inflation, it cost Fox over $3.55 million just to get the movie on paper.
Also notable is the script for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” William Goldman was paid a record $400,000 for the script, or about $2.8 million in 2019 dollars.
38. Biggest Star-Making Movie
Either “Gone With the Wind” or “Star Wars: A New Hope” is the biggest star-making movies on the list. “Star Wars” launched the careers of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill into superstardom. “Gone with the Wind” made Vivien Leigh a household name, taking her from theater stages to the silver screen in the most wildly popular film the world had ever seen.
39. Longest Consecutive Weeks Being No. 1 at the Box Office
“Titanic” was first place at the box office for 15 weeks straight. It was eventually knocked off by 1998’s “Lost in Space,” which turned out to be a terrible film.
40. Longest Time at the Box Office
“E.T.” holds the record for being the longest film ever shown at the modern box office. The film stayed in theaters for a total of 44 weeks. It took the No. 1 spot at the box office 16 times, although not in consecutive order.
41. Highest Wide-Opening Weekend Average Gross Per Theater
“Avengers: Endgame” had the highest wide-opening weekend average, taking in an average of $76,601 per theater according to Box Office Mojo.
42. Largest Grossing Opening Day
No other movie comes close to “Avengers: Endgame” when it comes to highest opening days. The film raked in $157,461,641 when it opened on April 26, 2019. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” comes in second; the movie made $119,199,282 when it opened on December 18, 2015.
43. Number of Musicals
Only three musicals made this list — “The Song of Music,” “Mary Poppins” and “Grease.” Four, if you count “Fantasia.”
44. Number of Disney Films
Nearly all of Disney’s classics were hugely successful. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” remains Disney’s highest-grossing film, with $982 million in box office sales, when adjusted for inflation. A total of seven ‘pure’ Disney films made the list: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “The Lion King,” “Fantasia,” “The Jungle Book,” “Mary Poppins” and “Pinocchio.”
But then Disney purchased Pixar in 2006, which would also make “Incredibles 2” fall under the mouse’s umbrella. And if you count the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm, that number increases to 13.
45. Number of Children’s Films
Twelve movies squarely aimed at children make up the list. We didn’t count the “Star Wars” series, but if you do, then tick that number up to 18.
46. Number of Superhero Flicks
Six superhero movies were in the top 50 highest-grossing films: “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Avengers,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” “The Dark Knight” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”
47. Number of ‘Star Wars’ Movies
Six “Star Wars” movies made the list: “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi,” “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
48. Number of G-Rated Films
Many G-rated films appeared on the list, but they weren’t as prevalent as PG or PG-13 movies. Fourteen of the highest-grossing films are rated G, with “Gone With the Wind” topping the list. And to be fair, some of these films would be rated PG today.
49. Number of PG Rated Films
PG rated films just edge out PG-13 rated films in these top 50 money makers. Seventeen of these films were rated PG, with “Star Wars: A New Hope” being the highest-grossing, followed by “E.T.” and “Jaws” — although the latter would probably be rated PG-13 had it released today.
50. Number of PG-13 Rated Films
The MPAA’s PG-13 rating is a sweet spot when it comes to attracting audiences. These films are often tame enough for younger audiences, but retain some grit for the adults. Sixteen PG-13 movies made the list, and they were mostly superhero action flicks. The highest-grossing PG-13 movie is “Titanic” when using domestic box office sales and adjusting for inflation. Nearly every highest-grossing movie released after 2000 was rated PG-13.
Related: Fun Facts About James Cameron