Top 10 highest-grossing film franchises ever: multi-billion dollar movie projects from the MCU to James Bond

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Avatar is expected to jump into the top 10 next year when the second sequel is released

Despite fears that cinema would suffer as a result of the pandemic, the upsurge in streaming, and a drop in moviegoers due to the cost of living crisis, three films grossed more than $1 billion last year, the highest number since 2019.

The most popular film franchises continue to grow year on year, as audiences return to worlds they already know. Unsurprisingly, media behemoth Disney dominates the top spots on the list, with new projects coming out every few months the company is essentially a money-making machine.

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James Cameron’s Titanic became the first movie to make $1 billion at the box office - a feat he had since managed twice more with Avatar and its sequel Way of the Water. However, his movies haven’t yet broken into the top 10 franchise list.

The 10 highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, not adjusted for inflation, have made almost $100 billion collectively, and by this time next year they will have likely passed this milestone. These are the 10 most successful film franchises ever:

Top 10 highest-grossing film franchises of all timeTop 10 highest-grossing film franchises of all time
Top 10 highest-grossing film franchises of all time | National World

Marvel Cinematic Universe - $28.2 billion

The MCU is the most successful film franchise of all time, having made just over $28 billion to date, more than the next three franchises on this list combined. Marvel has put in the legwork, churning out 31 films since 2008 when Iron Man was released.

The franchise is separated into phases, with each new phases building on the world of the MCU, establishing more characters, and even opening up new universes to explore. Superhero fatigue may have set in among some fans but the latest instalment in the franchise, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, made $855 million worldwide.

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The MCU certainly isn’t slowing down anytime soon - Phase 5 begins with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and there are already plans for a further five movies in that phase, plus at least four more in Phase 6.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing franchise of all timeThe Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing franchise of all time
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing franchise of all time | Disney

Star Wars - $10.3 billion

George Lucas’s pioneering franchise began back in 1977 with Star Wars (later called A New Hope). Now it is one of the most recognisable film franchises of all time, having spawned two original sequels, a 2000s prequel trilogy, and a later sequel trilogy, as well as several film spin-offs - although we don’t talk about the Holiday Special.

Banking more than $10 billion to date, the franchise continues with Disney+ series The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Bobba Fett, Andor, and the upcoming Ahsoka series.

Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens | YouTube/ Lucasfilm

Harry Potter - $9.5 billion

The Harry Potter series is the highest-grossing British series on the list thanks to its universal appeal. The franchise, based on J.K. Rowling’s children’s novels about a boy wizard who is fated to defeat a dark lord, ran for eight films between 2001 and 2011.

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The Fantastic Beasts prequel series following the rise of an earlier dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, began in 2016 - three films in the series have so far been made. Rowling planned for five prequel films to be produced, but they have proved less popular than the Harry Potter movies, and a fourth Fantastic Beasts movie is yet to be confirmed by Warner Bros.

The Harry Potter franchise is based on the J.K. Rowling fantasy novelsThe Harry Potter franchise is based on the J.K. Rowling fantasy novels
The Harry Potter franchise is based on the J.K. Rowling fantasy novels | Warner Bros

Spider-Man - $8.2 billion

The Sony Pictures Spider-Man films pre-dated the Superhero-mania of the MCU when the Tobey Maguire trilogy landed between 2002-2007. A somewhat botched but nonetheless profitable reboot starring Andrew Garfield as the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man arrived with two movies in 2012 and 2014, though a flannel third film was scrapped.

Tom Holland took up the Spider-mantle in 2017 in a strange deal which saw the character shared between Sony and Marvel in a sort of joint custody agreement. This is why (spoiler alert) Maguire, Garfield, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans were able to join Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Spider-Man also swings into the MCUSpider-Man also swings into the MCU
Spider-Man also swings into the MCU | Sony, Marvel

James Bond - $7.8 billion

The longest-running franchise on the list, 25 James Bond movies have been released since 1962 when Dr. No landed in cinemas. Since then the titular spy has been played by six different actors in Eon productions and every generation seems to have their favourite double O, although no-one wants to claim George Lazenby.

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Daniel Craig hung up his holster in No Time to Die and, despite the film’s ending, the franchise is expected to continue with a new actor taking on the role. Possible contenders include Lashana Lynch, who played another 007 in No Time to Die, Paul Mescal, and Theo James.

Undated film still handout from No Time To Die. Pictured: Daniel Craig as James Bond. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Bond. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED/Nicola Dove.Undated film still handout from No Time To Die. Pictured: Daniel Craig as James Bond. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Bond. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED/Nicola Dove.
Undated film still handout from No Time To Die. Pictured: Daniel Craig as James Bond. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Bond. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED/Nicola Dove.

Batman - $6.8 billion

There may not be a franchise as successful that has so many duds than Batman - despite giving us calamities like Catwoman, Batman & Robin, and Batman Forever, the series has gone onto make more than $6 billion. This is thanks to films like The Dark Knight (largely considered to be the greatest superhero film ever made), Joker, and The Dark Knight Rises - all of which made more than $1 billion each.

The franchise will continue next year with the release of Joke sequel, Folie à Deux which will see Joaquin Phoenix return as the titular villain alongside Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. The movie is expected to be released in cinemas in October 2024.

The Knight is considered to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all timeThe Knight is considered to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time
The Knight is considered to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time | Warner Bros

Fast and the Furious - $6.6 billion

Some franchises go on long after their best before date, and there’s no clearer example (except maybe the MCU) than Fast and Furious. What started as a slick street racing series, is now a mindless action franchise which features rocket propelled space cars, tank jumping, and all manner of physics defying stunts.

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The tenth film in the series, Fast X, due for release in May, is the fifth most expensive film ever made, with an estimated budget of $340 million, though it’s likely to make triple that at the box office. The film will see Dominic Torretto fight to protect his crew from the psychopathic Cipher.

The ‘space car scene’ from Fast 9The ‘space car scene’ from Fast 9
The ‘space car scene’ from Fast 9 | YouTube

DC Extended Universe - $6.1 billion

DC’s answer to the MCU has not been anywhere near as successful, though it still falls into the top 10 movie franchises for now. The films follow the origins of several iconic DC heroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Black Adam.

Since James Gunn was made co-CEO of the studio in 2022, sweeping changes have been made, with Henry Cavill no longer expected to return as Superman, and Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam sequel seemingly put on ice. Upcoming DCEU films include Shazam! And Aqauaman sequels, as well as The Flash and Blue Beetle projects.

DC Extended UniverseDC Extended Universe
DC Extended Universe | Warner Bros

X-Men - $6 billion

The most popular instalments of the superhero X-Men franchise have actually been the movies that feature the fewest X-Men - the fourth wall-breaking Deadpool spin-off movies starring Ryan Reynolds both made more than $780 million at the box office, just outperforming Days of Future Past.

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Some of the X-Men movies have really bombed, with New Mutants failing to even make back its budget, though Covid can be blamed for this as the movie was released in August 2020. But Dark Phoenix, released pre-pandemic, barely made more than its budget. The next film in the franchise, Deadpool 3, slated for a November 2024 release, is expected to perform much better.

Deadpool will return in 2024Deadpool will return in 2024
Deadpool will return in 2024 | Fox

Jurassic Park - $6 billion

Jurassic Park, a film about a scientist who brings dinosaurs back to life at his amusement park, with devastating consequences, changed the game with its innovative use of CGI. The popular first film spawned two underwhelming sequels which have since become cult classics among hardcore fans.

The new sequel trilogy, launched more than two decades after the first film, were consistent box office successes, even if they didn’t blow the critics away. Each film in the latest trilogy made at least $1 billion. The Jurassic World trilogy was completed last year, but there is still scope for movies set in the Jurassic Park universe, so watch this space.

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