There are many reasons why a film can become hugely popular. It could be a creative and thrilling story, awe-inspiring and innovative visuals, compelling characters, or enthralling performances from the cast.
But when all these factors come together, they can make a film that resonates with countless audiences and wins even bigger at the box office. While Hollywood has released many worldwide hits over the years, a select few movies hit the exactright mark in theaters, cementing themselves as cinematic juggernauts.
Note: these movies are ranked in popularity by their worldwide box office gross adjusted for inflation.
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.33 billion)
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The Force was strong with this one. As the sequel to one of the most beloved film trilogies in history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought countless fans around the world to cinemas to see the return of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and many other beloved characters.
While many moments relied heavily on nostalgia, it still featured many fresh additions to the franchise, including newcomers Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and Kylo Ren. Though the sequels that followed aren’t as beloved by audiences, one can’t deny the success of The Force Awakens.
9. Doctor Zhivago ($2.36 billion)
This historical epic tells the story of a married physician/poet as he gets caught up in a romance with a married women during World War I and the Russian Civil War.
Like many other entries in this list, despite initial criticisms, Doctor Zhivago received much fanfare as a riveting romance set in the background of real-life events. Though many people may not think of the film that much these days, in terms of its story, ambition, and success, Doctor Zhivago was very much Gone With the Windset duringn the Russian Revolution.
8. 1956’s The Ten Commandments ($2.49 billion)
Cecil B. DeMille’s sprawling biblical epic tells the story of Moses as he goes from an adopted Egyptian prince to the Hebrew prophet who freed his people from slavery.
This movie’s acting and casting choices have certainly not aged well, but many people still consider it a cinema classic. With breathtaking imagery and outstanding special effects, The Ten Commandments remains a spectacle to behold, and American television stations continue to air it every Passover/Easter.
7. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ($2.65 billion)
Steven Spielberg enchanted audiences worldwide with this magical tale about a young boy who becomes friends with an alien left behind on Earth. E.T. appealed to audiences of all ages with its childlike sense of love and wonder.
In fact, Spielberg received the United Nations Peace Medal after it was screened at the UN, proving just how powerful this movie is. The acclaimed director poured his heart and soul into this film, and it clearly paid off in creating one of the most universally beloved fairy tales in modern cinema history.
6. The Sound of Music ($2.7 billion)
Chances are that everyone’s heard at least one song from this film before. Though many critics didn’t quite enjoy The Sound of Music upon its release, the film still turned out to be a hit at the box office. Yes, the movie plays like a corny fairy tale, but it is still a beautiful and endearing story of a family coming together amid their newfound love and hope and overcoming formidable odds.
Since the film fit the mold for a successful blockbuster, theaters were definitely alive with The Sound of Musicwhich briefly became the most profitable film in history, unadjusted for inflation.
5. Avengers: Endgame ($2.96 billion)
This was a cinematic event over 10 years in the making. After the Avengers suffered a shattering loss at the hands of Thanos, they conceive a way to travel back in time and revive all the people that the Titan wiped from existence.
A lot of planning and worldbuilding went into the Marvel Cinematic Universe leading up to this film, and there were many ways it could have crashed and burned. But Endgame defied all the odds and became a once-in-a-lifetime blockbuster that assembled audiences everywhere. One can only imagine how Marvel Studios plans to top this with The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars.
4. Star Wars ($3.22 billion)
Absolutely no one expected Star Wars to be such a success. George Lucas wowed audiences worldwide with his epic space adventure, which became an instant phenomenon.
Just about everything in this film has become touchstones of popular culture, including the story, the characters, the music, and the revolutionary special effects. And its impact can still be seen not just in the sequels, prequels, and television shows in-between, but in the many other blockbusters that followed.
3. Titanic ($3.26 billion)
James Cameron made a box office smash with this romantic retelling of the ill-fated voyage of the RMS Titanic. Like Romeo and Julietthis film is a classic story of two lovers from different worlds finding love in each other’s arms, just before a terrible tragedy.
It’s a tale as old as time itself, but audiences clearly couldn’t get enough of it, and they’re still debating whether or not Jack could have fit on that door with Rose.
2. Avatar ($3.5 billion)
This was the second film directed by James Cameron that broke the fabled two-billion-dollar mark. Though the story and characters may not have broken new ground, Avatar was lauded for its outstanding digital effects, particularly its then-new motion capture technology.
Even though 15 years have passed since this film’s release and people have reconsidered its quality, audiences have still flocked to see its recent sequel in theaters, proving that the original movie’s magic hasn’t worn out yet.
1. Gone with the Wind ($3.9 billion)
This film follows the daughter of a Southern plantation owner as she pursues love and struggles to survive in the wake of the American Civil War. This film was vastly popular upon release and has been widely considered one of the greatest films of all time.
However, Gone with the Wind is not viewed so fondly by modern audiences, having been widely criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes, romanticizing marital rape, and glorifying the Antebellum South. Though it is historically and culturally inaccurate, the film is an ambitious epic that was revolutionary in its time, and its epic sweep and complex female protagonist made it one for the ages.