In the illustrious world of cinema, box office numbers have often been the yardstick by which a film's commercial success is measured.
While critical acclaim and awards are the heart's desire of many filmmakers, a movie's ability to draw in audiences and make its mark in monetary terms remains an undeniable testament to its appeal.
From timeless classics to modern blockbusters, the race to become one of the highest grossing movies is fierce and ever-evolving.
In this article, we will journey through the annals of film history to discover the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time, and delve into what exactly made them resonate so profoundly with audiences worldwide.
At the time of writing this piece, 53 movies crossed the BILLION dollar mark in terms of worldwide box office earnings. Most recent to join the list is Barbie (2023), from director Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
Barbie still has a long way to go to top the number one highest grossing movie of all time but there's still time!
Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies Of All Time
1. Avatar (2009) – $2,923,706,026
Avatar, directed by James Cameron, is set in the mid-22nd century when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system.
The story follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine who is selected to participate in the Avatar Program, a project that enables human “drivers” to control biological avatars—humanoid bodies based on the DNA of the native Na'vi species.
Jake, through his avatar, explores Pandora's rich biodiversity and becomes closely familiar with the Na'vi way of life. Over time, he grows to appreciate their deep connection to nature and the spirits of Pandora.
As Jake becomes more integrated with the Na'vi, he learns of the conflict between the humans and the natives.
The humans, led by the corporate entity RDA, are on Pandora to mine unobtanium, a rare mineral that holds the solution to Earth's energy crisis. However, this mining threatens the sacred home of the Na'vi, the Hometree.
As tensions rise, Jake finds himself torn between the militaristic intentions of the human forces, particularly Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), and the Na'vi, led by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), with whom Jake forms a deep romantic and spiritual bond.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019) – $2,799,439,100
Avengers: Endgame picks up after the catastrophic events of Avengers: Infinity War, where the villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) successfully gathered all six Infinity Stones and eradicated half of all life in the universe.
The remaining Avengers are left to grapple with their loss: family, friends, and fellow heroes vanished. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr), a.k.a. Iron Man is adrift in space but rescued by Captain Marvel.
On Earth, the remnants of the team, including Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and others, grapple with the aftermath, but when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a.k.a. Ant-Man, escapes from the quantum realm, he brings with him a possible solution: time travel.
With Lang's knowledge of the quantum realm, the Avengers devise a plan to travel back in time to retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos can use them.
This leads the heroes on a complex journey through their pasts, revisiting key moments in their histories and encountering old friends and foes.
As they split into teams to collect the stones from various timelines, they face challenges, make sacrifices, and deal with the implications of tampering with time.
3. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) – $2,320,250,281
Over a decade after the events of the first film, Jake Sully is living a modest and peaceful life as Chief of the Omaticaya Clan.
Raising a family with his wife Neytiri, their lives are changed when they notice a strange star in the night sky.
Realising its an RDA space-ship with humans returning to Pandora to colonise it, and eliminate Jake, the family make the decision to leave.
It is then that they move to the seaboard of Metkayina, a coral reef island whose clan and lifestyle is adapted to Pandora's aquatic habitat.
However, it's only a matter of time before Quaritch catches up with them…
4. Titanic (1997) – $2,264,743,305
Titanic commences with a modern-day treasure hunter named Brock Lovett exploring the sunken RMS Titanic in search of a rare diamond, the “Heart of the Ocean.”
During the expedition, his team discovers a drawing of a young woman wearing the diamond. The drawing is televised, and an elderly Rose Dawson Calvert recognizes it and contacts Lovett.
Invited on board their research ship, Rose begins to narrate her experience aboard the Titanic, taking the audience back to 1912.
Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a young aristocrat, boards the ill-fated RMS Titanic with her fiancé, Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), and her overbearing mother, Ruth.
Feeling trapped in her privileged life and the impending forced marriage she is saved by Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a penniless artist, who won a third-class ticket to the Titanic in a poker game.
Despite their vast social differences, Rose and Jack form a deep bond, which evolves into a secret love affair.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – $2,071,310,218
Number five on the top ten highest grossing movies of all time is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams.
The film takes place three decades after the fall of the Galactic Empire, but a new threat has arisen: the First Order, which seeks to eliminate the New Republic and gain control of the galaxy.
The Resistance opposes the First Order, and both factions are searching for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi, who has vanished. The Resistance believes Luke can restore the Jedi order and bring balance to the Force.
On Jakku, BB-8 encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger with a mysterious past. She soon finds herself embroiled in the galaxy-wide search for Skywalker when she aids BB-8 and the rogue stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) (who defected from the First Order) in escaping from the planet.
Their journey sees them meeting old heroes, Han Solo and Chewbacca, and throughout the film, Rey displays signs of a strong connection to the Force, though she doesn't understand it.
As they venture forth, the Resistance's base is discovered, leading to an intense battle where the First Order deploys a powerful super-weapon known as Starkiller Base.
The Resistance successfully destroys Starkiller Base, but the First Order's leadership escapes unscathed setting the stage for the next instalment.
6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – $2,052,415,039
Avengers: Infinity War brings together heroes from across the Marvel Cinematic Universe to combat a cosmic threat, Thanos, who is on a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones.
These powerful artifacts, when combined, would grant him the ability to reshape reality itself. Thanos believes that by using the stones to erase half of all life in the universe, he can ensure a more balanced, sustainable existence for the survivors.
As the gravity of the threat becomes apparent, the Avengers and their allies, including Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, band together to protect the Infinity Stones.
There are multiple confrontations, from New York City to the planet Titan, and from the Collector's lair to the hidden African nation of Wakanda.
Despite their combined strength and numerous strategies, the heroes face immense challenges. Relationships are tested, and sacrifices are made.
7. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) – $1,921,847,111
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, the narrative picks up directly after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) secret identity as Spider-Man has been exposed to the world by J. Jonah Jameson, with the help of a manipulated video from Mysterio.
As a result, Peter's life, as well as the lives of his loved ones, including MJ (Zendaya) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), becomes extremely complicated.
Facing public scrutiny and the challenges of his exposed identity, Peter seeks the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell that would make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
However, the spell goes awry, leading to unintended consequences. The botched spell tears a hole in the multiverse, bringing villains from other dimensions and alternate realities into the main Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With the multiverse in turmoil, alliances are tested, and Peter must find a way to mend the fabric of reality while also navigating the personal ramifications of his dual life as a regular teenager and a superhero.
8. Jurassic World (2015) – $1,671,537,444
Jurassic World is set 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park and showcases a fully functional dinosaur theme park, as John Hammond originally envisioned.
Located on the Isla Nublar, the park attracts thousands of visitors but faces declining interest. To combat this and boost attendance, the park's corporate overseers commission the creation of a new genetically-engineered hybrid dinosaur, named Indominus rex.
Bigger, smarter, and more ferocious than any dinosaur that ever roamed the Earth, the Indominus is expected to reignite public interest.
However, things quickly go awry when the creature, proving to be more intelligent and deadly than anticipated, escapes its enclosure.
9. The Lion King (2019) – $1,663,075,401
The Lion King (2019) is a photorealistic CGI remake of Disney's 1994 animated classic.
The story revolves around a young lion prince named Simba (Donald Glover), who idolises his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the king of the Pride Lands.
Mufasa teaches Simba about the “Circle of Life” and the responsibilities that come with becoming king.
However, Mufasa's younger brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is envious of Simba, as the young cub's birth pushed Scar further from the throne.
In a dark turn of events, Scar orchestrates a wildebeest stampede that leads to Mufasa's death, manipulating Simba into believing that he was responsible for the tragedy.
Scar then convinces Simba to run away and never return, subsequently taking over the Pride Lands and ruling with a group of hyenas.
With guidance from the wise mandrill Rafiki (John Kani) and a spiritual visitation from Mufasa's ghost, Simba realises that he cannot run from his past and must embrace his destiny.
10. The Avengers (2012) – $1,520,538,5365
The Avengers brings together a team of extraordinary individuals to combat an impending global threat.
The story begins with the villain, Loki, Thor's adoptive brother, arriving on Earth with the help of the Tesseract, a cosmic cube with immense power. Loki's goal is to subjugate humanity using an army he bargains for with a mysterious extraterrestrial race known as the Chitauri.
To achieve his objective, he ensnares the minds of several key individuals, including the sharp-shooter Hawkeye and physicist Dr. Erik Selvig, using a scepter endowed with mind-controlling abilities.
In response to this formidable threat, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury activates the “Avengers Initiative,” a program designed to bring together a group of remarkable people to deal with threats beyond humanity's capabilities.
This team includes Tony Stark (Iron Man), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Bruce Banner (Hulk), and Thor. However, uniting such diverse personalities under a single mission proves challenging.
In the grand tapestry of cinematic achievement, the top-grossing films stand as monumental testaments to the power of storytelling and its ability to captivate audiences on a global scale.
These movies, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers, have not only amassed staggering box office numbers but have also etched themselves into the collective psyche of moviegoers.
As we reflect upon these titans of the film industry, it's essential to recognise that beyond the impressive figures lies the true magic of cinema: the ability to transport us to different worlds, make us feel profound emotions, and above all, remind us of the shared human experience.
As time marches on and the world of cinema evolves, one can only wonder which narratives will next capture our hearts and climb the ranks of box office lore.
Until then, we celebrate these ten films and the indelible mark they've left on the world.