The Most Popular Movie the Year You Were Born
While adorable, babies have only a dim comprehension of the world around them. They certainly don’t have awareness of the highest-grossing movie the year they were born. In case you’re older—and curious—take a look at the movies that made the most money (domestically and typically adjusted for inflation) for each of the past 72 years.
Disney’s animated fairy tale kept audiences on their toes.
1951: Quo Vadis
Audiences loved this Roman costume epic. (The title is Latin for, “Where are you going?”)
1952: The Greatest Show on Earth
1953: Peter Pan
1954: White Christmas
1955: Lady and the Tramp
1956: The Ten Commandments
Charlton Heston as Moses was the best special effect of this Biblical epic, which packed movie houses.
1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958: South Pacific
This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about star-crossed lovers took the top spot at the box office that year.
Charlton Heston continued his box office domination with this tale of a man in Judea who exacts revenge on his Roman tormentors.
1960: Swiss Family Robinson
1961: 101 Dalmatians
1962: The Longest Day
Americans came out for this exciting World War II film about the invasion of Normandy.
Elizabeth Taylor famously starred in this big-budget costume epic that promised big spectacle.
1964: Mary Poppins
1965: The Sound of Music
1966: The Bible: In the Beginning
1967: The Graduate
1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey
1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This aviation disaster epic took off at the box office, though the Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw tearjerker Love Story, released in December, ultimately made more as it played throughout 1971.
1971: Billy Jack
This modestly-budgeted independent film starring Tom Laughlin as a martial arts loner kicking around bigots was a surprise hit.
1972: The Godfather
1973: The Exorcist
1974: Blazing Saddles
1977: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
1980: Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982: E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
1983: Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
1985: Back to the Future
1986: Top Gun
1987: Beverly Hills Cop II
Cop II was a massive summer hit, though Three Men and a Baby ultimately made more in late 1987 and into 1988.
1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1992: Batman Returns
In a battle of holiday kid’s movies, Disney’s animated Aladdin and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York sold plenty of tickets over the 1992 and 1993 holiday season. But Batman Returns earned more in the calendar year 1992 than any other film.
1993: Jurassic Park
1994: The Lion King
1995: Batman Forever
Val Kilmer took over the cape and cowl from Michael Keaton in this campy take on the Batman legend, which edged out Apollo 13 at the box office. But if you count 1996 grosses for Toy Story, released that November, Pixar’s playtime adventure movie comes out on top.
1996: Independence Day
1997: Men in Black
1999: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars returned to screens with an original episode 16 years after Return of the Jedi. If your parents named you Anakin—sorry.
2000: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The first of eight Potter films demonstrated the magic of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard at the box office.
2003: Finding Nemo
2004: Shrek 2
2005: Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Audiences flocked to the “final” Star Wars movie to see how Darth Vader rose from the ashes after his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
2007: Spider-Man 3
Know why they keep making Spider-Man movies? Because they make a lot of money. Tobey Maguire’s swan song was the biggest film of its release year.
2008: The Dark Knight
2009: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
How proud would you be to say that a Transformers sequel was the biggest movie of the year you arrived in the world? That’s up to you.
The Pixar sequel Toy Story 3 conquered the summer, but James Cameron’s Pandora saga set box office records when it was released in December.
2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The finale of the Harry Potter saga sold more tickets than the Transformers, Twilight, or Hangover sequels that were released that year.
2012: The Avengers
Marvel’s all-star assembly had four years of hype behind it, which resulted in moviegoers getting excited for a team-up of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk.
2013: Iron Man 3
2014: Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s space adventure surpassed expectations, though The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 ultimately came out on top during the 2014-2015 winter season.
2015: Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The belated Star Wars sequel, which marked the return of the original trilogy's beloved stars (with Luke and Han still verbally sparring), was for a time the highest-grossing film ever. If you’re going by grosses in a single calendar year, however, Jurassic World came out on top.
2016: Finding Dory
The Finding Nemo sequel swam with the current, though Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Star Wars standalone film about the Rebel plot to steal the Death Star plans, ultimately made more in 2016 and 2017 combined.
2017: Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Though Luke Skywalker was only onscreen for a few moments in The Force Awakens, people clearly missed him—and paid to see what he had been up to.
2018: Black Panther
Marvel’s highly-regarded Wakandan adventure squeezed past the studio's own Avengers: Infinity War to dominate the 2018 box office.
2019: Avengers: Endgame
2020: Bad Boys For Life
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reunited for this Bad Boys sequel, which topped the box office in a year when movie theaters were severely compromised by the coronavirus pandemic. The film was released in February, just before the nation entered a lockdown.
2021: Spider-Man: No Way Home
The latest chapter in Marvel's ever-expanding universe had moviegoers crawling up the walls even as the pandemic surged, becoming Sony's first-ever movie to gross $500 million domestically and easily taking the top spot for the year despite its mid-December opening.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.