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
Cecil B. DeMille’s grand epic about life under the big top starred Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston.
1953: Peter Pan
Disney’s take on the classic children’s fairy tale had kids dragging parents along.
1954: White Christmas
Bing Crosby brought holiday cheer—in April—to audiences with this good-natured musical set (mainly) in Vermont.
1955: Lady and the Tramp
Disney’s story of puppy love triumphed over two Alfred Hitchcock films—To Catch a Thief and The Trouble with Harry—to become the top-grosser of the year.
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
Director David Lean’s war film about British POWs ordered to construct a bridge for their Japanese captors during World War II fascinated audiences, who made it the year’s biggest success.
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
Disney’s family adventure movie attracted more moviegoers than Psycho or Spartacus that year.
1961: 101 Dalmatians
Cruella de Vil and her spotted adversaries surged past West Side Story in 1961. It also beat out other popular family films like The Absent-Minded Professor and The Parent Trap.
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
Disney continued its long streak of 1960s success with this tale of a nanny who has magic in her step.
1965: The Sound of Music
Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer starred in this musical about the talented Von Trapp family based on the 1959 stage hit.
1966: The Bible: In the Beginning
This Biblical epic covers the first 22 chapters of the Book of Genesis, with a screenplay co-written by Orson Welles. Audiences flocked to it.
1967: The Graduate
Dustin Hoffman is seduced by Mrs. Robinson and contemplates a future in plastics in this Mike Nichols film.
1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick presented an expansive, expensive space epic that demanded to be seen in widescreen.
1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Robert Redford and Paul Newman co-starred in this Western about two affable outlaws. The film beat out The Love Bug, Midnight Cowboy, and Easy Rider to become the year’s top movie.
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
Francis Ford Coppola’s mob epic was not only the biggest film of 1972, but the highest-grossing film of all-time up to that point.
1973: The Exorcist
Linda Blair’s run-in with the devil was a frightening time for moviegoers, who still made it the biggest movie of the year.
1974: Blazing Saddles
Mel Brook’s Western satire outperformed another Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, in 1974 to become the year’s most successful film.
Steven Spielberg began his long reign as the king of summer blockbusters with this adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel about a shark terrorizing a vacation town.
Underdog actor Sylvester Stallone starred as underdog boxer Rocky Balboa in the first of many Rocky films.
1977: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
George Lucas’s space fantasy became a pop culture phenomenon. Naturally, it was 1977’s biggest hit.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John charmed moviegoers with this throwback to ‘50s courtships.
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
This Dustin Hoffman domestic drama beat out competition like Superman: The Movie, Rocky II, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
1980: Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
George Lucas proved Star Wars was no fluke with this sequel, which took Luke Skywalker to the swamps of Dagobah and Han Solo into the Carbonite chamber.
1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford’s first turn as archaeologist Indiana Jones was the year’s biggest hit, racing past Superman II and Stripes.
1982: E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg’s alien friendship fantasy charmed everyone—and sold plenty of Reese’s Pieces.
1983: Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The climax to the original Star Wars trilogy had people lining up outside theaters, though Tootsie had a respectable showing as the year’s second-biggest film.
Slimer and company had a summer hit, though Eddie Murphy ultimately raked in more dough with the late-year Beverly Hills Cop, which sold tickets well into 1985.
1985: Back to the Future
Marty McFly and Doc Brown turned back time but took in plenty of 1980s currency.
1986: Top Gun
Moviegoers had a need for speed as well as shirtless volleyball matches. Crocodile Dundee was a strong second-place finisher.
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?
The live-action and animation hybrid was director Robert Zemeckis’s biggest hit of the 1980s after Back to the Future.
The dawn of the grim and gritty superhero movie, Batman held the public’s fascination all summer long.
In a calendar year, the Patrick Swayze fantasy romance Ghost came out on top. But the 1990 and 1991 winter holiday belonged to Home Alone.
1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s relentless T-800 went on a rampage that summer, but Home Alone ultimately made more money than either Ghost or T2.
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
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel used animatronic and computer-generated dinosaurs to make a Jaws for the modern era.
1994: The Lion King
Disney’s animated classic was almost tied neck-and-neck with Forrest Gump for 1994’s biggest movie but managed to take the top spot.
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
This mega-budget Will Smith alien epic ushered in a new era of disaster films. It also beat out another property destruction extravaganza, Twister, that same year.
1997: Men in Black
Notice a trend? Will Smith repeated his summer blockbuster performance in 1997 with another sci-fi film.
Released late in 1997, Titanic made most of its record-setting haul in 1998.
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
Jim Carrey starred in this live-action adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic, a holiday hit that out-grossed Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible II.
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.
What could stop a second Star Wars prequel? Director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which helped prove that Marvel’s heroes could sell tickets.
2003: Finding Nemo
Pixar’s fishy story was a hit with kids, but with the December release of the final The Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, the hobbits ultimately made more across 2003 and 2004.
2004: Shrek 2
DreamWorks scored with the further adventures of ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) and his friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy).
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
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returned for this sequel, which proved even more popular than another highly anticipated 2006 release from Disney: Pixar’s Cars.
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
In a year filled with high-profile movies like Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Twilight, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film outmaneuvered them all.
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
Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Tony Stark was the hit of the year, though The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, released in November, ultimately made more through 2014.
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
Death, destruction, and Paul Rudd conspired to make this Marvel finale both the biggest film of 2019 and the biggest film of all time.
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.
2022: Top Gun: Maverick
The sequel to the 1986 Tom Cruise aviation hit was delayed for years due to the pandemic. When it finally hit theaters, pent-up demand led to a $719 million windfall, enough to make Maverick the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time stateside.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.