The 35 Most Profitable Movies of All Time, Based on Return on Investment

Paramount Home Video
Paramount Home Video

When it comes to box office dollars, the recipe for a successful movie is pretty simple: small budget + massive ticket sales = huge profit. If done correctly, this means an enormous return on investment (ROI) for the clever minds behind the film. According to data from The Numbers, the 35 movies below have mastered that moneymaking recipe to become some of the most profitable films of all time, based on ROI.

1. Deep Throat (1972)

A theater marquee advertises the film 'Deep Throat', starring Linda Lovelace (1949 - 2002), directed by Gerard Damiano, 1972.
A theater marquee advertises the film Deep Throat, starring Linda Lovelace, in 1972.
Arnie Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

Budget: $25,000
Profit: $22,528,467

While studio executives have long labeled an X (or NC-17) rating a kiss of death for box office totals, this infamous Linda Lovelace flick proved differently. The movie ushered in an era of what became known as “porno chic”—dirty movies that featured real actors, bona fide plots, and notable production values in an attempt to lure a more mainstream moviegoing public. The idea worked: Deep Throat ended up earning an ROI of 90,014 percent—a number that has kept it in the top spot for nearly 50 years, with no indication it’s likely to lose its top ranking any time soon.

2. Facing the Giants (2006)

Tracy Goode and Alex Kendrick in Facing the Giants (2006)
Tracy Goode and Alex Kendrick in Facing the Giants (2006).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Budget: $100,000
Profit: $38,551,255

Sports movies have often led to major box office hits. But Alex Kendrick’s Facing the Giants had one additional plot point going for it: It’s a sports movie and a Christian drama, a sub-genre that has been turning modestly budgeted films into box office behemoths over the past several years. In this case, it meant an ROI of 38,451 percent.

3. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in Paranormal Activity (2007)
Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in Paranormal Activity (2007).
Paramount Home Video

Budget: $450,000
Profit: $89,376,549

Written and directed by Oren Peli, this classic found footage horror film scared up nearly $90 million in theaters and ending up with an ROI of 19,761 percent.

4. Fireproof (2008)

Kirk Cameron in Fireproof (2008)
Kirk Cameron in Fireproof (2008).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Budget: $500,000
Profit: $57,096,178

Two years after directing Facing the Giants, Alex Kendrick directed Fireproof, another Christian drama—this one focused on the deterioration of the marriage between a fire captain (played by teen heartthrob-turned-Christian movie star Kirk Cameron) and his hospital administrator wife and how the threat of divorce turns him into a changed man. The film was largely savaged by critics, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a huge box office hit and the highest-grossing indie film of 2008. Its 11,319 percent ROI also made it one of the most profitable films of all time.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

A scene from <em>The Texas Chainsaw Massacre</em> (1974).
A scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
New Line Cinema

Budget: $140,000
Profit: $14,164,858

Tobe Hooper’s classic 1974 horror film is about Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding maniac, and his cannibalistic family who stalk and torture a group of teens who stumble upon their home while visiting the grave and former home of their grandfather. Though the no-budget film spawned a full-on franchise—complete with sequels, remakes, reboots, and more to come—the original, and its 10,018 percent ROI, still stand alone.

6. The Gallows (2015)

Cassidy Gifford and Jesse Cross in The Gallows (2015)
Cassidy Gifford and Jesse Cross in The Gallows (2015).
Warner Bros.

Budget: $100,000
Profit: $6,898,494

Though it’s hard to predict precisely which movies will become box office hits, it’s fairly safe to say that horror movies—and low-budget horror movies in particular—tend to fare the best in terms of profitability, partially because it’s a genre that can be made well even if it’s made cheaply. Which is certainly the case with Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff The Gallows, a found footage horror movie that sees a cursed play come back to haunt a small town 20 years after a high school tragedy. An abysmal 15 percent Rotten Tomatoes score hardly matters when you’ve got a 6798 percent ROI.

7. Eraserhead (1977)

Jack Nance in Eraserhead (1977)
Jack Nance in Eraserhead (1977).
The Criterion Collection

Budget: $100,000
Profit: $4,652,535

David Lynch announced his arrival in the most Lynchian way possible with this surreal and totally bizarre movie that deals with male paranoia in a surprisingly personal way. Though Lynch has said relatively little about the movie himself, preferring that people maintain their own ideas of what it’s about, it’s rumored that it was largely inspired by the birth of Lynch’s daughter Jennifer (also a director), who had clubbed feet that required corrective surgery. Whatever the case, the movie—and its 4553 percent ROI—launched Lynch as a major new talent, and led to his next film: 1980’s The Elephant Man, which earned eight Oscar nominations.

8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth (2006).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Budget: $1,000,000
Profit: $46,416,400

Six years after former vice president Al Gore unsuccessfully made a run for president in 2000, he reemerged as an authority on climate change. It’s not often that a documentary has lured so many viewers to a theater—or inspired so many of those viewers to take action after the fact and create a whole new generation of environmental activists. Ultimately, the $1 million production saw a 4542 percent ROI.

9. The Big Parade (1925)

'The Big Parade' stars Renee Adoree and John Gilbert working with director King Vidor.
The Big Parade stars Renee Adoree and John Gilbert working with director King Vidor.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Budget: $245,000
Profit: $11,015,791

In 1992, nearly 70 years after its release, King Vidor’s The Big Parade—an acclaimed silent World War I film—was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. The film, which was adapted from Laurence Stallings’s autobiographical book Plumes, was unique among the war films that came before it in that it didn’t shy away from addressing the loss of human life and the true cost of war. It paved the way for many war films that came after it, including Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, though none ever matched its 4396 percent ROI.

10. The Devil Inside (2012)

Suzan Crowley in The Devil Inside (2012)
Suzan Crowley stars in The Devil Inside (2012).
Toni Salabasev/Paramount Pictures

Budget: $1,000,000
Profit: $37,422,146

Hoping to replicate the success (and format) of Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside—a similarly documentary-style film, directed and co-written by William Brent Bell—managed to achieve an ROI of 3642 percent. Though it was not nearly as supernatural of an outcome as Oren Peli managed with Paranormal Activity, it's enough to earn the movie a spot right below his film in terms of profit.

11. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A still from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
A still from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Budget: $150,000
Profit: $5,306,612

Though Charles Schulz wasn’t particularly excited about getting into animated movies with the Peanuts, and CBS reportedly hated the final result of A Charlie Brown Christmas, this beloved special has been delighting audiences for more than half-a-century—on television, home video, and via special theatrical screenings during the holiday season. All of which has led to its 3438 percent ROI.

12. Peter Pan (1953)

A still from Peter Pan (1953)
A still from Peter Pan (1953).
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Budget: $4,000,000
Profit: $139,757,67

This Walt Disney classic, with its widespread appeal to children and adults alike, had a total ROI of 3394 percent. Never growing up appears to be a profitable endeavor.

13. Cat People (1942)

Jane Randolph stars in Jacques Tourneur's 'Cat People' (1942).
Jane Randolph stars in Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942).
RKO Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images

Budget: $134,000
Profit: $4,596,853

Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 classic proves that horror films have long been a profitable endeavor. In this case, a young woman named Irena fears that she is descended from a mythical family of felines and that any feelings of passion could turn her into a blood-thirsty panther. None of this dissuades her boyfriend, Oliver, who asks her to marry him nonetheless. When Irena withholds her passion for her husband for his own sake, he falls in love with another woman—and all hell breaks loose. The quirky story was like catnip to audiences, who helped it drum up a 3330 percent ROI.

14. Waiting… (2005)

Justin Long and Ryan Reynolds in 'Waiting...' (2005)
Justin Long and Ryan Reynolds star in Waiting... (2005).
Lions Gate Home Entertainment

Budget: $1,125,000
Profit: $36,128,709

In 2005, filmmaker Rob McKittrick turned his years of experience waiting tables into a cult classic comedy, appropriately titled Waiting…, that featured a stellar cast of soon-to-be superstars including Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, Justin Long, and David Koechner. The film developed a surprise following that led to a 3111 percent ROI on its $1.1 million budget—and a 2009 sequel, Still Waiting….

15. God’s Not Dead (2014)

Kevin Sorbo and Shane Harper in God's Not Dead (2014)
Kevin Sorbo and Shane Harper in God's Not Dead (2014).
Pure Flix Entertainment

Budget: $1,150,000
Profit: $36,693,952

A huge hit with Christian moviegoers, this Kevin Sorbo starrer scored an ROI of 3091 percent and managed to stick around in theaters for a whopping 20 weeks.

16. Grease (1978)

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in 'Grease' (1978)
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease (1978).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Budget: $6,000,000
Profit: $184,126,016

An American classic that is still finding new audiences, Grease sang and danced its way to the near top of the list with an ROI of 2969 percent.

17. High School Musical (2006)

Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in 'High School Musical' (2006)
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in High School Musical (2006).
Walt Disney Television

Budget: $4,200,000
Profit: $123,587,394

A descendant of Grease, this Disney musical adaptation of Romeo & Juliet introduced Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, and a host of new young actors to the world and kicked off a franchise that included three films in the original series, six spin-offs, and a Disney+ series that debuted in November 2019 and has already been renewed for a second season. It also earned a 2843 percent ROI.

18. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Mark Hamill stars in 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope' (1977)
Mark Hamill stars in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Budget: $11,000,000
Profit: $292,940,192

The Star Wars franchise has come a long way since its original entry was released more than 40 years ago. In addition to holding the top spot on the list of highest-grossing domestic movies adjusted for inflation, the film’s relatively low budget of $11 million and enormous 2563 percent ROI make it one of the most profitable films ever made, too.

19. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Brian Boland and Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Brian Boland and Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010).
Paramount Pictures

Budget: $3,000,000
Profit: $77,221,343

The seventh horror movie on this list (and the second with "Paranormal Activity" in its title), Paranormal Activity 2 ended up with an ROI of 2474 percent, even though its $3 million budget dwarfed the original film's.

20. Insidious (2011)

Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson in Insidious (2010)
Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson in Insidious (2010).
FilmDistrict

Budget: $1,500,000
Profit: $35,196,552

Another horror film that managed to scare up a huge audience, Insidious possesses an ROI of 2246 percent.

21. Split (2011)

James McAvoy stars in 'Split' (2017).
James McAvoy stars in Split (2017).

John Baer/ © 2016 Universal Studios

Budget: $5,000,000
Profit: $108,837,000

M. Night Shyamalan went back to his indie roots for Split, the second film in his Unbreakable trilogy, by shooting the film—which starred James McAvoy in a captivating performance—for a mere $5 million. It’s box office total of more than $108 million meant an impressive 2077 percent ROI.

22. Intouchables (2012)

François Cluzet and Omar Sy in Intouchables (2011)
François Cluzet and Omar Sy in Intouchables (2011).
Thierry Valletoux/Gaumont - Quad

Budget: $10,800,000
Profit: $231,488,178

This French buddy comedy, directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, became the second highest-grossing film in France within a few weeks of its original release. The film, which earned eight César Award nominations—and won for Best Actor for Omar Sy—became a hit worldwide, earning more than $231 million and a 2043 percent ROI.

23. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Teri Garr, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein (1974)
Teri Garr, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein (1974).
20TH CENTURY FOX

Budget: $2,800,000
Profit: $57,510,448

This comedic reimagining of Frankenstein was a major hit for Mel Brooks and ended up with a total ROI of 1954 percent.

24. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Still from 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
Still from It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
Paramount Pictures

Budget: $3,180,000
Profit: $60,536,880

Frank Capra's uplifting holiday classic is the oldest movie on this list, the source of the idea that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, and a major hit, with an ROI of 1804 percent.

25. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Edward Bunker, and Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Edward Bunker, and Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs (1992).
Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment

Budget: $1,200,000
Profit: $22,452,279

Earning a well-deserved ROI of 1771 percent, Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut gunned its way to becoming the tenth most profitable movie.

26. Jaws (1975)

Susan Backlinie in 'Jaws' (1975)
Susan Backlinie in Jaws (1975).
MCA/Universal Home Video

Budget: $12,000,000
Profit: $222,629,082

This classic film, with its abundance of blood, screaming, and somewhat-obvious shark props, racked up an ROI of 1755 percent and kept beachgoers out of the water for years.

27. Annabelle (2014)

Annabelle Wallis in Annabelle (2014)
Annabelle Wallis in Annabelle (2014).
Gregory Smith/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Budget: $6,500,000
Profit: $98,033,662

Yes, another horror film! John R. Leonetti's Annabelle managed to creep its way up to more than $250 million in ticket sales worldwide, yielding an ROI of 1408 percent.

28. Beauty And The Beast (1991)

Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara in Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara in Beauty and the Beast (1991).
Walt Disney Productions

Budget: $20,000,000
Profit: $287,924,831

The second Disney movie appearing on this list, this classic love story earned the biggest profit and started out with the biggest budget. What does that mean? Well, in this case, an ROI of 1340 percent.

29. The King’s Speech (2010)

Colin Firth in The King's Speech (2010)
Colin Firth in The King's Speech (2010).
The Weinstein Company

Budget: $15,000,000
Profit: $196,296,922

Earning an ROI of 1209 percent, this historical drama was a major hit, starring Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, his speech therapist.

30. Magic Mike (2012)

Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike (2012)
Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike (2012).
Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Budget: $7,000,000
Profit: $89,660,661

Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey didn't have to bare it all to drum up more than $170 million in ticket sales, leaving director Steven Soderbergh with an ROI of 1181 percent.

31. The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars (2014).
James Bridges/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Budget: $12,000,000
Profit: $146,328,566

Based on the incredibly popular book by John Green, the big screen adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars took our tears and turned them into a profit of nearly $150 million. That’s an ROI of 1119 percent for those keeping count.

32. The Purge (2013)

A still from 'The Purge' (2013).
A still from The Purge (2013).
Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Budget: $3,000,000
Profit: $35,920,740

Writer/director James DeMonaco's innovative take on anarchy ended up scoring an ROI of 1097 percent—and launching a full franchise.

33. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Anil Kapoor and Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

Budget: $14,000,000
Profit: $163,354,988

Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning romantic drama earned nearly $385 million worldwide for an ROI of 1067 percent.

34. Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel in Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel in Black Swan (2010).
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Budget: $13,000,000
Profit: $148,130,645

Full of hallucinations, ballet, and (of course) swans, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller performed brilliantly, achieving an ROI of 1039 percent.

35. Unfriended (2015)

Shelley Hennig in Unfriended (2014)
Shelley Hennig in Unfriended (2014).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Budget: $1,000,000
Profit: $11,191,847

Shot on a $1 million budget, Unfriended—a found footage horror movie directed by relative newcomer Levan Gabriadze—took in more than $60 million worldwide, leaving it with an ROI of 1011 percent.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Office Writers Considered Making Michael Scott a Murderer, According to Greg Daniels

NBCUniversal, Inc.
NBCUniversal, Inc.

Greg Daniels is best known as the showrunner of The Office, a job that earned him two of his four Emmys. As reported by Screen Rant, the acclaimed creator dished in a recent interview with The Guardian about why the American version of the much-loved show almost wasn't made, along with a proposed plot twist for Michael Scott that forced Daniels to put his foot down.

"The UK version hadn’t finished airing and I’d never heard of it. My agent sent me a VHS tape of season one. It had a somewhat boring title so I didn’t look at it. He told me he wanted to show it to someone else if I wasn’t interested, so I popped it in. I watched the entire first series that evening," Daniels said.

As the show really got going after Steve Carell's role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin made him a household name, Daniels said some ideas in the writers room got too wacky for their own good. He recalled one particular instance, saying, “There were times where [the writers] would become enamored with a joke, and I'd have to put my foot down. For instance, they really wanted Michael to kill Meredith with his car. That was an early pitch, where he runs her over in the parking lot and then comes back, gets a tire iron and finishes the job. I was like, 'You can’t do that, that’s crazy!'”

Michael being a murderer certainly would have changed the tone of the show, so it makes sense that it never happened. Imagine the courtroom scenes we would have had to endure! The Scranton Strangler storyline would have paled in comparison.

[h/t Screen Rant]