10 Highest-Grossing Movie Franchises of All Time

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame—the final film in the Avengers series—doesn't even arrive in theaters until April 26, 2019, yet box office analysts are already predicting big things from the super-sized Marvel team-up. Especially considering how even the most enthusiastic prognosticators seemed to underestimate the earning potential of 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, which managed to smash all previous global opening weekend records with its massive $640.5 million global haul.

While Infinity War currently holds the Marvel Cinematic Universe's top spot for highest-grossing film with more than $2 billion worldwide, it's about to get some competition—not only from the next Avengers film, but also from Captain Marvel, which has already earned more than $760 million after just over one week in theaters. And with Spider-Man: Far From Home coming in July, the franchise's dominance over all other film series will stretch well into 2019 and beyond. (Yes, Star Wars included.)

Here are the 10 highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office stats, courtesy of The Numbers.

1. Marvel Cinematic Universe

Worldwide gross: $18,263,221,776

Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—including The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 28 films (and counting) in the past 12 years, led (financially-speaking) by Avengers: Infinity War ($2,048,797,682), The Avengers ($1,517,935,897), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,403,013,963), and Black Panther ($1,348,258,224).

2. Star Wars

Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm

Worldwide gross: $9,307,186,202

Though it's been more than 40 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters and entranced moviegoers, since Disney purchased the franchise in 2012, they've been making up for lost time with new entries in the original space opera, plus a bunch of standalone series—including a new trilogy courtesy of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. While it may take the Mouse House a couple of years to match Marvel's quantity of films, at the rate they're cranking them out, we probably won't have too long to wait. The still-untitled Star Wars: Episode IX arrives in theaters on December 20, 2019.

3. Harry Potter

Worldwide gross: $9,185,046,972

The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, 12 movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them—including 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—have approached the $1 billion mark, 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II brought in the biggest profit, with a worldwide take of $1,341,693,157. With another Fantastic Beasts movie on the way in 2020, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.

4. James Bond

Daniel Craig stars at James Bond in 'Spectre' (2015)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

Worldwide gross: $7,077,929,291

While "Who will play the next James Bond?" is a question as old as this movie franchise itself, one thing that's never in question is 007's ability to attract an audience—and he only seems to be getting better with age. Bond's Daniel Craig era has seen some of its most critically acclaimed, and profitable, entries in the series, which kicked off in 1963 with Dr. No. But the franchise’s high position on this list is largely thanks to 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1,110,526,981 around the world.

5. The Lord of the Rings

Worldwide gross: $5,886,273,810

First, it’s important to note that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise includes not just The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but all three of The Hobbit movies as well. While the former series might be the more critically acclaimed of the two, when all is said and done, both series contributed to the franchise’s position here: Among the six films, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1,141,403,341) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.

6. X-Men

Stephen Merchant and Hugh Jackman in 'Logan' (2017)
Ben Rothstein - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Worldwide gross: $5,803,267,631

Though the X-Men are a Marvel creation, they're treated as their very own (mutant) entity in the box office world. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that the franchise's 14 films will be have generated enough dough on their own to compete at the (sort of) same level as their cinematic parent. While 2014's X-Men: Days of Future past managed to make a $747,862,775-sized dent at the box office, it's Ryan Reynolds's two Deadpool movies that lead this series in ticket sales, with a worldwide gross of $801,025,593 for the original and $786,680,557 for its 2018 sequel. Given the excitement surrounding June's X-Men: Dark Phoenix, expect these totals to continue to rise—and quickly.

7. Fast and the Furious

Worldwide gross: $5,136,814,346

It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and the Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with eight adrenaline-fueled films that seem to grow more popular with each entry. While the first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, made a respectable $206,512,310, 2017's The Fate of the Furious made nearly six times that amount—a grand total of $1,234,846,267. So it should come as no surprise that two more films are already in the works, for 2020 and 2021.

8. Jurassic Park

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Universal Pictures

Worldwide gross: $4,977,979,246

It's thanks to 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—and the $1,305,772,799 it made worldwide—that Jurassic Park managed to crack the top 10 franchises. But given that the original film, which was released in 1993, made $1,038,812,584, it seems like an overdue honor. Of the 10 highest-grossing franchises, Jurassic Park has the fewest number of movies in its arsenal with just five (and another on the way).

9. DC Extended Universe

Worldwide gross: $4,902,327,466

Though it's got a long way to go if it ever plans to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe seems to be finding its footing. After scoring a major box office success in 2017 with Wonder Woman, which earned $821,133,378, the studio saw its most profitable film ever in 2018 with the release of Aquaman, which netted $1,143,689,193 (and counting). The next two years will be prolific ones for the comic book movie studio, with Shazam!, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, Joker, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), and Wonder Woman 1984 all on the way. (An Aquaman sequel is also in the works.)

10. Spider-Man

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Marvel Studios

Worldwide gross: $4,858,774,307

Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man kicked off a new era in comic book moviemaking with its audience-friendly mix of action, humor, and just a little camp. His final film for the series, Spider-Man 3, earned the most money of the bunch, with a box office total of $894,860,230. Two reboots later, audiences don't seem to be tiring of the ever-changing web-slinger; 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming took in a not-too-shabby $880,206,511 (and a sequel is already in production for 2019).

All figures courtesy of The Numbers.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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