The Top 10 Most Profitable Films in Box Office History

By Tim

Avatar is the only film to ever produce an estimated $1 billion in box office profits. Source: 21st Century Fox

Not even a month ago, we examined the biggest opening weekends in box office history, only to seeJurassic World set new records for the biggest domestic andglobal debuts of all time. Chris Pratt and a supporting cast of CGI dinos scored $208.8 million at U.S. theaters and another $315.6 million abroad.

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Can these dinosaurs stomp their way through the competition to become the most profitable film as well? Perhaps, but the film will need at least a few more weeks in theaters before the necessary ticket sales add up. Until then, here are the 10 most profitable movies in box office history:

Movie Worldwide Gross Est. Box Office Profit Box Office Profit %
Avatar $2,787,965,087 $1,033,982,544 37.09%
Titanic $2,186,772,302 $793,386,151 36.28%
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 $1,341,511,219 $545,755,610 40.68%
Furious 7 $1,511,322,635 $480,661,318 31.80%
Marvel's The Avengers $1,518,594,910 $459,297,455


Frozen $1,274,219,009 $422,109,505 33.13%
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King $1,119,929,521 $394,964,761 35.27%
Avengers: Age of Ultron $1,354,977,275 $337,488,638 24.91%
Iron Man 3 $1,215,439,994 $332,719,997 27.37%
Transformers: Dark of the Moon $1,123,794,079 $291,897,040 25.97%

Source: Box Office Mojoand author estimates

Bigger is usually better but not alwaysOne thing that is clear when reading this list: James Cameron rules the roost with the top two films, andthen there is everything else. No wonder21st Century Fox is planning on making three Avatar sequels with the director.

As investors, this table can also help us draw some conclusions about what to expect from the industry:

  1. Expect more episodic movies:When Time Warner andLions Gate announced plans to split the franchise finales forHarry PotterandTwilightinto two films, it was a novel idea. Not anymore -- Lions Gate will do it again for the upcoming finale of theThe Hunger Gamesseries and again for theDivergent series. Disney will also play along with Marvel and theAvengers:Infinity Wartwo-parter, which closes out phase 3 of the construction of that cinematic universe. And why not? AsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 has proven, the financial leverage of a combined production and the box office receipts of multiple releases can make for a significant profit margin.
  2. Genre movies have been winning for along while:While it is tempting to say the rise of genre films such asThe Avengers is a recent phenomenon,Return of the Kingopened in 2003. Studios will keep churning out big ticket genre films so long as audiences keep showing up to see them.
  3. "Franchise fatigue" sounds more worrisome than the numbers show:Five of the 10 most profitable movies in box office history were the third (or later!) installment in a long-term franchise. For executives, that is a sure sign viewers want more epic stories at the cineplex. The risk? Extending a mediocre but financially successful property could eat up profits fast, especially if viewers are not passionate about the original.

Which stocks will win as the film industry continues to evolve? My guess isDisneyandTime Warner, which already combine for six of the 10 films on this list. Yet of the two, I suspect that it is Disney that stands to benefit most. Between a slew of new Marvel movies and the highly anticipatedStar Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens due in blockbuster-friendly December, the studio is as well positioned as it has ever been. That will not be changing any time soon.

Put another way: No matter how Jurassic the world gets, when it comes to producing cinematic profits over the long-term, it is Mickey Mouse that still owns the movie house.

The article The Top 10 Most Profitable Films in Box Office History originally appeared on

Tim Beyers is feeling a bit jurassic today. He's also a member of theMotley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission and owned shares of Apple, Time Warner, and Walt Disneyat the time of publication. Check out Tim'sweb homeandportfolio holdingsor connect with him onGoogle+,Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by@milehighfool.The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Lions Gate Entertainment, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Lions Gate Entertainment, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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