• Film franchises exist because they are successful. Studios make money by giving audiences more of what they want, resulting in beloved series.
  • The highest-grossing franchises didn’t get to the top by being mediocre. Despite mixed reviews, they have generated huge profits and continue to thrive.
  • Success doesn’t always depend on critical reception. Even films with negative reviews can still be highly successful, loved by fans, and lucrative at the box office.

Some people may complain that there are too many sequels and reboots in theatres, but film franchises exist because they are successful. Movie studios produce entertainment, but their actual business is making money. If one film makes a lot of money, chances are a second and third will too.

If audiences embrace certain films and characters, it only makes sense to give them more of what they want. This approach has certainly resulted in some pretty dreadful sequels, but it has also given birth to some amazing and beloved series. The highest-grossing franchises of all time didn’t get to the top by being mediocre.

Updated on August 28, 2023, by Andrea Sandoval:From the MCU releasing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to the amazing success that was Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse, 2023 has been an amazing year movie-wise. We updated this list to include the most important highest-grossing franchises of all time.

RELATED: 10 Movie Franchises That Lost Their Creativity

20 Toy Story

5 Films Grossing $3.27 Billion

A franchise that has been around for almost 30 years, the Toy Story series includes four movies and one spin-off that focuses on the character Buzz Lightyear. Toy Story (1995) made history as the first film entirely animated on a computer, and ever since then, it has become one of the most iconic animated movies in history.

The last installment of the Toy Story franchise, Lightyear, was highly praised by critics, although it didn’t do as well at the box office, which didn’t stop this franchise from still being one of the highest-grossing ones of all time. Pixar Animated Studios is already developing Toy Story 5, so it doesn’t seem like this franchise will die any time soon.

19 The Twilight Saga

5 Films Grossing $3.36 Billion

Based on the popular Stephanie Meyer books, The Twilight Saga took the world by storm during the late 2000s and early 2010s. The series was one of the first Young Adult fiction series to dominate the movie industry, followed by other popular releases like The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and Divergent — but Twilight remained the most successful one.

Even though The Twilight Saga received mostly negative reviews from critics, there’s no doubt this series was incredibly successful and beloved by fans. In fact, it’s still one of the highest-grossing movie franchises in history, even though it hasn’t released a new installment in more than a decade.

RELATED: 10 Franchises That Needlessly Split The Final Movie Into Multiple Parts

18 Shrek

6 Films Grossing $4.02 Billion

From the moment Shrek was released in 2001, this character has become a cultural phenomenon, and it helped consolidate DreamWorks as one of the most important animation studios. In 2004, Shrek 2 became the highest-grossing movie that year, and later on, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After were also in the top five-grossing movies.

What’s more, DreamWorks also released in 2011 a spin-off following one of the most iconic characters of the series, Puss in Botts. The spin-off recently received a sequel, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which was a commercial success. While the release date of Shrek 5 has been pushed several times, there’s no doubt the movie is on its way, and it’s probably going to be as great a success as the rest of this series.

17 Mission: Impossible

7 Films Grossing $4.11 Billion

Starred by Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, the Mission: Impossible franchise started in 1996, and since then, it recurrently releases another film every four or five years. The films are known for always doing outstandingly well at the box office, with one notable exception: the most recent installment, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. However, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, set to be released in 2024, could turn this around.

While the first two films of the Mission: Impossible franchise received very mixed reviews, from Mission: Impossible III onwards it has positioned itself as one of the best action movies in the industry. Especially, Mission: Impossible – Fallout received widely positive reviews.

16 Pirates of the Caribbean

5 Films Grossing $4.52 Billion

With only five films, the last of which was released in 2017, Pirates of the Caribbean is still the sixtieth highest-grossing franchise of all time. In fact, two of the films in this series amassed more than a billion dollars, which is an amazing feat that not many franchises manage to do.

Pirates of the Caribbean is still a fan favorite, but it seemed like the franchise would die after Johnny Deep’s controversy. However, producer Jerry Bruckheimer confirmed that the sixth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean is in the works with Margot Robbie leading the cast (via The Direct).

15 Despicable Me

5 Films Grossing $4.65 Billion

Even though Disney seems to have a monopoly on animated series, the Despicable Me franchise became the most successful animated film franchise in history. Not only are the three main films incredibly profitable, but its sister franchise based on the adorable Minions also became very popular.

What’s more, Despicable Me‘s success isn’t about to end. A fourth installment of the series is set to be released in 2024, which could position this franchise in the top 10 highest-grossing films. So far, Minions already broke records, becoming the highest-grossing film not owned by Disney, garnering $1.16 billion worldwide.

14 Avatar

2 Films Grossing $5.24 Billion

Taking the world by storm with its terrific visual experience, both Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water broke box office records. In fact, Avatar is to this day the highest-grossing movie of all time with $2.92 billion earning, beating incredibly successful films, such as Titanic and The World Awakens.

Furthermore, The Way of Water was more than a decade in the making since James Cameron needed to wait for the technology to be able to create the movie. This film is the third highest-grossing movie in history, and it would be the second if it wasn’t for Avengers: Endgame.

13 Transformers

8 Films Grossing $5.29 Billion

While most of the films in the Transformers franchise have received very negative reviews and were in the middle of several controversies, the films still did really well at the box office. They were especially praised for their fantastic visual effects and action sequences, even though most people found the story and character development lacking.

Despite Revenge of the Fallen being called one of the worst movies of its decade, the following installment, Dark of the Moon, became the most profitable film of the franchise, earning $1.13 billion. The franchise continued receiving negative reviews up to Bumblebee, which was highly praised. Transformers Rise of the Beasts, which was released on June 9th, 2023, didn’t do great critic-wise or at the box office, but two sequels are already on their way.

RELATED: The Top 50 Best Action Adventure Movies

12 Middle-Earth

7 Films Grossing $5.96 Billion

Based on the most popular and well-written fantasy series of all time, by J. R. R. Tolkien, it’s not a surprise that the Middle Earth films were so successful. The franchise includes The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hobbit series, which was also divided into three films despite being only one book.

While The Hobbit didn’t receive reviews as good as The Lord of the Rings did, both series did terrific in terms of box office, with The Return of the King reaching a total of $1.15 billion. Not only that, but The Lord of the Rings was as successful in the 2000s as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now, and it opened the door for more ambitious fantasy projects.

11 Jurassic Park

6 Films Grossing $6 Billion

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park is one of the most popular film series from the ’90s. When the first movie was released in 1993, it broke box office records with a total of $1.05 billion. In fact, it was the first film ever to earn more than a billion dollars.

However, the first film of the second trilogy, Jurassic World, beat it with a total of $1.67 billion. This trilogy starring actor Chris Pratt in 2015 did incredibly well, riding in people’s nostalgia from the first trilogy, which showed people the extent of visual effects in cinema.

10 X-Men

13 Films Grossing $6.08 Billion

Believe it or not, there was a time when Marvel wasn’t exactly synonymous with outstanding movies. There was the box office flop Howard the Duck, a lifeless adaptation of Blade, and a truly bizarre Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. Then in 2000, X-Men came out and everything changed.

The success of the original X-Men led to a 13-film franchise, including the Deadpool and Wolverine series. It also showed that superhero movies could be big business. The X-Men franchise has earned $6.08 billion, with Deadpool 2 being the most successful film, bringing in $785,046,920.

9 DC Extended Universe

14 Films Grossing $6.68 Billion

The DC Extended Universe has tried really hard to emulate the successful MCU, to mixed results. There have been some great ones like Batman v. Superman: the Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman, but then some total stinkers like Black Adam and Birds of Prey.

The one thing that is consistent though, is that audiences eat these DCEU movies up. Through 14 films, the franchise has earned $6.21 billion, with a complete retooling promising even more on the horizon. As weird as it sounds, the biggest money-maker of the franchise was Aquaman, pulling in $1,148,528,393.

8 Batman

17 Films Grossing $6.84 Billion

After the underwhelming Superman movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s all but killed superhero movies, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman brought them back to life. Then of course the goofy sequels kind of killed them again until Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy once again resurrected the genre.

The 17 films of the Batman franchise, starting in 1966 with Batman: The Movie through 2022’s The Batman, have earned $6.84 billion. The series includes animated films, The Lego Batman Movie, and Catwoman. The Dark Knight Rises is the highest-grossing installment, earning $1,081,169,825, with The Joker right behind it, pulling in $1,074,458,282.

RELATED: 10 Most Iconic Movies That Bombed at the Box Office

7 Fast & Furious

11 Films Grossing $7.33 Billion

What started out as a brofest street racing movie in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, turned into an international espionage action series and one of the top-grossing franchises of all time. The Fast & Furious franchise has earned $6.62 billion across 11 films and there’s more to come.

The F&F franchise is one of the top qualifiers that doesn’t involve superheroes, wizards, or Wookies. The series has been so successful because producers figured out a way to make action-packed car chases the solution to any terrorist plot that may arise. The top performer on the circuit is Furious 7 with $1,515,341,399 in career earnings.

6 Avengers

4 Films Grossing $7.77 Billion

The Avengers are a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they are a top movie franchise all on their own. In just four films, Tony Stark and the crew have hauled in an eye-popping $7.76 billion, making The Avengers the most successful franchise within the most successful franchise.

None of the four films ever earned less than a billion dollars with Age of Ultron coming in at $1,402,809,540. The original 2012 The Avengers made $1,518,815,515, Infinity War earned $2,048,359,754, and the grand finale, Endgame, crushed it, doing $2,797,501,328 at the box office.

5 James Bond

27 Films Grossing $7.84 Billion

British secret agent 007 has literally saved the world over two dozen times. The James Bond franchise, spanning nearly six decades and 27 films, has earned $7.83 billion at the box office. This seems like a small price to pay considering how many times Bond has foiled an evil genius’ plot for world domination.

The first 1962 film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as Bond, earned a modest $59,500,000, but it’s been nothing but success since then. With each new film and Bond portrayer, the series has grown in popularity and earnings. Daniel Craig’s 007 in Skyfall gets the top Bond rating, pulling in $1,108,569,499 and once again saving the day.

4 Wizarding World

11 Films Grossing $9.66 Billion

J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World books were destined to become a great film franchise in the same way Harry Potter was pre-ordained to kill Lord Voldemort. The 11 films of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts enchanted audiences, earning $9.66 billion in Muggle money.

The first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was box office magic, earning $1,009,046,830, and the final entry of the Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, made $1,342,139,727. The three films of the Fantastic Beasts series, while not as popular, brought in a respectable $1,875,845,253 combined.

RELATED: 10 Franchises With Installments That Don’t Matter

3 Star Wars

12 Films Grossing $10.32 Billion

With a trilogy of trilogies, a pair of anthology films, and an animated outlier, Star Wars is the most successful non-superhero franchise. The 12 films of George Lucas’ space saga hit light speed, earning $10.32 billion worth of Imperial credits. The original film is credited for taking the sci-fi genre mainstream and for pulling the 20th Century out of the dumps.

Star Wars: A New Hope grossed $775,398,007, which was huge at the time. Adjusted for inflation, the first film made more than $2.5 billion and ranks second, behind Gone With The Wind as the biggest box office draw of all time. Since inflation-adjusted numbers don’t mean anything to the studio, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the franchise’s top earner, with $2,068,223,624 in ticket sales.

2 Spider-Man

13 Films Grossing $10.51 Billion

Thanks to some creative wheeling and dealing, Spider-Man exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he actually does just fine on his own. Slinging webs through 13 films, Spider-Man has earned $10.51 billion, making it the most successful single-character franchise, superhero or otherwise.

Beginning with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, Peter Parker’s alter-ego has seen enough reboots and re-imagings to rival Batman. While Spider-Man doesn’t need the MCU to get his Spidey senses tingling, his most successful outing was Spider-Man: No Way Home, which webbed in $1,921,847,111.

1 Marvel Cinematic Universe

32 Films Grossing $29.62 Billion

Stretching a story arc across 23 films, as was done with the Infinity Saga, not only seems risky, but downright foolish. It was, however, the most ingenious idea in filmmaking history. Along with the films of the Multiverse Saga, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing movie franchise, earning a combined $28.56 billion through 32 films.

While the sheer volume of entries seems like it gives the MCU an unfair advantage over other franchises, it has a $921,148,482 per film average, making it tops in that category too. Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing film out of any movie from any franchise in the top ten. Just in case the other contenders think they’ll catch Marvel, the MCU has at least 10 more in the works.

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