A billion dollars is a RIDICULOUSLY LARGE amount of money. An amount so large, in fact, that most of us can’t even begin to fathom what it looks like. And for many years, Hollywood’s filmmakers also got nowhere near earning the astronomical sum of their films. As we neared the 21st century, however, with inflation steadily growing and the age of the franchise blossoming, the threat of the billion-dollar film grew. Now, in 2023, we can’t go a year without at least one film making its way into the famed Billion Dollar Club (BDC). In 2022, three films crossed the milestone as the latest films in the Jurassic World, Top Gun, and Avatar franchises hauled in cash at the box office. And to honor all the blue people of the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, I figured, why not rank the 52 films that have earned a billion dollars at the international box office?
Before I begin, I’d like to chat quickly about the phenomenon of the billion-dollar film, and the qualifications for this list.
First, I have not adjusted any of the grosses here for inflation. If you start wandering down that rabbit hole, you end up with all kinds of complicated math to do, and I am an English major. So while movies like Gone with the Wind and Star Wars: A New Hope were certainly massive hits, they will not be included here because they were released in eras where ticket prices were not $17.
Second, we are looking at global box office numbers, not just numbers from the US. Unfortunately, with censorship rules in countries like China, and strange distribution plans in others (especially during COVID), there are films, especially a number of recent Marvel hits, that haven’t made a billion dollars because they have fewer territories to earn in.
Third, I am counting rereleases. Films like Jurassic Park and The Lion King have appeared in theaters multiple times, and I’m including all those dollars earned. So if they decide to rerelease Death on the Nile every year for the rest of my life and it miraculously makes a billion dollars in 2089, I’ll add it to the list.
Fourth, there are plenty of films that you would think have earned a billion dollars that aren’t here, and plenty of films on this list that will surprise you. Entering the BDC relies HEAVILY on both 1) opening weekend sales and 2) international sales. So sequels and action-heavy films that are less reliant on knowing English tend to do best. That means that often the first few films in a franchise don’t crack a billion dollars, but later more maligned films in a franchise will.
Lastly, this ranking is based on the quality of the film itself separate from how much money it made. I am looking at these films as individual artistic productions and judging them on things such as acting, writing, directing, etc.