10 years ago, there were but three billion-dollar films – the second Pirates of the Caribbean, the third Lord of the Rings and Titanic. Now there are soon to be 35 – that’s inflation for you, folks. It’s safe to say the mantle of billion-dollar grosser doesn’t mean what it used to. But while some trash like Alice in Wonderland, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – did I mention Minions? – are supported by enormous percentages overseas, only a select few films were worth imprinting on the entirety of collective human consciousness.
In any case, here is the list of top 10 billion dollar movies, ranked from good to best. These are cream of the crop when it comes to the world’s highest grossing movies.
10. Captain America: Civil War
The Russo brothers have proven themselves worthy of directing massive-budgeted Marvel flicks since fan-favorite Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now they’re still in the midst of delivering the final Avengers film after Infinity War played out so magnificently. Going into Phase 3, Civil War was proof that no matter how episodic the Marvel Cinematic Universe became, regardless of how many heroes were stuffed in, the brand would deliver accessible and interesting feature films with hardly a hiccup. Civil War balanced the introduction of Black Panther (a film which easily could have claimed this spot) and a young Spider-Man with a Hydra/Bucky-focused Captain America movie all while essentially delivering Avengers 2.5. The cinematic juggling act was just a warm-up the two-part Avengers finale, yet the third Captain America remains an impressive work of harmonized chaos that equals and even surpasses the first Avengers.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
The third film to ever cross the billion-dollar mark was fortunately the most adventurous Pirates of the Caribbean movie we ever got. Dead Man’s Chest is without a doubt the best sequel the franchise ever produced at the very least, if you’re gung ho about The Curse of the Black Pearl standing high above the rest. Gore Verbinski steered the swashbuckling epic with Spielbergian effervescence and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio let their imagination run free before they let it get away from them in the overstuffed At World’s End. Pirates 2 is a meaty, underrated blockbuster diversion.
So few of Disney’s most wildly successful films deserved it – Frozen, Beauty and the Beast and Finding Dory were mostly glossy cash-ins. Zootopia may not boast a great deal of complexity but nevertheless offers youngsters a proper helping of positive brainwashing whilst entertaining folks of any age. I doubt Disney thought too deeply about the way their animated world mirrors that of America’s own sociopolitical structures, but when the voice cast is talented, the noir-spoof story is engaging and the message, basic as it is, resonates truthfully, Zootopia can call itself one of the best billion-dollar grossing films.
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Harry Potter was a bona fide cinematic success from day one – the first film came excruciatingly close to the billion-dollar mark and the rest of the series struggled to match that watermark, profitable as each was. It was only the finality of the eighth chapter of the fantasy film series that conjured enough nostalgia to secure Deathly Hallows Part 2 in the league of all time highest grossing blockbusters. Though it doesn’t have as many artistic flourishes as David Yates’ previous two entries – Part 1 and Half-Blood Prince stand with the finest of the franchise – the leanest of all Potter films still packs a wallop. The flaws of Deathly Hallows’ second half mostly stem from a few plot contrivances courtesy of Ms. Rowling.
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Before and since this age of inflation, Titanic served as the benchmark for how all future film phenomenon would be judged. Poetically, the only motion picture to top this legendary gross is Cameron himself in his disappointing if technologically envelope-pushing Avatar. As pure spectacle – some of the best and worst blockbusters – Titanic is a splendid achievement even if its dialogue, story and characters don’t match Cameron’s visual feat. He turned his own fascination with the 1916 disaster into a touchstone of pop culture history. If the passion about the period detail and set design was also incorporated in the generically tragic love story, Titanic would be an indisputable classic.
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5. Avengers: Infinity War
If Iron Man weren’t such as unassumingly awesome start to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Infinity War would be the remarkable apex of a nearly 20-film franchise. The script is mathematical and wondrously childlike in its distribution of our various heroes into the most precious mix and matches one could hope for from a superhero crossover film of this size. Rocket Raccoon and Thor, Dr. Strange and Tony Stark – there’s so much nerdgasm fuel it’s astounding that Thanos has enough room to be not just the series’ most formidable villain but also a sympathetic character. It’s about as much fun as a movie ticket and 2 ½ hours can get you.
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It only took 50 years, but what was once the most profitable film franchise in history – the Mouse was gonna catch up eventually – finally attained that billion dollar landmark with one of the most artistically satisfying episodes in the never-ending saga of our immortal MI-6 agent. Visually fleshed out with Roger Deakins’ exceptional eye and Sam Mendes’ directorial control, the 23rd James Bond film set the rebooted Craig series back on track after Quantum of Solace almost undid the incredible trajectory Casino Royale had just carved out. Spectre ended up ruining Skyfall a bit just the same, but the way things are going Bond 25 should tie things up nice and neat for Craig’s exit. Regardless, Skyfall was a great moment to be a Bond fan and was also a good time for the average viewer of a new generation to see what all the fuss was about.
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3. Toy Story 3
Pixar has almost exclusively enjoyed fat box office profits, but waiting 11 years to complete the Toy Story trilogy was enough to win the brand the box office milestone in question. As the last film in which the studio still bore its nearly flawless reputation – softened by Cars 2 the following year – Toy Story 3 was an excellent capper to a 15-year period of exceptional animated films, beginning with the first Toy Story mind you. You cried – you know you cried.
Related: Best Animated Movies of All Time
2. The Dark Knight
His ambitions have gotten grander and more unwieldy with every project (although one might say Dunkirk saw him scaling things back in a good way), but The Dark Knight represents Christopher Nolan at the inception of wielding A-list directorial power – in the form of a 180 million dollar budget – as well as his most textured moments as an auteur. It may have only just snuck past the billion dollar mark many months after release – unlike many billion dollar grossers, more than half of that money was domestic earnings. Still The Dark Knight was and remains a seminal moment in 21st century film history, cementing superhero films as the blockbuster bread and butter of the age while legitimizing that fact simultaneously.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Before Peter Jackson’s monstrous undertaking in adapting The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a film series had never earned more at the box office with each successive installment. By the time The Return of the King signaled the beginning of the end of a glorious rebirth in fantasy in the early aughts, the fanaticism was feverish enough to make the film just the second ever to cross 1 billion dollars worldwide. Return of the King itself, as a beautiful capper to the trilogy or just the mother of all epics on its own, earned every Oscar and all the ticket sales the came before. It’s scope is mammoth and its achievement in both spectacle and emotional gravity is unparalleled this millennia.