Paramount Pictures

The 25 highest all-time grossing films in the U.S.

There are a few different ways to measure the success of a movie, including Oscar wins and ticket sales. Being No. 1 at the box office for a week is impressive, but being the highest-grossing movie of the year? Even better. However, what about the movies that are the biggest of all time? That’s what we’re focused on here. We’ve got the 25 highest-grossing movies by American box office sales and adjusted for inflation. That keeps it from being a list of movies from the last few years, since tickets are more expensive now. This also does include box office from rereleases, so movies that have been out a few times get a boost. Here are the top 25 grossing movies in American history.

 
1 of 25

“The Godfather” (1972)

“The Godfather” (1972)
Paramount Pictures

Given that “The Godfather” is rated R, it’s pretty impressive it made this list. There are only a handful of R-rated films that made the cut. Of course, “The Godfather” isn’t just a box office smash. The movie won Best Picture and is considered one of the best films ever made.

 
2 of 25

“Fantasia” (1940)

“Fantasia” (1940)
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney has made a lot of successful movies, but we bet you didn’t expect “Fantasia” to be on this list. It’s a largely silent movie built around several different segments of classical music matched with animation. You may remember Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice, but this movie isn’t one that a lot of people talk about these days.

 
3 of 25

“The Graduate” (1967)

“The Graduate” (1967)
United Artists

In this era of comic book movies and sci-fi films dominating the box office, it feels strange to remember a time when a serious-minded character study like “The Graduate” could be tops in ticket sales. Dustin Hoffman stars as a wayward college graduate who begins an affair with an older neighbor, the famed Mrs. Robinson. Maybe people just really wanted to hear Simon and Garfunkel.

 
4 of 25

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
Paramount Pictures

George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg dominate this list, and they joined together on this film. Lucas brought his love of old-time serial movies, while Spielberg brought his skill with action directing. This began the Indiana Jones franchise, and it’s still the best of the bunch.

 
5 of 25

“The Sting” (1973)

“The Sting” (1973)
Universal Pictures

Apparently back in the day people loved to go see Best Picture winners. “The Godfather” won Best Picture in 1972, and the next year “The Sting” got the Oscar. Robert Redford and Paul Newman, two of the biggest stars of the era, joined forces again for this Depression Era heist movie.

 
6 of 25

“The Lion King” (1994)

“The Lion King” (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures

The photorealistic remake was a weird one, even with Beyonce involved. We’ll stick to the original animated film. We know the songs are stuck in your head already but, you know, Hakuna Matata.

 
7 of 25

“The Phantom Menace” (1999)

“The Phantom Menace” (1999)
20th Century Fox

This is the first of several movies from the "Star Wars" universe you will see on this list. It’s also the least popular of the bunch. People were hyped for the first prequel, and the first "Star Wars" movie in over 15 years. Alas, “The Phantom Menace” turned out to be a big disappointment to many. There’s a reason no other prequel made this list.

 
8 of 25

“Jurassic Park” (1993)

“Jurassic Park” (1993)
Universal Studios

Spielberg is back, and he brought dinosaurs with him. At the time, the special effects of “Jurassic Park” were incredible. CGI was still relatively new, and Spielberg mixed that and practical effects with aplomb. It’s also just an exciting movie with some great actors in it.

 
9 of 25

“Return of the Jedi” (1983)

“Return of the Jedi” (1983)
20th Century Fox

For years, this was thought of as the final "Star Wars" film. “Return of the Jedi” gave us Ewoks and the end of the Empire. Some think it’s a little too cutesy, but that didn’t stop people from flocking to the box office to see it. Plus, there have been all the rereleases of George Lucas’ original trilogy.

 
10 of 25

“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
Walt Disney Studios

Not adjusted for inflation, “Endgame” is the highest-grossing movie of all time. However, we are making that adjustment, and by this measure it ranks only 16th. That’s still incredibly impressive, but it doesn’t sound as good as being No. 1. “Endgame” does impressively tie a ton of story together and bring the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe events to a satisfying conclusion.

 
11 of 25

“Avatar” (2009)

“Avatar” (2009)
20th Century Fox

Until “Endgame” took the title, “Avatar” was the highest-grossing movie ever. And yet, based on inflation, it’s only 15th. “Avatar” has largely been forgotten, but it came out at the heyday of 3-D movies having their resurgence. That led to pricier tickets and boosted the box office take.

 
12 of 25

“Ben-Hur” (1959)

“Ben-Hur” (1959)
Warner Brothers/MGM

Hollywood doesn’t make epics like these anymore, by and large, but they were huge back in the day. “Ben-Hur” didn’t just make a ton of cash. For years, it was the reigning Oscars champion. It won a whopping 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.

 
13 of 25

“Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

“Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
20th Century Fox

Another "Star Wars" film. “The Empire Strikes Back” is the middle film of the original trilogy. It’s the dark one that ends on kind of a somber note. Oh, and it’s also the one where we find out about Luke Skywalker’s patronage.

 
14 of 25

“101 Dalmatians” (1961)

“101 Dalmatians” (1961)
Walt Disney Pictures

You made a nice family film back in the day and you’d get a lot of people to go see it. Like “Fantasia,” “101 Dalmatians” isn’t a particularly beloved Disney movie. You can name maybe one song from it and may only know Cruella de Vil. Back in the ‘60s, though, it was absolutely huge.

 
15 of 25

“The Force Awakens” (2015)

“The Force Awakens” (2015)
Lucas Films LTD

Only one movie from the most recent trilogy of "Star Wars" films makes this list, and it’s the first one. Once more, people were excited for the first new "Star Wars" film in over a decade. At least this time we got a good movie too. “The Force Awakens” brought a bunch of new characters into the world of "Star Wars," and there was no controversy about any of them.

 
16 of 25

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)
Walt Disney Pictures

We break into the top 10 with the earliest movie on this list. In fact, the Disney classic is the first ever feature-length cel-animated movie. Over the years, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has been rereleased repeatedly, which has helped boost the box office.

 
17 of 25

“The Exorcist” (1973)

“The Exorcist” (1973)
Warner Bros.

If we’re being honest, this is the most surprising movie on the list. “The Exorcist” in the top 10? This is the only horror movie in the top 25, and it’s a particularly brutal one at that. “The Exorcist” gave people nightmares. However, apparently people couldn’t get enough of that.

 
18 of 25

“Doctor Zhivago” (1965)

“Doctor Zhivago” (1965)
MGM

At least with “Doctor Zhivago” you get bang for your buck. David Lean’s epic is 193 minutes long. That’s over three hours. People complained about having to watch “The Irishman” and they could do that on Netflix! And yet “Doctor Zhivago” is one of the highest-grossing movies ever. Maybe movie-watchers had more patience in the ‘60s.

 
19 of 25

“Jaws” (1975)

“Jaws” (1975)
Universal Pictures

With “Jaws,” Spielberg basically invented the summer blockbuster. Movies used to be taken on the road and would be shown in only a few cities at a time. “Jaws” was given one big release, and people flocked to see it. You could argue that, like “The Exorcist,” “Jaws” in a horror film. It did at least make a lot of filmgoers afraid to go into the water.

 
20 of 25

“The Ten Commandments” (1956)

“The Ten Commandments” (1956)
Paramount Pictures

Imagine a massive biblical epic being released right now. Would it be a huge blockbuster? Possibly, but it seems unlikely. Cecil B. DeMille’s epic starring Charlton Heston as Moses wowed people. Back then, spectacle meant a lot in movies. Plus, most people didn’t have TVs in 1956.

 
21 of 25

“Titanic” (1997)

“Titanic” (1997)
Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox

For many years, “Titanic” was the highest-grossing movie ever. It ruled until another James Cameron film “Avatar,” took over. By this standard, though, “Titanic” still has a leg up on both “Avatar” and “Endgame.” Our hearts will go on.

 
22 of 25

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
Universal Pictures

This is Spielberg’s final movie on the list. Yes, it’s “E.T.” that made the most money of his many, many films. “E.T.” is the story of a boy and an alien who form a bond, a feel-good twist on Spielberg’s earlier movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” This family movie was evidently more popular.

 
23 of 25

“The Sound of Music” (1965)

“The Sound of Music” (1965)
20th Century Fox

The hills are alive with the sounds of cash registers. Back in the ‘60s, people loved musicals, and “The Sound of Music” was the most popular of the bunch. It’s a brightly colored film starring Julia Andrews busting out tune after tune. The affinity many people have for “The Sound of Music” has boosted it to being the third-highest-grossing film ever.

 
24 of 25

“Star Wars” (1977)

“Star Wars” (1977)
20th Century Fox

You knew “Star Wars,” aka “A New Hope” was going to show up. Are you surprised it finished only second? George Lucas’ movie changed the film landscape. This isn’t hyperbole. All those sci-fi films and franchises we see now are largely because “Star Wars” was such a massive hit. It’s also been rereleased a few times, of course, which helped boost the box office. There’s a big gap in adjusted gross between “The Sound of Music” and “Star Wars,” but Luke and Co. still are runners-up.

 
25 of 25

“Gone with the Wind” (1939)

“Gone with the Wind” (1939)
Warner Brothers/MGM

Yes, to this day, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie when adjusted for inflation. Given that it came out in 1939, that’s a ton of inflation. This Best Picture winner was based on a popular book and stayed in theaters forever. It also got rereleased several times. It would be years before TV was invented, so if you wanted entertainment, you had to go to the movies. Want to know just how popular “Gone with the Wind” has been? The estimated tickets sold for “Star Wars” is about 178 million. For “Gone with the Wind” it’s about 202 million. Frankly, my dear, that’s impressive.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.



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