Just a few days into its release in American cinemas, Spectre—James Bond’s latest big-screen outing—is already poised to take a $75 million chunk out of the weekend box office. While it’s still got more than $1 billion to go to catch up to 2012’s Skyfall, the most profitable Bond film thus far, that entry alone was enough to make the James Bond series one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises of all time. Though 007 has both longevity (he’s been starring in movies for more than a half-century) and prolificacy (Spectre marks his 24th film), neither proved enough to nab him the top spot in the 10 highest grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office.
1. MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Worldwide Gross: $9,060,537,598
Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—which includes The Avengers and Iron Man movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 12 (and counting) films in the past seven years, led (financially speaking) by The Avengers ($1,519,479,547), The Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,404,705,868), Iron Man 3 ($1,215,392,272), and Guardians of the Galaxy ($771,172,112).
2. HARRY POTTER
Worldwide Gross: $7,726,174,542
The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, eight movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them have approached the $1 billion mark, the series’ most recent entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, brought in the biggest profit, with a worldwide take of $1,341,511,219. With two more movies on the way in the next three years, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.
3. JAMES BOND
Worldwide Gross: $6,297,332,445
Though that worldwide gross above was correct at press time, don’t be surprised to see it grow over the next several weeks. In its first week of release, Spectre—the latest film in the long-running Bond franchise—has already managed to take in more than $108 million. But the franchise’s high position on this list is largely thanks to 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1,110,526,981 around the world—which was just enough to give it a slight edge over the next entry on this list.
4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Worldwide Gross: $5,895,819,745
First, it’s important to note that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise includes not just The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but all three of The Hobbit movies as well. While the former series might be the more critically acclaimed of the two, when all is said and done, both series contributed to the franchise’s position here: Among the six films, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1,141,408,667) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.
5. STAR WARS
Worldwide Gross: $4,486,158,822
Considering that just over $1.4 billion separates the Star Wars franchise from The Lord of the Rings, and that J. J. Abrams' hotly anticipated The Force Awakens is hitting theaters next month, it’s not impossible to imagine that George Lucas’ beloved space opera might well climb over Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth series in the near future, particularly considering the number of new Star Wars projects on the horizon.
Worldwide Gross: $3,963,173,282
Sam Rami’s 2002 Spider-Man kicked off a new era in comic book moviemaking with its audience-friendly mix of action, humor, and just a little camp. His final film for the series, Spider-Man 3, earned the most money of the bunch, with a box office intake of $890,875,303. Though the two reboots have not performed as well as the originals, they’ve both made more than $700 million worldwide, which isn’t too shabby.
7. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
Worldwide Gross: $3,899,849,616
It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with seven adrenaline-fueled films that seem to grow more popular with each entry. While the first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, made a respectable $206,512,310, this year’s Furious 7 made more than seven times that amount—a grand total of $1,516,246,709. So it should come as no surprise that Furious 8 is in the works for 2017.
Worldwide Gross: $3,778,297,170
Technically, the Transformers franchise dates all the way back to 1986, when The Transformers: The Movie—an animated feature that marked Orson Welles’ final role—was released in theaters. But considering that it contributed just $5,849,647 to the series’ total worldwide gross, it’s a bit of a non-factor. What is worth noting is that when discussing films, and Transformers in particular, “critically panned” and “financially successful” can go hand in hand. The most popular film in the franchise, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which made $1,123,790,543 worldwide, currently holds a 35 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
Worldwide Gross: $3,710,254,215
First it was a Disney theme park ride, then it was a box office smash success and one of the few times that Johnny Depp agreed to make a truly “commercial” film. But over the course of eight years, from 2003 to 2011, the swashbuckling series has managed to plunder more than $3.7 billion in ticket sales.
Worldwide Gross: $3,702,844,521
Though the final tally above represents more than a quarter-century of Batman movies—going back to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s 1989 original and spanning the less memorable Val Kilmer and George Clooney years—the real earnings in this franchise have come from Christopher Nolan’s reboots. In fact, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1,084,439,099 on its own, accounting for nearly one-third of the franchise's entire haul.
All figures courtesy of The Numbers.