The term ‘blockbuster’ is often used for films that become very popular and make a huge profit at the box office. But what makes a film a real blockbuster? At its heart, it’s all about the amount of money that is made from a film. So this guide looks at some of the most popular and lucrative films ever released, ranking them according to box office revenue.

From Gone with the Wind to Avatar, these movies have captivated cinema-goers for decades, and all have one thing in common: they became huge hits in every meaning of the word. So, let’s take a look at which films made the biggest impact and why.

Top 10 Highest-Grossing Films of All Time

  1. Avatar (2009) – $2.8 billion
    This 2009 sci-fi epic directed by James Cameron features a disabled marine who gains adventure and romance while protecting a sacred tree from fierce aliens. The 3D movie and its award-winning special effects became a global phenomenon, and Avatar was the first film to earn over $2 billion worldwide.

  2. Titanic (1997) – $2.2 billion
    Considered one of the greatest love stories ever told, legendary director James Cameron said he wanted to make the “biggest movie ever made” with Titanic, and that’s exactly what he did. The movie won 11 Oscars and has grossed over $2 billion worldwide.

  3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) – $2.068 billion
    This iconic space opera, directed by J.J. Abrams, broke box office records and grossed an unpreceded amount of money in its opening weekend. Sticking close to its classic tale of heroes and galactic villains, the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga shattered all expectations and achieved a worldwide total of over $2 billion.

  4. The Avengers (2012) – $1.519 billion
    The highly-anticipated superhero film was a mash-up of Marvel’s most popular heroes, and quickly enthralled audiences all over the world. The Avengers featured epic battles, multi-layered storylines, and performances by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. It went to gross almost $1.5 billion globally.

  5. Furious 7 (2015) – $1.5 billion
    The seventh installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, also called Furious 7, culminates the story of Dominic Torreto and his crew as they fight against a ruthless cyber terrorist. It is the highest-grossing “franchise” film in history and earned over $1.5 billion at the box office.

  6. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – $1.4 billion
    This second installment in the Avengers series featues the team of superheroes as they defend Earth from the powerful Ultron. Not surprisingly, this 2015 blockbuster grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide and ended up being the third-highest-grossing movie of the year after Star Wars and Jurassic World.

  7. Jurassic World (2015) – $1.6 billion
    This science fiction adventure was the fourth in the Jurassic Park franchise and featured dinosaurs once again terrorizing humans in an action-packed, thrill-ride movie. Jurassic World reignited interest in the franchise and grossed over $1.6 billion to become the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time.

  8. The Dark Knight (2008) – $1.005 billion
    Christopher Nolan’s take on the classic Batman franchise earned to make it the first superhero movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Not only did this post-9/11 movie make waves for its dark tone, but it also included Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal as the psychopathic Joker.

  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) – $1.342 billion
    The last installment of the beloved Harry Potter series was a box office phenomenon, and many fans called it the most successful fantasy movie of all time. The movie grossed an incredible $1.3 billion worldwide and served as a fitting farewell to the Harry Potter saga.

  10. Frozen (2013) – $1.276 billion
    It may not be a classic superhero flick, but this Disney movie about a princess with magical powers managed to make the list because of its worldwide success. The movie was the highest-grossing animated film of all time and earned a huge $1.276 billion globally.

The Psychology Behind Blockbuster Hits

When it comes to blockbuster movies, money isn’t the only factor at play. There’s a plethora of research out there into the psychology of why certain films become huge successes, and what movie-goers are drawn to.

First and foremost, movie-goers look for emotional resonance. Films become popular if they evoke an intense emotional response. Certain elements of a movie such as drama, suspense and adventure can influence that emotional response, and these are common themes in some of the most popular films.

Similarly, a movie can be considered a blockbuster hit if they tap into people’s sense of nostalgia. Films such as Star Wars or Jurassic Park bring back memories of our childhoods, which can be a powerful draw for certain audiences.

In addition, certain genres perform better than others when it comes to blockbuster hits. Action, fantasy and sci-fi movies tend to be popular, not only because of the production value, but because there’s a level of escapism associated with these genres.

Finally, an important element of blockbuster hits is their marketing campaigns. Movies need to be seen and talked about in order to become a success. Social media, trailers and early hype, as well as critically-acclaim, can drive viewers to the cinema and contribute to a movie’s success.

Becoming a blockbuster hit isn’t just about making a lot of money; it’s also about the movie’s impact on audiences. Sure, talented actors, directors, and special effects all play a part in determining a movie’s success, but the most successful films are those that generate an emotional response and take people on an journey. From story-telling to CGI-effects, the most popular movies will always be the ones that move the audience and remind them just how powerful the medium of film can be.