Nine of the top 10 highest grossing films of the year so far are franchise movies. Two years ago, all 10 of the top movies at the box office were parts of a franchise.
The franchise is the engine on which Hollywood runs, comprising the vast majority of both the US and international box office market share. But as big as franchise movies are, they’re developed and distributed by just a select few companies—and the list of franchises that are both critically and commercially successful is smaller than you might think.
These 17 charts will help you understand the franchise phenomenon gripping Hollywood. You’ll learn about the most (and least) successful film series and the companies that make them; the longest-running and most prolific franchises; the most-adapted stories of all time; the history of famous franchises and the box office trends that sustain them; and more.
Truly original movies are diminishing
As comic book movies become more popular—especially in light of Disney’s 2009 purchase of Marvel—truly original scripts are being phased out of the major studios’ release schedules.
In 2000, original screenplays (scripts not based on existing works of fiction or non-fiction), constituted 58% of the US domestic box office. This year, those screenplays only represent 33% of the total box office. Meanwhile, films inspired by comics went from a 2% share in 2000, to a 5% share the year after Disney bought Marvel, to a 34% share thus far in 2019—surpassing original material for the first time.
Comic book movies have surpassed ones based on original scripts despite having hundreds fewer movies. So far in 2019, there have been nine comic book movies shown in theaters compared to 174 films with original scripts. And still, just those nine movies account for a large share of the box office than those 174 originals combined:
And Disney has a lot to do with that
Disney’s investment in Marvel and Lucasfilm (the production company that owns Star Wars) is responsible for much of the downturn in original movies. Disney is getting bigger each year on the backs of franchises like Star Wars and The Avengers—though, to be fair, many of its Pixar films are original.
The Mouse House is beginning to crowd its competitors out of the field
Disney has grown its overall share of the US box office by 25% in the last decade. Its three major Hollywood competitors—Universal, Sony, and Warner Bros.—have all remained stagnant or lost ground over that time. Disney’s other big competitor, 20th Century Fox, isn’t a threat anymore because Disney bought the company last year and from here on out will count Fox’s box office numbers towards its own total.
Disney’s success has made Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige one of the most lucrative people in Hollywood. As the chief conductor of the Avengers orchestra, Feige has helped Disney accumulate more than $10 billion in box office revenue. Films produced by Feige have made a lot more than those of even Steven Spielberg, whose movies have grossed a little more than $8 billion over a much longer career involving more than twice as many movies as Feige. Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm, is in third place at nearly $8 billion.
Disney’s growth isn’t just huge, it’s fast
Disney owns the four fastest times to $1 billion box office gross—and those four times have come in the last four years. Paramount Pictures failed to gross $1 billion total in 2018; Disney made that in less than four months.
That’s in part because when Disney movies come out, they absolutely dominate
Avengers: Endgame was responsible for almost 90% of US box office revenue the weekend it was released. Disney movies account for four of the top five and eight of the top 10 biggest weekend market shares of all time. Simply put, when Disney movies come out, people don’t go see anything else.
And yet, individual movies don’t dominate for quite as long as they used to. Even Disney’s movies
Maybe it’s because there are more movies coming out, or maybe it’s because our attention spans aren’t what they used to be, or maybe it’s because Netflix and other services are all vying for that attention, but even massive films like The Avengers don’t stay at the top of the US box office for very long these days.
Avengers: Endgame only spent three weeks as the number one movie in America. And that tied for the longest run of any film at the top spot since Black Panther lasted five weeks last year. Black Panther’s five weeks were the most since Avatar‘s seven in 2009. The most before that? Titanic at 15. No movie in the last 10 years would make the list below of the films that stayed as the number one movie for the most amount of time:
Disney doesn’t mind this trend too much, because when one of its films get bumped from the top spot, it’s often by another one of its films.
Disney accounts for six of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time—seven if you count Avatar, now part of the Disney family
Disney’s movies also comprise 12 of the top 20. Only five companies—Disney, Fox (now a part of Disney), Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros. have films on the below list of the highest grossing films ever. Every movie on this list is part of a franchise except Titanic.
When you add them all up, the Marvel Cinematic Universe blows every other franchise away in total box office revenue
Sure, the MCU also has more movies than every other franchise except for James Bond, but its $22 billion global total is staggering. That’s more than double the franchise in second place (Star Wars, also owned by Disney, obviously). The most lucrative non-Disney property is Harry Potter, coming in at third with more than $9 billion total box office gross.
(Note: Some superhero films are counted twice in the above chart—once as part of the characters’ specific film series, and then again as part of their greater comic-book cinematic universes.)
Enough about the money. How about some respect for the elders?
King Kong may not be the richest ape in town, but he’s definitely the oldest. Kong is the longest-running franchise that’s still churning out new movies (a new one is expected next year). It started all the way back in 1933, during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
Some of the world’s best-known film franchises have been around for well over a half-century:
Aside from Kong, Godzilla, James Bond, and Star Wars all have more films planned in the near future. Some of the others on the list above likely will too, but that’s unknown at this time.
You can’t forget about inflation when talking box office
As the cost of a movie ticket increases, box office numbers increase with it, so it’s not totally fair to compare Marvel’s current earnings to what films made 100, 50, 20, or even 10 years ago.
If you adjust to the estimated average 2019 ticket price of $9.01, franchise sequel revenues look like less impressive moneymakers. Only five of the top 20 adjusted box office gross totals of all time are from sequels when you adjust for inflation. Star Wars comes out looking impressive, as its original total far exceeds those of the sequels it spawned.
Also keep in mind: Box office isn’t everything. Franchises make their money in other ways too
The most lucrative media franchise in the world hasn’t appeared on any of the lists above. In fact, only 2% of its total revenue has come from movie tickets. We’re talking about Pokémon, of course. The Japanese media franchise gets the majority of its money from other avenues—$61 billion in merchandise, $17 billion in video games, $11 billion in card games, and just about $2 billion in box office.
Most of the world’s biggest franchises only get a fraction of their total revenues from the movies. The chart below lists the highest-grossing media franchises in the world where at least .01% of revenue comes from box office. (In other words, these franchises have inspired at least one feature film shown in theaters.) Here’s the full list.
Though it’s the most important market, the US doesn’t dictate everything. China is increasingly important
With the US domestic box office stagnant, studios are looking to China for a boost. The chart below reveals the Hollywood-produced films that performed the best at the Chinese box office. It yields some interesting results. Aquaman, for instance, over-performed in China relative to its US box office gross. (Aquaman made $335 million in the US—good for 58th all time, while it’s 5th all time in China.)
Aside from the obvious in Avengers, Chinese audiences seem very interested the Fast and the Furious and Transformers franchises—as much as, if not more, than their American counterparts.
We tend to think of sequels as uninspired, but sometimes they drastically outperform their predecessors
Sequels sometimes improve more than 100% over the box office totals of the film that came before them. The Dark Knight, for instance, did 180% better than Batman Begins a few years earlier.
There’s one major caveat, however. It’s that pesky inflation again. Many of the sequels below that vastly improved over their predecessors came out many years later, meaning they had the benefit of inflation to make their totals look better in comparison.
Still, this list does reveal something interesting: first sequels have a better chance of outperforming the original than subsequent sequels. Of films where the original grossed at least $10 million, 10 of the top 13 most-improved are first sequels, while none are second sequels are just three are third sequels (ie, Mad Max: Fury Road).
The franchises that weren’t
You knew it was coming. Below are the biggest “box office bombs” of all time. Many of the films below were envisioned by their writers and producers as the beginnings of franchises. But once those box office returns came in, all future plans had to be halted. (Losses are estimated based on production budget and other costs, including marketing, advertising, and distribution, using a variety of sources including Box Office Mojo, IMDB Pro, Wikipedia, and The-Numbers.com.)
The most-adapted works in film and TV history
Throughout the thousands of years of literary, religious, and mythological texts, several stories have proven to be more cinematic than the others. The list below is not exhaustive; It is merely a selection of the most-adapted works of all time, based on the number of somewhat prominent films and TV series (including those created outside the US) that they inspired.
Quartz estimated the number of adaptations per each work based on combining data from Box Office Mojo, Wikipedia, and IMDB. While the Bible has likely inspired the most screen-based content, the most-adapted single novel is probably Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Finally, what do the critics think?
We’ve learned a lot about the numbers so far. But how good are all these big franchises? Quartz browsed Rotten Tomatoes to come up with a ranking of the most critically acclaimed major Hollywood film series of all time. (Series must have at least three films in order to qualify.)
The result? Toy Story is the best franchise ever, with an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 99%. Other standouts include Mad Max, The Dark Knight, The Lord of the Rings, and James Bond, which has impressively maintained a high average over the course of 26 films.