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CHARTBOOK

The Hollywood franchise machine in 17 charts

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Lucasfilm
Don’t panic, young padawan. You’ll understand everything soon enough.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

1
Avatar
2009
Fox
$2.79
2
Avengers: Endgame
2019
Disney
$2.78
3
Titanic
1997
Paramount
$2.19
4
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2015
Disney
$2.07
5
Avengers: Infinity War
2018
Disney
$2.05
6
Jurassic World
2015
Universal
$1.67
7
Marvel’s The Avengers
2012
Disney
$1.52
8
Furious 7
2015
Universal
$1.52
9
Avengers: Age of Ultron
2015
Disney
$1.41
10
Black Panther
2018
Disney
$1.35
11
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
2011
Warner Bros.
$1.34
12
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2017
Disney
$1.33
13
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
2018
Universal
$1.31
14
Frozen
2013
Disney
$1.28
15
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
2017
Disney
$1.26
16
Incredibles 2
2018
Disney
$1.24
17
The Fate of the Furious
2017
Universal
$1.24
18
Iron Man 3
2013
Disney
$1.21
19
Minions
2015
Universal
$1.16
20
Captain America: Civil War
2016
Disney
$1.15

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.

Marvel Cinematic Universe
23
$22.27
12
Star Wars
13
$9.31
49
Harry Potter
10
$9.19
20
Middle-earth
6
$8.81
17
James Bond
26
$7.08
57
X-Men
12
$6.05
20
Spider-Man
9
$5.72
17
DC Extended Universe
7
$5.27
9
Fast and the Furious
8
$5.14
20
Jurassic Park
5
$4.98
28
Transformers
7
$4.85
32
Batman
15
$4.57
32
Pirates of the Caribbean
5
$4.49
14
Despicable Me
4
$3.71
10
Mission: Impossible
6
$3.58
26
Shrek
5
$3.55
18
Twilight
5
$3.31
4
Ice Age
5
$3.18
14
Hunger Games
4
$2.96
3
The Hobbit
3
$2.92
2
Avatar
1
$2.77
18
Toy Story
4
$2.76
24
Superman
9
$2.39
38
Madagascar
4
$2.27
14
Star Trek
13
$2.67
37

(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:

King Kong
1933
2020
87
Dumbo
1941
2019
78
Wizard of Oz
1939
2013
74
Godzilla
1954
2020
66
Fantasia
1940
1999
59
Cinderella
1950
2007
57
James Bond
1963
2020
57
Peter Pan
1953
2009
56
Mary Poppins
1964
2018
54
Peanuts
1966
2015
49
Planet of the Apes
1968
2017
49
Star Wars
1977
2026
49
Around the World in 80 Days
1956
2004
48
Shaft
1971
2019
48
Lady and the Tramp
1955
2001
46

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.

Pokémon
est. $90 billion
$1.86 billion
2%
Winnie the Pooh
est. $75 billion
$46 million
0.6%
Mickey Mouse & Friends
est. $70 billion
$46 million
0.65%
Star Wars
est. $65 billion
$9.3 billion
14.3%
Mario
est. $36 billion
$21 million
0.06%
Marvel Cinematic Universe
est. $32.4 billion
$22 billion
68.7%
Wizarding World
est. $31 billion
$9 billion
29%
Spider-Man
est. $27 billion
$6 billion
22%
Batman
est. $25 billion
$5 billion
20%
Dragon Ball
est. $24 billion
$817 million
3.4%
Barbie
est. $24 billion
$5.1 million
0.02%
Cars
est. $22 billion
$2.03 billion
9%
Toy Story
est. $20.4 billion
$2.8 billion
13.7%
Middle-earth
$19.9 billion
$8.8 billion
44%
James Bond
est. $19.9 billion
$7 billion
35%
Peanuts
est. $17.4 billion
$250 million
1.40%
Transformers
est. $17.2 billion
$4.8 billion
28%

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).

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1991
$205 million
434%
7
Tron: Legacy
2010
$172 million
421%
28
Mad Max: Fury Road
2015
$151 million
317%
30
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
2017
$405 million
302%
22
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
1999
$206 million
282%
2
Rambo: First Blood Part II
1985
$150 million
252%
3
Jurassic World
2015
$616 million
240%
14
Incredibles 2
2018
$609 million
230%
14
Pitch Perfect 2
2015
$184 million
183%
3
Blade Runner 2049
2017
$92 million
180%
35
The Dark Knight
2008
$533 million
160%
3
Fast & Furious
2009
$155 million
148%
3
Lethal Weapon 2
1989
$147 million
126%
2

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.)

Mortal Engines
2018
$110 million
$83.7 million
$175 million
A Wrinkle in Time
2018
$125 million
$133.4 million
$131 million
John Carter
2012
$264 million
$284.1 million
$126 million
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
2003
$60 million
$80.8 million
$125 million
The Lone Ranger
2013
$225 million
$260.5 million
$124 million
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
2017
$175 million
$148.7 million
$114 million
Monster Trucks
2016
$125 million
$64.5 million
$109 million
Cutthroat Island
1995
$98 million
$18.3 million
$105 million
How Do You Know
2010
$100 million
$48.7 million
$105 million
Jack the Giant Slayer
2013
$185 million
$197.7 million
$105 million
Titan A.E.
2000
$75 million
$36.8 million
$100 million
Mars Needs Moms
2011
$150 million
$39 million
$100 million
Dark Phoenix
2019
$200 million
$251.5 million
$100 million
47 Ronin
2013
$175 million
$151.8 million
$97 million
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
2002
$100 million
$7.1 million
$96 million

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.

The Bible
1400 BC
320
Greek mythology
900 BC
175
King Arthur
9th Century AD
155
Robin Hood
13th Century AD
120
Sherlock Holmes
1887
100
Dracula
1897
85
Tarzan
1912
55
Les Miserables
1862
50
Romeo and Juliet
1597
50
Hamlet
1599
45
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
1861
45
The Three Musketeers
1844
40
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1886
36
Frankenstein
1818
34
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
1900
33
Treasure Island
1883
27
Macbeth
1606
27
The Prince and the Pauper
1881
26
Don Quixote
1605
25
The Adventures of Pinocchio
1883
22
The Count of Monte Cristo
1844
21
The Picture of Dorian Gray
1890
20
Peter Pan
1904
20

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.

Toy Story
99%
4
100%
98%
How to Train Your Dragon
94%
3
99%
91%
Mad Max
91.3%
4
97%
80%
John Wick
88.6%
3
90%
87%
The Dark Knight Trilogy
88.3%
3
94%
84%
Planet of the Apes
88.3%
3
93%
82%
Captain America
87%
3
91%
80%
Indiana Jones
86.5%
4
95%
78%
Ip Man
86.3%
3
96%
78%
Marvel Cinematic Universe
84.7%
23
97%
66%
Iron Man
81.7%
3
93%
74%
LEGO
81.3%
4
95%
55%
Star Wars
80.6%
10
95%
54%
Middle-earth
79%
6
95%
59%
Spider-Man
78.8%
7
93%
52%
Mission: Impossible
78.8%
6
97%
57%
Harry Potter
78.7%
10
96%
37%
The Hunger Games
77.7%
4
89%
68%
Bourne
73.4%
5
92%
55%