Posted on November 9, 2015 by Cindy Kabiru
The true mark of a successful film is its ability to transcend audiences and the generations that follow. The same can be said for successful film franchises; however, franchises must also thrive on some air of mystery. By slowly unraveling the mystery at hand throughout the film series, a compelling narrative must be cultivated for an audience to be captivated. A franchise’s capacity to sustain widespread interest in creative ways is the driving force in its success.
With that said, character-driven franchises with plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments can spur on the production of final chapters, sequels and prequels for years to come. The most recent example is, of course, the newest installment in the James Bond film series — Spectre. After gracing big screens for over 50 years, Bond’s legacy rose to a cult status of its own after amassing over $4 billion in box office revenue since its debut in 1962.
Ultimately, quality storytelling trumps overstated visual effects when it comes to achieving enduring commercial success. Adjusting for inflation, the PrettyFamous team ranked the highest-earning film franchises in the United States. Looking at franchises with three or more installments, the team focused on the biggest blockbusters in U.S. box offices. Follow along to see 24 of the most successful film franchises to ever grace the big screen, ranked by inflation-adjusted franchise overall gross.
24. American Pie
Total Franchise Gross: $531,865,800
- American Pie: $144,727,000
- American Pie 2: $194,172,000
- American Wedding: $134,413,000
- American Reunion: $58,553,800
This hilarious coming-of-age story rose to popularity after the infamous pie scene in the original film. Three sequels later, audiences continue to enjoy watching protagonist Jim Levenstein navigate the intricacies of adolescence to hilarious effect.
23. Night At the Museum
Total Franchise Gross: $639,015,000
- Night at the Museum: $133,663,000
- Night at the Museum 2: $195,802,000
- Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb: $113,748,000
The bittersweet trilogy’s last installment was one of Robin Williams’ final performances before his untimely death in 2014. Williams showcased his flair for the dramatic in the movie series as Theodore Roosevelt — one of the many personalities that come to life at the Museum of Natural History.
22. Die Hard
Total Franchise Gross: $747,776,200
- Die Hard: $161,688,000
- Die Hard 2: $209,054,000
- Die Hard With a Vengeance: $154,720,000
- Live Free or Die Hard: $153,801,000
- A Good Day to Die Hard: $68,513,200
The action-movie series sees Bruce Willis at his best as John McClane — a take-no-prisoners type police detective out to rid the world of its most dangerous terrorists.
21. The Matrix
Total Franchise Gross: $785,753,000
- The Matrix: $243,805,000
- The Matrix Revolutions: $179,373,000
- The Matrix Reloaded: $362,575,000
This science-fiction thriller pits Keanu Reeves’ Neo against Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus in a battle that leaves audiences questioning reality.
20. Ice Age
Total Franchise Gross: $866,499,400
- Ice Age: $253,196,400
- Ice Age 2: The Meltdown: $229,626,000
- Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: $217,156,000
- Ice Age: Continental Drift: $166,521,000
An unlikely gaggle of paleolithic mammals come together to bring a helpless infant back to his family in the animated series’ first film.
Total Franchise Gross: $870,336,700
- The Terminator: $94,662,700
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: $353,842,000
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: $193,658,000
- Terminator Salvation: $138,442,000
- Terminator Genisys: $89,732,000
Nearly all movie buffs can recite this series’ ubiquitous line “I will be back” by memory, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic role in the films as terminator model T-800 helped the franchise amass an international fan base.
18. Despicable Me
Total Franchise Gross: $980,818,800
- Despicable Me: $271,837,800
- Despicable Me 2: $374,437,000
- Minions: $334,544,000
The adorable yellow henchmen — otherwise known as the Minions — are the undeniable breakout stars of this wildly successful franchise. The franchise also owes a large portion of its popularity to funny man Steve Carell, who voices the character of Gru.
17. Iron Man
Total Franchise Gross: $1,105,632,000
- Iron Man: $350,374,000
- Iron Man 2: $339,168,000
- Iron Man 3: $416,090,000
Stemming from the Marvel Comics empire, “Iron Man” tells the story of an industrialist with a knack for inventing new weaponry, courting women and protecting the world from evil forces.
16. Mission: Impossible
Total Franchise Gross: $1,141,996,000
- Mission: Impossible: $273,318,000
- Mission: Impossible 2: $296,453,000
- Mission: Impossible III: $156,804,000
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: $220,591,000
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: $194,830,000
All spy flicks aspire to titillate audiences as much as the Mission: Impossible series does. With non-stop thrills and crazy stunts, audiences will continue to live vicariously through the adventures of Ethan Hunt for as long as new Mission: Impossible flicks are released.
15. Hunger Games
Total Franchise Gross: $1,190,655,000
- The Hunger Games: $421,160,000
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: $432,015,000
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: $337,480,000
The names Katniss and Peeta have become mainstays in our cultural lexicon after the surging popularity of The Hunger Games. The book-to-film movie series proved to be anything but divisive among die-hard fans, who helped the franchise gross over $1 billion.
14. Toy Story
Total Franchise Gross: $1,200,182,000
- Toy Story: $365,861,800
- Toy Story 2: $398,956,600
- Toy Story 3: $435,363,600
This Pixar animated classic speaks to our childhood fantasies that our toys were as magical as we dreamed them to be. Toys that come to life when left alone in a room truly capture the imagination of the child that lives within us all.
13. The Dark Knight
Total Franchise Gross: $1,302,363,000
- Batman Begins: $251,019,000
- The Dark Knight: $588,758,000
- The Dark Knight Rises: $462,586,000
The tales of Gotham City and the Caped Crusader are brilliantly told with the direction of Christopher Nolan in this trilogy. The gritty superhero movies are among the best in the comic-book film category.
Total Franchise Gross: $1,385,039,000
- Spider-Man: $531,842,000
- Spider-Man 2: $468,452,000
- Spider-Man 3: $384,745,000
In the Marvel cinematic universe, Peter Parker wins over adolescent audiences with his relatively young age as a high-school student. His relatability and arachnid-like agility guaranteed the series’ long-running commercial success.
11. The Fast & The Furious
Total Franchise Gross: $1,411,225,400
- The Fast and the Furious: $193,390,000
- 2 Fast 2 Furious: $163,689,000
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: $73,468,800
- Fast & Furious: $171,254,000
- Fast Five: $221,055,000
- Fast & Furious 6: $237,540,600
- Furious 7: $350,828,000
This high-octane movie franchise is Universal Pictures’ most successful franchise of all time. Centering around illegal street racing, The Fast & The Furious stars the late Paul Walker, who shines as the series’ protagonist.
Total Franchise Gross: $1,425,850,000
- Transformers: $364,720,000
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: $444,176,000
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon: $371,252,000
- Transformers: Age of Extinction: $245,702,000
In the original Transformers film, the fate of humanity rests in the outcome of a battle between two opposing robot factions — the Autobots and the Decepticons. In the following installments, the Michael Bay-directed series continues to explore a world where massive robots are a threat to civilization.
Total Franchise Gross: $1,463,138,000
- Twilight: $210,743,000
- The Twilight Saga: New Moon: $327,677,000
- The Twilight Saga Eclipse: $326,632,000
- The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1: $296,358,000
- The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: $301,728,000
Despite drawing stinging criticism for its hackneyed storyline, Twilight wooed audiences around the world with the tale of two star-crossed lovers — Bella and Edward. The saga is responsible for catapulting Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into stardom.
Total Franchise Gross: $1,490,799,000
- X-Men: $216,493,000
- X2: X-Men United: $276,863,000
- X-Men: The Last Stand: $275,513,000
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine: $198,718,000
- X-Men: First Class: $154,255,000
- The Wolverine: $134,781,000
- X-Men: Days of Future Past: $234,176,000
As this series proves, superhero mutants and gripping character development are a winning combination in Hollywood. The franchise’s eighth installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, is set to hit theaters in 2016.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean
Total Franchise Gross: $1,498,701,000
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: $393,383,000
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: $497,596,000
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: $353,733,000
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: $253,989,000
Inspired by a Disney theme park ride of the same name, this swashbuckling series sees the cunning Jack Sparrow navigate the wild open seas with his team of fellow sea marauders.
Total Franchise Gross: $1,531,525,000
- Shrek: $358,179,000
- Shrek 2: $547,611,000
- Shrek the Third: $366,654,000
- Shrek Forever After: $259,081,000
Everyone’s favorite green ogre delighted audiences so much on screen that the film series spawned a Broadway production — Shrek The Musical.
5. Jurassic Park
Total Franchise Gross: $1,890,663,000
- Jurassic Park: $658,518,000
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park: $338,260,000
- Jurassic Park III: Return to the Island: $242,441,000
- Jurassic World: $651,444,000
In its most-recent installment, an ambitious attempt to sustain an amusement park of cloned dinosaurs, terror ensues as the venture turns out to be more than a group of scientists can handle.
4. Lord of the Rings
Total Franchise Gross: $2,191,236,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: $422,270,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: $451,277,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: $486,682,000
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: $312,775,000
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: $262,839,000
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: $255,393,000
A cult favorite, this epic fantasy saga is the summation of two trilogies that are set in Middle Earth. The award-winning franchise chronicles Frodo and Samwise’s continued quest to find and destroy the one, all-consuming ring.
3. Harry Potter
Total Franchise Gross: $2,824,296,000
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: $424,965,000
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: $345,120,000
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: $312,853,000
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: $351,913,000
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: $333,836,000
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $333,573,000
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: $320,607,000
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: $401,429,000
J.K. Rowling’s wondrous book-to-movie empire bursts with witchcraft and wizardry. The bespeckled protagonist faces fate-altering challenges at every turn — luckily he is accompanied by his loyal comrades, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
2. James Bond
Total Franchise Gross: $4,648,400,592
- Dr. No: $126,591,743
- From Russia With Love: $192,844,313
- Goldfinger: $392,225,467
- Thunderball: $480,422,285
- You Only Live Twice: $307,048,787
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: $147,824,141
- Diamonds Are Forever: $257,333,111
- Live and Let Die: $189,712,905
- The Man With the Golden Gun: $101,355,882
- The Spy Who Loved Me: $183,759,504
- Moonraker: $230,406,797
- For Your Eyes Only: $143,447,590
- Octopussy: $149,170,919
- A View to a Kill: $109,833,048
- The Living Daylights: $106,533,000
- License to Kill: $63,450,100
- GoldenEye: $164,810,000
- Tomorrow Never Dies: $214,167,000
- The World Is Not Enough: $180,568,000
- Die Another Day: $211,049,000
- Casino Royale: $196,333,000
- Quantum of Solace: $185,336,000
- Skyfall: $314,178,000
This juggernaut film franchise sees the ever-so-suave James Bond slink his way through high-pressure situations as a world-class spy. His suits, cars, gadgets and good-looks afford Bond a knack for courting women — another theme that runs throughout the series.
1. Star Wars
Total Franchise Gross: $4,920,191,000
- Star Wars: $1,802,910,000
- Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: $835,468,000
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi: $736,000,000
- Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace: $675,073,000
- Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones: $409,285,000
- Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: $461,455,000
This intergalactic saga has a stronghold on society’s geekdom obsessions. From the cinnamon-bunned princess Leia to the sage Yoda, the out-of-this-world franchise boasts an all-star set of characters and stellar storytelling. Having already churned out six installments in the series, the long-awaited Star Wars: Episode VII flies into theaters on Dec. 18, 2015.