10 Biggest Box Office Hits Of The 20th Century, Ranked

Split Image Titanic And A New Hope

The 20th century was an incredibly important era for the future of filmmaking, with movies finally beginning to grip audiences with their compelling visuals and story. When a film proved to resonate with audiences enough, it even managed to rake in high numbers at the worldwide box office, forever to be labeled as a financial success.

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Certain films from the 1900s are still remembered for terrific box office performances during their theatrical runs. In fact, the box office tracking website Box Office Mojopresents several 20th-century films that proved to be the biggest successes of the era, even when unadjusted for inflation.



10 The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – $618,638,999

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park attempted to build on the success of its predecessor, following Jeff Goldblum’s fan-favorite character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, as he journeyed to yet another island filled with man-eating dinosaurs. The film debuted in 1997, earning over $600 million throughout its theatrical run.

The Lost World was far from the masterpiece that the original Jurassic Park was, but it did prove that the public still had an appetite for Steve Spielberg’s beloved franchise. The film’s success paved the way for an additional sequel in 2001 and, eventually, the Jurassic World sequel trilogy.

9 The Sixth Sense (1999) – $672,806,432

Stream On MGM+

The Sixth Sense is a subversive and chilling masterpiece, following child psychologist Malcolm Crow (Bruce Willis) as he works with a troubled young boy (Haley Joel Osment). The film is, of course, best known for its twist ending, which puts its entire plot in a new perspective by the time the credits roll.

Even over two decades after its release, The Sixth Sense is often considered to be one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films. As good word of mouth built the film’s popularity, Shyamalan’s movie eventually garnered over $600 million worldwide. Because of the film’s success, many of the director’s following projects would follow similar outlines, usually ending with a massive twist.

8 Forrest Gump (1994) – $678,226,465

Stream On Prime Video Or Paramount+

Forrest Gump is one of the most iconic films from the mid-1990s, recounting many of the most important historical events of the 20th century from the perspective of Tom Hanks’s overly simplistic titular character. Forrest Gump went on to earn Tom Hanks his second Academy Award, only one year after winning for Philadelphia.

It is uncommon today for movies unconnected to any larger franchise to earn such high numbers at the box office, but Forrest Gump proved to be a tremendous hit. The wholesome nature of its main character continues to be quite endearing, and the social commentary therein rings true even to this day, perhaps explaining why the film was so accessible.

7 Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) – $775,398,007

Stream On Disney+

Cinema changed forever in 1977 with the release of Star Wars, a film that has since been rebranded as A New Hope. First introducing audiences to a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas’s seminal sci-fi fantasy began rather simply, depicting the continuing battles between the tyrannical Empire and the small Rebellion that opposed them.

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Despite the many limitations to the film imposed by its budget, A New Hope was a massive success, becoming one of the highest-earning films of all time, even when adjusted for inflation. The widespread success of this initial film kickstarted one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, which still churns out new films and series with regularity to this day.

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E.T. The Extraterrestrial remains one of the most beloved entries in director Steven Spielberg’s iconic filmography. The film follows Elliot (C. Thomas Howell), a young boy who befriends an alien stranded on Earth, as he attempts to help his new friend return home to his family.

E.T. was far more than a simple sci-fi story, but rather an endearing contemplation of childhood, family, and friendship, delving deeply into Spielberg’s own experiences. The film’s emotion makes it perfect for audiences of all ages and backgrounds, helping E.T. to become one of the biggest hits of all time, with nearly an $800 million run at the worldwide box office.

5 Independence Day (1996) – $817,400,891

Buy Or Rent On Amazon Prime Video

Independence Day may not be as well-regarded today as when it was initially released in 1996, but the film remains one of the most successful movies of the 20th century. Famous for depicting an epic battle between mankind and an invading alien army, Independence Day earned over $800 million in its theatrical run.

While modern popular culture is filled with alien invasions and stunning visual effects, there was truly little like Independence Day at the time of its release. The film was quite unique, bringing audiences out in droves to experience the novelty of its effects and story. The movie’s success made it a staple of pop culture and led to a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, in 2016.

4 The Lion King (1994) – $968,511,805

Stream On Disney+

The Lion King has long stood as one of Disney’s most successful original properties of all time, with its financial acuity dating all the way back to the original film’s release in 1994. Telling the timeless tale of Simba as he journeys from cub to king, the animated masterpiece earned a whopping $900 million at the worldwide box office.

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Bolstered by its genuine story and stellar voice cast, The Lion King was the greatest success that no one saw coming. The film became a multi-generational hit, becoming a staple of the Disney pantheon for decades to come. The Lion King‘s massive success was unlike any other animated movie before it, leading to a series of direct-to-video sequels and a 2019 CGI remake, which even outgrossed the original.

3 Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – $1,027,082,707

Stream On Disney+

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is the first installment of the franchise’s infamous prequel trilogy, going back over 30 years before the original film. Despite mixed-to-negative reviews from fans and critics, the film went on to break the $1 billion mark, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1999 by far.

Much of The Phantom Menace‘s success can be attributed to the intense enthusiasm for the original Star Wars movies that has permeated pop culture for decades. The film’s high box office numbers proved that the public’s love for Star Wars hadn’t died down over time, paving the way for the franchise to continue to grow. The Phantom Menace, however, remained the highest-grossing Star Wars film for over a decade, until the release of The Force Awakens in 2015.

2 Jurassic Park (1993) – $1,109,802,321

Buy Or Rent On Apple TV

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of cinema and certainly the greatest dinosaur movie of all time. The film brings to life its eponymous theme park, wherein dinosaurs walk the Earth once more—though their hunger for human flesh results in disaster when they escape their pens.

Jurassic Park sported incredible visual effects to bring its dinosaurs to life, all of which have aged remarkably well, even after thirty years. However, the film was far more than the run-of-the-mill blockbuster, taking the time to flesh out its cast of characters in such a way that makes Jurassic Park endlessly rewatchable, perhaps contributing to its massive box office draw of over $1 billion.

1 Titanic (1997) – $2,264,743,257

Stream On Prime Video Or Paramount+

Before Avatar, James Cameron’s most successful film was 1997’s Titanic, a love story set aboard the infamous ship with which the movie shares its name. The movie was a massive hit during its initial theatrical run, but only continued to earn money through multiple re-releases, bringing its total box office pull to well over $2 billion, making it the biggest hit of the 20th century by far.

Titanic was an ingenious film that managed to appeal to virtually any type of moviegoer. The film’s painstaking historical accuracy, timeless love story, tragic drama, and exploration of the Titanic itself all contributed to it becoming a four-quadrant hit. To this day, it remains the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time and a bona fide classic.

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