10 Highest-Grossing Sequels of All Time

10 Highest-Grossing Sequels of All Time


Hollywood has been producing a dizzying amount of reboots, prequels, remakes, and sequels lately. Why? Because familiar stories sell (or at least familiar stories that have made money in the past). Saw X exists for a reason, as do the other horror franchises with never-ending sequels. The Marvel Cinematic Universe made it so that movies that weren’t even sequels to each other still had some connection to the rest. James Bond keeps switching bodies, but he will never die.

The economics of the sequel can be a little tricky sometimes; not all of them work out. But in this day and age, it’s probably worth a shot. Based on Box Office Mojo’s list of Top Lifetime Adjusted Grosses, the highest-grossing domestic sequels of all time provide some context for the present Hollywood mindset.

10 ‘Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

Domestic Lifetime Adjusted Gross: $633,360,465

Image via Disney

Some regard it as one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, while some only hold contempt for it. There is at least one thing about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that’s not in dispute, however: how much money it made. The budget was just over $300 million, and the worldwide box office took that number and added one billion to it.

As the director torch was passed from J.J. Abrams to Rian Johnson, the franchise went from taking plot points from A New Hope to taking them from The Empire Strikes Back. Instead of the rebels hiding from the Empire, the Resistance basically out-runs the First Order fleet. Another parallel has Rey trying to get Luke to train her, as Luke had to convince Yoda to train him way back when. Starring Daisy Ridley, a very jaded Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fischer, and more, The Last Jedi also carried sufficient star power to draw in fans both young and old.

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9 ‘Shrek 2’ (2004)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $665,746,933

Puss in Boots holding the fairy Godmother's wand up and standing on the back of Donkey who has been turned into a white horse in Shrek 2
Image via DreamWorks Pictures

Featuring what might be the best use of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” ever, Shrek 2 is such an unexpectedly charming sequel that many enjoy it as much as the original. This time around, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are back, and they’re going to have an unpleasant time visiting Fiona’s parents. After that ordeal, Shrek and Donkey wind up drinking a potion that turns them into a handsome man and white stallion.

The plot allowed the franchise to revisit the looks-don’t-matter theme from a different angle, and it paid off spectacularly. Shrek 2 was such a smash (critically and commercially) that it led to the production of two more sequels and a spin-off film series for Puss in Boots (played by Antonio Banderas), which also made big profit. Stay tuned for Shrek 5.

Shrek 2

Release Date
May 19, 2004


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8 ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $678,572,589

Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Sebastian Stan in 'Avengers: Infinity War'
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This lead-up to the MCU’s climactic epic wasted no time at all. Boldly starting in media res, Avengers: Infinity War asserts that it’s more of a sequel than most sequels—as the MCU had been going on for so long by 2018 that the audience was just expected to understand what was happening without any exposition. The approach worked, giving the movie a very immersive feel from the get-go. The excitement didn’t let up, either.

Thanos has finally started to apply himself, and the result is terrifying. Throughout the movie, he collects one infinity stone after another. With the ultimate goal of killing half the universe’s population, Thanos plans to gather these incredibly powerful gems to single-handedly do the trick with the snap of his fingers. From an insecure Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to an unamused Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the huge cast of characters was guaranteed to attract Marvel fans and more.

Avengers: Infinity War

Release Date
April 27, 2018

Robert Downey Jr. , Chris Hemsworth , Mark Ruffalo , Chris Evans , Scarlett Johansson , Benedict Cumberbatch , Don Cheadle , Tom Holland , Chadwick Boseman , Paul Bettany , Elizabeth Olsen , Anthony Mackie , Sebastian Stan , Danai Gurira , Letitia Wright , Zoe Saldana , Josh Brolin , Chris Pratt

149 minutes

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7 ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $697,722,995

Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight
Image via Warner Bros. 

Christopher Nolan earned the right to make whatever movie he wanted with arguably the best Batman movie of them all: The Dark Knight. Starring Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and more, this magnificent sequel to the already-impressive Batman Begins was one of the biggest movie events of the aughts. This dark, gritty adaptation would go on to inform how comic book movies would approach their material forever after.

Heath Ledger posthumously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, which is easily one of the best Jokers of all time. He steals every scene he’s in, and demonstrates how a superhero movie is only as good (in this case, great) as its villain. To put the film’s success in perspective, Christopher Nolan’s next feature was the ever-confusing mind-melter known as Inception. Not an easy sell, unless you’ve got a movie like The Dark Knight on your resume.

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6 ‘Thunderball’ (1965)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $700,876,000

James Bond soars through across the sky with his jetpack in 'Thunderball'.
Image via United Artists

Sean Connery returns for his fourth and most financially successful performance as James Bond: Thunderball. Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, Thunderball, this adaptation was directed by Terence Young in his third and final contribution to the franchise. SPECTRE has stolen NATO atomic bombs, and demands to be paid. Given an entire city is essentially being held for ransom, Agent 007 has to thwart SPECTRE’s plan.

What better place to do this than in the Bahamas? The location, characters, and action sequences definitely helped the box office fly above its expectations (as if strapped to a jet-pack). Though it was the longest Bond movie at the time, this clearly deterred no one. The sequel was so successful that they kind of made it again. In 1983, the same novel was adapted once more (with Sean Connery as Bond yet again) in Never Say Never Again. Hey—if it works, it works.


Release Date
December 11, 1965

Terence Young

Sean Connery , Claudine Auger , Adolfo Celi , Luciana Paluzzi , Rik Van Nutter , Guy Doleman


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5 ‘Jurassic World’ (2015)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $719,633,803Chris Pratt as Owen Grady taming Blue and two other velociraptors in Jurassic World

In Jurassic Park, a dinosaur theme-park goes haywire during the testing stage. Well, the reboot-sequel Jurassic World dials up the stakes: this time everything goes wrong in a dinosaur theme-park when it’s already full of visitors. Clearly the scientists and business people didn’t learn their lesson, but the screenwriters certainly knew that you can’t have a proper dino-flick without some velociraptors. Combine them with a tyrannosaurus rex, and you get a pretty intimidating antagonist.

With an estimated budget of $150,000,000, Jurassic World spared no expense to make sure its special effects would hold up against its predecessors. The film’s massive success would go on to launch Chris Pratt (who had already become a big part of the MCU with Guardians of the Galaxy) into yet another enormous franchise. Nothing can equal Steven Spielberg‘s classic original, but many still view Jurassic World as one of the best installments in the franchise.

Jurassic World

Release Date
June 12, 2015

Colin Trevorrow

124 minutes

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4 ‘Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi’ (1983)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $881,336,578

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) meets Wicket the Ewok (Warwick Davis) in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Image via Lucasfilm

Though it’s called Return of the Jedi, the third and final entry to the original Star Wars trilogy also saw the return of the Death Star, the return of Jabba the Hutt, and the return of the box-office bonanza. It made less money than the previous two installments, but that would be a near-impossible feat anyway. Make no mistake: the film had an estimated $32.5 million budget, and basically took off at light-speed to surpass it.

Picking up where The Empire Strikes Back left off, the movie begins with a plan to free Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and gradually leads to the destruction of the Empire. At this point, George Lucas‘s beloved franchise had ventured beyond the box office, making all sorts of products. It’s easy to see the Ewoks, for example, as a pretty good marketing opportunity for children’s toys.

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3 ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $892,669,593

Chris Evans as Captain America wielding Thor’s hammer Mjolnir in Avengers:Endgame
Image via Marvel Studios

With half the universe’s population gone, Avengers: Endgame starts on a uniquely elegiac note. The initial theme of acceptance and learning to move on is one of the movie’s stronger effects, and perhaps part of why many consider it one of the best Marvel movies ever made. A potentially bigger reason, though, is the movie’s use of time-travel to revisit storylines from earlier MCU movies as a greatest-hits tour. The strategy ties these various films together while dropping in some major league-level fan service.

Then there’s the climactic battle scene, in which Thanos and his army go up against the Avengers in a fight for the mighty infinity stones. It’s almost impossible to name all the crowd-gathering stars in an epic with so many characters, so to name a handful: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Josh Brolin. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, Endgame was hands-down the biggest movie-theater event of the 2010s.

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2 ‘Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $892,669,593

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Frank Oz as Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Image via Lucasfilm

It’s no surprise that one of George Lucas’s most financially successful movies would also be one of the film industry’s most profitable sequels in general. After the shocking commercial triumph that was Star Wars, all Lucas really had to do was bring the cast and crew back for round two and the sequel would probably make good money. But it seems that everyone went above and beyond, from musical-genius John Williams to director Irvin Kershner (who was an old teacher of Lucas) to the co-writers (Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett).

Most movie lists for the best sequels of all time will put the The Empire Strikes Back near the top, and for good reason. It’s no surprise that it won the Oscar for Best Sound, along with a Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Repetition may be the name of the game for most sequels, but round two of the original trilogy (later called Episode V) showed that creativity and expansion can be just as lucrative.

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1 ‘Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens’ (2015)

Lifetime Domestic Adjusted Gross: $1,013,038,487Rey and BB-8 in walking into the desert in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The premise of this Star Wars sequel alone renders Return of the Jedi and the original trilogy meaningless, but Disney knew it would also bring in a ton of money. That is, so long as George Lucas wasn’t in charge and the green screen era never returned. No one wanted to recapture the feel of the prequels, and even those made a ton of money, so there was a good chance that a new trilogy that resembled the franchise’s roots would succeed at the box office.

That might explain why so much of Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens‘ plot, settings, and characters resemble (or just are) those from the first Star Wars. This certainly paid off; the reboot-sequel’s estimated budget surpassed a quarter of a billion dollars, and its domestic release made about an entire billion. Just as Rey is naturally gifted at almost everything, the Star Wars franchise proves exceptional at force-jumping onto ever-rising piles of money.

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Next: ’10 Highest-Grossing Movies of 2023, Ranked’


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