Indie movies sometimes hit it big. The offbeat 1999 horror flick “The Blair Witch Project,” which cost less than $500,000 to produce and had a cast nobody had ever heard of, brought in $258 million. Two years earlier, “The Full Monty,” a wry look at working-class men in the north of England and their racy plan to make some money, had earned the same amount.
Films like these are the exception, though. Major production companies tend to prefer tried and true formulas to offbeat original projects that might make a buck but probably won’t. That’s why the top box office earners these days, the true blockbusters, tend to be sequels to previously successful properties (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) or extensions of popular franchises like Star Wars or the seemingly endless storylines from the Marvel universe.
Also potentially very successful, to be fair, are animated features that often show some originality, like “Shrek,” “Cars” and “Finding Nemo.” As 24/7 Tempo discovered when we assembled this list of the finalists for the biggest box office hits of the 2000s, (comparatively) low-budget indies do sometimes surprise everyone and rake in major profits.
For example, number 43 on the list, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” produced by Tom Hanks with a budget of $5 million, realized $368 million worldwide. Way up in the number 11 position, controversial actor-director Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ,” which cost $30 million to make, has the distinction of being the highest-grossing independent film of all time, with a box office of $622 million.
“Avatar,” released in 2009, is the biggest box office hit of the 2000s. Its domestic box office was $760.5 million, ranking it at number four out of all movies in the database. The film starred Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez, and its director was James Cameron.
To identify the biggest box office hit of the 2000s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed box office data as of April 2021 from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services. Rankings are out of 4,230 movies for which data was available. Information on the cast and director(s) for each movie is from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), an online movie database owned by Amazon.