Highest Grossing Movie Every Year of the Sound Era

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

When filmmakers set out to craft a movie, many probably have two main goals — win awards and turn a profit. Reaching the top of the box office charts to become the highest grossing film at the end of the year is a huge accomplishment.

24/7 Tempo reviewed data on worldwide box office from film industry site The Numbers to determine the highest grossing movie every year since 1927. This was the year in which the first feature-length movie with synchronized dialogue, often referred to as “talkies,” was released. Before 1927, most of the movies were silent, and data box office performance was not available.   

In 2019 — 2020 was canceled, remember? — global movie ticket sales amounted to $42.5 billion. The best performing movie at the box office that year accounted for just 5.3% of that amount. Sometimes, the top grossing movie in a given year accounts for as little as 3.1% of the global gross, and sometimes it accounts for more than 60%. This is possible because a film’s gross is based on total lifetime worldwide box office sales.

Romances, musicals, dramas, and comedies are equally represented in the mix of the top grossing movie each year, although action and adventure films — including superhero movies — dominate the box office in recent years. Also represented are a number of animated children’s films — many from Disney. Here are the biggest Disney box office hits of all time.

To determine the highest grossing movie every year since 1927, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on worldwide box office from film industry site The Numbers. Movies are ranked based on total lifetime worldwide box office sales. 

For classic films that have had multiple wide re-releases in the years following their initial premiere — “Gone With the Wind,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and “Titanic,” for example — only the domestic box office totals for the first year of their release are listed. 

Data on average ticket price used to calculate inflation-adjusted box office figures came from the National Association of Theatre Owners and were imputed for some years using the consumer price index for all urban consumers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Data on IMDb audience score, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score, and Rotten Tomatoes audience score were collected in October 2021.