Do you love movie sequels and prequels as much as we do? Join Wonderwall.com as we take a look at the most successful film franchises in Hollywood… starting with one of the biggest in the world — the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — which encompasses a jaw-dropping 23 films (including the July 2019 flick "Spider-Man: Far From Home"). It all started with 2008's "Iron Man," then came more including "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor," "Captain America: The First Avenger," "The Avengers," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Ant-Man," "Doctor Strange," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Black Panther" and "Captain Marvel" with various sequels in between. To date, Marvel films have amassed a staggering $21.3 billion at the worldwide box office with 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" emerging as the reigning champ with a $2.7 billion worldwide haul and a 94 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Keep reading to find out which film franchise is in second place…
After debuting in theaters in 1977, the sci-fi flick "Star Wars" sparked one of the most iconic — and the second most successful — film franchises in cinematic history. Now encompassing 11 films, the franchise has pulled in more than $9 billion worldwide (and $4.5 billion in the U.S. alone). The most successful film in the series, 2015's "Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens," reunited original stars Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill and added a new cast of heroes including Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega to create a space adventure that destroyed the box office, bringing in more than $2 billion worldwide and earning a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The main saga comes to an end with "Star Wars Episode IV – The Rise of Skywalker," which hits theaters on Dec. 20, 2019. After that, a trilogy of anthology films from the creators of "Game of Thrones" are due starting in 2022.
It's not magic that made the wizarding world of "Harry Potter" the third most successful film franchise in Hollywood history. Rather, it was the built-in fan base devoted to author J.K. Rowling's wildly successful book series that helped drive the movies to $7.7 billion in worldwide sales. It all started in 2001 with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The franchise starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as three young wizards in training who must fight the ultimate evil spanned a decade and included a total of eight films. Fascinatingly, it was the 2011 finale flick, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2," that ended up being the biggest hit of them all with a $1.3 billion worldwide gross and the highest Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of the series with 96 percent.
It turns out audiences have a thing for superhumans, which is why the "X-Men" film franchise is the fourth highest grossing one in Hollywood. After kicking off in 2000 with "X-Men," it went on to release a total of 12 prequels, sequels and offshoots including "The Wolverine," "Logan" and both "Deadpool" films, which have earned a whopping $5.78 billion in worldwide sales. Of the true "X-Men" films in the franchise, the most successful at the box office was "X-Men: Days of Future Past," which earned $747 million worldwide. The top-grossing of all was Ryan Reynolds' "Deadpool 2," with $787 million in ticket sales. The final film in the main series, "Dark Phoenix" starring Sophie Turner, debuted in theaters in June 2019 and only brought in just under $40 million on opening weekend.
The DC Extended Universe movies
Beginning in 2013 with "Man of Steel," the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) took off with the aim of being one Marvel's biggest rivals. Comprised of seven currently released films including "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," "Justice League," "Wonder Woman" and "Suicide Squad," the DCEU series has risen to become the fifth top-grossing film franchise in Hollywood. Although "Wonder Woman" starring Gal Gadot proved to be its most critically acclaimed and highest grossing film in the U.S. with $821 million at the box office (and an unprecedented 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it was the 2018 ocean adventure "Aquaman" starring Jason Momoa that found the most success, earning more than $1.1 billion worldwide. In April 2019, the DCEU's newest flick, "Shazam!" starring Zachary Levi, debuted at No. 1, raking in a cool $53 million on opening weekend. The sequel "Wonder Woman 1984" is coming to theaters on June 5, 2020, followed by "Aquaman 2" in 2022.
"The Fast and the Furious"
The adrenaline-packed action franchise that began in 2001 with "The Fast and the Furious" has morphed into the sixth most successful movie series in Hollywood with more than $5.1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Originally starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, the franchise currently has nine films on its roster with the highest grossing being 2015's "Furious 7" — which earned $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office and the franchise's highest fresh rating (81 percent) from Rotten Tomatoes. The latest installment — "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham — hits theaters on Aug. 2, 2019.
"Pirates of the Caribbean"
Setting sail in 2003 with "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," this film franchise starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley filled its treasure chest at the box office, earning a combined $4.5 billion at the box office over the course of 14 years. The franchise includes five films, with its last, 2017's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," proving itself the most successful, earning more than $1 billion in worldwide sales. Oddly enough, the franchise has never scored high with viewer or critic ratings. While the first film had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 79 percent fresh, each subsequent film scored significantly lower, with "Dead Man's Chest" earning a 29 percent fresh rating. It is rumored that a possible sixth film in the series has been shelved indefinitely, leaving this franchise's future uncertain.
The 2007 live-action film "Transformers"starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox might have earned a low 58 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it managed to cash in at the box office, earning more than $709 million in worldwide sales and kicking off a strangely popular yet critically panned franchise. Based on the popular 1980s cartoon series of the same name, the Michael Bay-directed films — which have earned a total of $4.8 billion at the box office — suffered some controversy when Megan was fired after the second film and Shia abruptly quit after filming the third. Hoping to breathe new life into the series, producers brought in Oscar-nominated actor Mark Wahlberg to headline the next two movies, but his star power didn't prove bright enough drive ticket sales. To date, the highest grossing film in the franchise remains Shia's last: 2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which earned more than $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office. Interestingly, in 2018, the franchise continued with the prequel "Bumblebee" starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena. Although that film's overall ticket sales were the lowest ($467 million worldwide), it earned the highest viewer rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an impressive 93 percent fresh score.
Who knew that a comedy about a reformed criminal mastermind named Gru and his minions would become part of the highest grossing animated film franchise in history? That's right, "Despicable Me" featuring the voice of Steve Carell — and its two sequels as well as "Minions" (a prequel) weren't just wildly popular with audiences. They've collectively earned a whopping $3.7 billion at the box office globally. And Gru's story isn't over yet. Universal has confirmed that a fourth "Despicable Me" project is in the works with a tentative release date of June 3, 2020, and "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is set to arrive in theaters a year later on July 3, 2020.
Currently comprised of six films, the "Mission: Impossible" franchise starring Tom Cruise first arrived in theaters in 1996 and over the course of more than 20 years has continued to dominate at the box office. The movies, which are based on the 1966 TV series of the same name, have earned more than $3.5 billion with the latest in the franchise, 2018's "Mission: Impossible – Fallout," proving the most successful yet with more than $791 million in global ticket sales and a Tomatometer rating of 97 percent fresh. And Tom isn't ready to retire anytime soon: In 2021, the yet-to-be titled "Mission: Impossible 7" is due to hit theaters, followed by an eighth film in 2022.
"The Twilight Saga"
When it comes to supernatural romance, no films have managed has taken audiences' breath (and cash) away like those in "The Twilight Saga" starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner. The love story of a teenage girl and a vampire (based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer) first arrived in theaters in 2008 with "Twilight" and continued with four more films, ending with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" in 2012. In total, the films amassed more than $3.3 billion in worldwide sales, but it was the third in the series, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," that was the highest grossing in the U.S., earning just over $300 million at the box office. Worldwide, "Breaking Dawn Part 2" was the biggest success overall, earning more than $829 million in ticket sales, even though it only scored a 49 percent fresh rating with critics and viewers on Rotten Tomatoes.
It turns out that the second highest grossing animated film franchise is none other than "Ice Age," which first arrived in theaters in 2002. Featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary, the comedic series, which centers on the prehistoric adventures of a wooly mammoth, a sabertooth tiger and a sloth, has earned more than $3.2 billion at the worldwide box office. The most successful of the five films in the franchise was the third, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which earned $886 million. While there still hasn't been a definitive announcement about an "Ice Age 6," we're hopeful there might be one last adventure headed to the big screen.
There have been a lot of "James Bond" movies — 24 in total — featuring several different leading men including Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. But the most successful and highest grossing films in the franchise have been headlined by the current 007 actor, Daniel Craig. Of his four films in the long-running franchise (which has earned more than $3.1 billion at the box office), it was 2012's "Skyfall" that proved to be the biggest hit with audiences. The film garnered at strong 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned an astonishing $1.1 billion worldwide. Thankfully, Daniel isn't leaving the role yet: He'll return in "Bond 25" on April 8, 2020.
Sometimes reboots of older film franchises fare better the originals. Such was the case for "Jurassic World" starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Inspired by the events of the 1993 sci-fi adventure movie "Jurassic Park" and its sequels, the 2015 film brought audiences back to a world of modern-day dinosaurs. The two movies in the new franchise have far outperformed the originals, bringing in a whopping $2.9 billion at the box office. A third "Jurassic World" film is scheduled for release on June 11, 2021.
"The Hunger Games"
To be honest, we're actually surprised that this popular franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence isn't higher. The 15th most successful film franchise on our list is based on the series of novels by author Suzanne Collins and first kicked off in 2012 with "The Hunger Games" followed by "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" in 2013, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1" in 2014, and, finally, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2" in 2015. In total, the movies brought in just under $3 billion at the box office with the second film scoring the most money with more than $865 million. "Catching Fire" was also the most favorably rated film by both critics and audiences, scoring an impressive 89 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"The Lord of the Rings"
In 2001, fans of J. R. R. Tolkien's epic "The Lord of the Rings" fantasy novels saw their favorite characters brought to life when the first of three films in the franchise arrived in theaters (starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen and more). Followed by "The Two Towers" in 2002 and "The Return of the King" in 2003, the powerful journey of young Frodo Baggins proved to be a cash cow at the box office, earning a combined total of $2.91 billion in global ticket sales. Even more spectacular was critic and audience reception, which delivered an average 93 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Proving moviegoers hadn't had enough of Middle Earth yet, the later-released prequel trilogy "The Hobbit" managed to eclipse its predecessor's sales, earning $2.93 billion at the worldwide box office though didn't garner quite the depth of critical acclaim. When combined, the six films earned a staggering $5.85 billion, which, technically, makes them even more successful than the No. 4 film franchise on our list, "X-Men."
"The Dark Knight"
Long before the DC Extended Universe swooped in and made Ben Affleck Batman, Christian Bale was doing it oh-so-well in the "The Dark Knight" trilogy (which, for the record, is not a part of the DCEU). Kicking off in 2005 with "Batman Begins," Christian brought a smokey-voiced authenticity to the role that fans and critics alike enjoyed. Together, the three films made $2.6 billion in worldwide ticket sales with both "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" each earning over $1 billion.
We know two things to be true: An onion has many layers, and "Shrek" is the third most popular animated film franchise in Hollywood. Featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, the first film in this DreamWorks animated franchise arrived in theaters in 2001. Three years later, the saga of an ogre, his donkey friend and his beloved princess continued with the sequel "Shrek 2," followed by "Shrek the Third" in 2007 and, finally, "Shrek Forever After" in 2010. Combined, the films earned more than $2.95 billion at the worldwide box office. The franchise even inspired a spin-off — 2011's "Puss in Boots." And "Shrek" might not be over yet. DreamWorks confirmed in 2018 that a fifth film is in the pipeline.
More than a decade before Tom Holland donned spandex and web-shooters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tobey Maguire was slaying the role in the "Spider-Man" franchise. First appearing onscreen in 2002, the three Tobey-led films were huge theatrical hits, earning a combined total of $2.49 billion at the box office. Co-starring Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, the first two films of the "Spider-Man" trilogy also fared well with critics, earning 90 percent fresh and higher ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.
You don't have to be an '80s kid to appreciate the magic of "Indiana Jones." The first film in the Harrison Ford-led, Steven Spielberg-directed action-adventure franchise, 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," kicked things off. Three more movies followed: The last installment, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" featuring Shia LaBeouf, arrived in theaters in 2008 — an incredible 27 years after the first film debuted. In total, the movies have earned $1.98 billion at the box office and there's the potential to earn even more thanks to the news that a fifth "Indiana Jones" movie is in the works and scheduled for release on July 9, 2021!
With just two films — "Finding Nemo" and its prequel, "Finding Dory" — it's amazing that this Walt Disney-Pixar franchise is the sixth highest grossing animated movie series in history. Combined, the films brought in just under $2 billion at the global box office along with incredibly positive 94 and 99 percent fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.
Another successful franchise from Walt Disney-Pixar is none other than the delightful family adventure series that started with "Toy Story" in 1995 featuring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. The first three full-length "Toy Story" films have grossed an impressive $1.9 billion at the worldwide box office (making it the fifth highest grossing animated movie franchise in history). That number will grow with the release of "Toy Story 4" on June 21, 2019. Fun fact: The first two films in the franchise each earned 100 percent fresh ratings from fans and critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with the third earning a high score of 98 percent — meaning the fourth film has some big cowboy boots to fill!
Fans of post-apocalyptic adventures know that no franchise inspires more satisfying doom and gloom than the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led "Terminator" films, including the first: "The Terminator," which arrived in theaters in 1984. The franchise, which includes six films, has grossed more than $1.8 billion at the worldwide box office with the second in the series, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," single-handedly bringing in over $520 million in ticket sales. On Nov. 1, 2019, the sci-fi action continues with "Terminator: Dark Fate" featuring both Arnold and original star Linda Hamilton.
"Men in Black"
The otherworldly pairing of actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 sci-fi comedy action-adventure flick "Men in Black" proved to be a winning combination at the box office. Spawning a franchise that included three films over 15 years, "Men in Black" managed to earn more than $1.65 billion in worldwide ticket sales, even though critic and audience ratings dropped drastically after the first film. The franchise was rebooted in June 2019 with "Men in Black: International" starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
The 25th highest grossing film franchise on our list — but arguably one of the most popular (depending on who you ask) — is the three-part sci-fi action-adventure series "The Matrix" starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne in a post-apocalyptic meditation on the nature of reality. In total, the film trilogy amassed $1.63 billion in worldwide sales and managed to become something of a cult hit with fans. Of all three films, it was 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded" that performed best at the box office, earning $742 million worldwide.