(This article was update on January 16, 2024) From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Star Wars, these are the biggest movie franchises of all time.
Imagine a world where the thrills of intergalactic battles, the charm of enchanted realms, and the adrenaline rush of high-speed car chases come together. That’s the world created by the biggest movie franchises of all time! These films have not just entertained us; they’ve become a part of our culture, our conversations, and, let’s admit it, our weekend plans.
First up, the MCU – a superhero smorgasbord that’s not just a franchise; it’s a universe brimming with heroes, villains, and stories that intertwine like a perfectly crafted comic book series. From Iron Man‘s first flight to the epic showdowns in Avengers: Endgame, the MCU has created a tapestry of tales that have not only smashed box office records but also captured hearts. It’s a universe where a kid from Brooklyn can become a super-soldier and a god of thunder can rock a new haircut with ease. With the advent of MCU, one can say we live in the ‘Age of Franchise.” Sadly though, the recent creative slump in superhero films is a cause for worry.
Then there’s the legendary Star Wars, the franchise that forever changed the landscape of sci-fi storytelling. And let’s not forget the adrenaline-pumping, nitrous-boosted world of The Fast and the Furious. The high-octane adventure redefined the action genre proving life is always more exciting at 200 mph.
These franchises aren’t just about box office numbers; they’re about the memories we create while watching them, the communities they’ve built, and the timeless stories they’ve told. Quickly then, let’s explore the top 10 biggest movie franchises of all time:
Biggest Movie Franchises
1. Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 – present)
Global box office: $29.8 billion
Number of films: 33
Created by Marvel Studios, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently the most powerful movie franchise in all of Hollywood. Avengers: Endgame, which hit the theaters in 2019, was a fitting conclusion to the Infinity Saga that began all the way back in 2008 with Iron Man. It alone amassed a massive $2.8 billion at the box office, surpassing Avatar in ticket sales and gross revenue.
Later, MCU unveiled its plans for Phase 4, which saw a mix of both beloved fan favorites and relatively newer characters. The roster also included original TV shows that tied in with the upcoming movies. While the MCU series started quite strongly with Wandavision and Loki, the critical and fan reception for the recent series like Secret Invasion and Echo ranged from indifference to lukewarm. Given its popularity, it should be almost impossible for any other franchise to overtake the intricately woven world of MCU.
Following the grand success of Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2021 and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in 2022, MCU kickstarted the phase V of MCU with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quintumnia (2023). However, the MCU fatigue seems to have set in for MCU fans. Poor audience reception for Captain Marvel’s return in The Marvels seems to have slightly tarnished MCU’s previously unassailable reputation. Nevertheless, fans are looking forward to the R-rated MCU movie Deadpool 3. There’s also Madame Web, starring Dakota Johnson. We have to wait and see if the current phase of MCU reaches the glory of Phase III.
2. Spider-Man (2002 – present)
Global box office: $10.5 billion
Number of films: 12
While Spider-Man is a part of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, the character is iconic enough to warrant a standalone franchise of his own. This franchise only included movies where Spider-Man is the sole protagonist. This includes Sam Raimi’s original trilogy where Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man series that saw Andrew Garfield take up the role of the famed web-slinger, the two MCU films featuring Tom Holland in the lead, and finally, the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s follow-up feature titled Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse also proved to be a huge commercial success, collecting over $690.5 million. The third and concluding part of Spider-Verse is highly anticipated. Sony’s Spiderman universe is all set to expand with the introduction film of Spider-Man’s archenemy: Kraven the Hunter. Aaron-Taylor Johnson is playing the title character and it’s directed by J.C. Chandor. Venom, the film that kicked off the new phase in Sony’s Spiderman Universe, will get a third film. The film is expected to release on November 8, 2024.
Peter Parker is also getting an origin story in the form of an animated series. A fourth Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland is also in early stages of development.
3. Star Wars (1976 – present)
Global box office: $10.3 billion
Number of films: 12
George Lucas’ epic space opera is a long-standing movie franchise. Though it’s been more than four decades since the first film came out, Star Wars continues to draw audiences across ages back to the multiplexes. Out of the 12 films that have had a theatrical release so far, 9 were a part of the Skywalker Saga, while the rest were spin-offs.
Disney buying Lucas films meant that the franchise was going to head in a different direction. They’ve shifted their focus to their new streaming service, Disney+, with releases like The Mandalorian (2019–) and The Bad Batch (2021–). These efforts have expanded the universe further, presenting creators with unforeseen possibilities. In 2022, two live-action Star Wars universe series made their debut: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor. In 2023, the Disney+ series on former Jedi knight Ahsoka Tano was well received by critics and fans. 2024 promises to be another good year for the franchise with the streaming of the live-action series Skeleton Crew.
The Star Wars fans are also eager for the upcoming untitled movie projects from Taika Waititi, Damon Lindelof, and Shawn Levy. The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has pitched an idea for a new Star Wars trilogy to the Disney executives. However, all of these projects are still in development stages. Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, and Wonder Woman fame Patty Jenkins were also expected to direct their own Star Wars movies. But it didn’t reach the development stage. Nevertheless, considering the amount of time we’re going to spend in the Star Wars universe over the next few years, it sure is an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan!
4. The Wizarding World (2001 – present)
Global box office: $9.6 billion
Number of films: 10
With the Harry Potter series coming to an end, Warner Bros. decided to expand upon the world created by J.K. Rowling. This included a series of films that focused on the life of Newt Scamander, the author of the famed novel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While the first film set up the character and his surroundings, the second film saw Newt get involved in the battle between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. In October 2016, it was revealed that the Fantastic Beasts series would comprise 5 films and that Eddie Redmayne would be reprising his role as the acclaimed Magizoologist.
Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), the sequel to the first Fantastic Beasts movie, wasn’t well received critically. It was the first time a movie from the franchise got a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 2022’s The Secrets of Dumbledore was a critical and commercial disappointment. The legal problems regarding its cast members Ezra Miller and Johnny Depp have also caused issues for the Fantastic Beasts series. By November 2022, Warner Bros. decided not to continue the Fantastic Beasts film series. However, in April 2023, the studio announced a live-action reboot of the Harry Potter franchise as a long-form television series. Let’s just hope this beloved movie franchise will recover sometime soon.
5. James Bond (1962 – present)
Global box office: $7.8 billion
Number of films: 27
Dr. No, the first film in the franchise, was released back in 1962, making James Bond one of the longest-running film series of all time as well as the most number of movies in a franchise. Adjusted for inflation, the combined gross revenue might put this franchise somewhere close to the lifetime collections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the decades, seven actors have had the distinction of playing the British super spy on screen — Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig, in one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.
No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond proved to be a critical and commercial success. Despite delays due to Covid, No Time to Die became 2021’s highest-grossing Hollywood film and fourth highest worldwide. Though it’s been more than two years since the last Bond outing, there’s no confirmation yet about the actor playing the next Bond. From Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Henry Cavill, to Jacob Elordi, and Daryl Mccormack, plenty of names have been bandied around.
6. DC Extended Universe (2013 -2023)
Global box office: $7 billion
Number of films: 15
The DC Extended Universe was launched with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013. DCEU was known for its grittier take on the superhero genre as opposed to the light-hearted vibe of its direct competitors, MCU. It expanded outside major theatrical releases with the much-awaited Snydercut dropping on HBO Max.
Matt Reeves’ Batman and Jaume-Collet Serra’s Black Adam were the DC movies that were released in 2022. While Batman was a critical and commercial success, Black Adam had an above-average box-office run and received mixed reviews. In 2022, James Gunn launched his Suicide Squad spin-off series featuring the supervillain Peacemaker (John Cena). The series received much praise from critics.
More DC movies were released in theaters in 2023, starting with the sequel to Shazam in March. Then came Andres Muschietti’s The Flash, Angel Manuel Soto’s Blue Beetle, and Aquaman sequel, directed by James Wan. All had a poor opening at the box office, and only the Aquaman sequel managed to hit the $400 million mark. Though the DCEU films ended with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, there are other DC projects in the pipeline, including Joaquin Phoenix and director Todd Philips’ return with a Joker sequel. There are also several other DC projects in development, including a Cyborg movie and a Green Lantern Movie.
7. Fast and Furious (2001 – present)
Global box office: $7 billion
Number of films: 10
The adrenaline-fueled Fast and Furious franchise introduced us to the exciting world of street car racing. With every new film that hits the screens, the franchise only seems to be growing in popularity. While the first film of the series collected a decent $200 million, Fate of the Furious released in 2017, grossed almost six times that amount. Meanwhile, the spin-off Hobbs and Shaw ended with impressive box-office figures of $758 million. Featuring exotic locales and an ethnically diverse cast, Fast and Furious has cemented its position among the industry behemoths. It’s currently a global phenomenon, with more than $4.2 billion of the global collection coming in from foreign markets.
The franchise’s latest, Fast X, received mixed reviews from critics but went on to become the 5th highest-grossing film of 2023. Untitled sequel to Fast X is expected to release on April 4, 2025. A 12th Fast and Furious is also in the early stages of development. Besides, there’s an announcement of a female-led spin-off movie and a standalone movie featuring Fast X antagonist Dante Reyes (played by Jason Momoa).
8. Batman Film Series (1940- Present)
Global Box Office: 6.8 billion
Number of Films: 21
The huge commercial success of Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022) moved the Batman series up a few spots in the highest-grossing franchise list. The brooding DC Comics hero first made his appearance in 1943 with the 15-chapter theatrical serial. In these eight decades, the masked superhero has become an undeniable figure in pop culture. From TV series, animated films to live-action standalone movies, and shared universe films, Batman has established his supremacy in various formats.
In the Batman movie series, the Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) was the most critically and commercially successful. Nolan’s relatively grounded approach to the superhero genre is one of the pivotal reasons for its grand success. The three films collectively grossed over $2.4 billion at the B.O.
The two Tim Burton Batman movies (Batman & Batman Returns) also deserve a special mention. In the 1980s, after the success of Superman (1978), Batman’s popularity was on the decline until 1986, when Tim Burton took over as the director of the new Batman film and brought in Michael Keaton to play the titular character. The casting choice was considered controversial since Michael Keaton, at the time, was mostly typecast as a comedic performer. The 1989 Tim Burton film, however, proved to be a huge success ($400 million), and Keaton returned as Batman in the recent Flash movie.
Currently, a sequel to Matt Reeves’ The Batman is under production, which is scheduled to release on October 3, 2025.
9. X-Men (2000 – 2020)
Global box office: $6.083 billion
Number of films: 13
Despite being Marvel comic characters, The X-Men has largely existed as a separate entity outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Other than Bryan Singer’s X-Man films, this franchise also includes James Mangold’s critically acclaimed Logan and Tim Miller’s incredibly zany Deadpool.
In 1994, producer Lauren Shuler Donner brought the intellectual rights to the X-Men characters for 20th Century Fox. This has prevented crossovers between Disney’s MCU and Fox’s X-Men films.
But all of this changed thanks to a landmark deal between Disney and 20th Century Fox. As part of the acquisition, Fox has had to re-transfer the X-Men film rights back to Marvel Studios. With all the X-Men films in development at Fox being canceled, New Mutants was the last film of the franchise. It will be rebooted and become a part of the burgeoning MCU. A third Deadpool film is said to be currently under production and will be released under the Disney banner in July 2024.
The X-Men franchise reboot is in early stages. Deadpool 3 is seen as the first official standalone mutant film in the MCU. Still, it will be a few years for the X-Men to appear in MCU’s shared superhero universe.
10. Jurassic Park (1993 – 2022)
Global box office: $6 billion
Number of films: 6
Out of the top 10 highest-grossing film franchises, Jurassic Park boasts the smallest collection of films. The first three in the series starred Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum in the lead. Based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller, the franchise is centered around a disastrous experiment to create a theme park of cloned dinosaurs. Since the release of the first film, the franchise has expanded to include a variety of video games and comic books.
In 2015, a new trilogy starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard was launched. Jurassic World was the first film to gross more than $500 million in its opening weekend. In the course of its theatrical run, it grossed over $1.6 billion, making it one of the highest-grossing films of that year. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the 5th film in the franchise, released in 2018 and, in no time, became the third Jurassic film to pass the billion-dollar mark.
The final film in the new trilogy Jurassic World: Dominion achieved a remarkable $1 billion at the box office, but fell short of the domestic box-office figures of the original Jurassic Park (1993). Additionally, Dominion was a critical disaster. No new movies in the dino saga are greenlit as of now. But the fact that it’s a massively profitable franchise for Universal Pictures, the studio might hopefully return with fresh ideas in the coming years.
This wraps up our list of the most powerful franchises in all of movie history. Just shy of making the cut is the Middle Earth series with a global box-office haul of $5.8 billion and Paramount Studios’ Transformers with a dazzling $5.29 billion. With the 2022 release and success of Avatar 2, the franchise has now claimed the spot of the 13th highest-grossing movie franchise of all time ($5.64 billion). Hot on its heels is the Despicable Me franchise at $4.64 billion) and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean saga, having amassed over $4.52 billion globally. What fandom are you a part of? Which of these franchises excite you the most?
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’