From Star Wars To The Lion King: Visualizing The 100 Highest Grossing Summer Movies Of All Time

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC From Star Wars To The Lion King: Visualizing The 100 Highest Grossing Summer Movies Of All Time

By Ben Taylor.

With summer comes a familiar parade of cinematic tropes: the classic film reboot, the series that just won’t die, the ongoing, never-ending, isn’t-anyone-tired-of-these-yet superhero movie assault. Why do we get this barrage of summer cinema, year after year after year?

The answer is money. If you want to win an Oscar, the numbers say you should release your movie in November or December. But if you want to blow up the box office? Try the summer. Of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time, 30 came out in May, June, July or August.

With school out and vacations on the rise, summers and blockbusters are as inseparable as Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Given summer’s bankable track record, PrettyFamous, an entertainment site from Graphiq, set out to rank the top 100 highest-grossing summer movies of all time. Rather than using raw, worldwide gross figures — which tend to favor recent films — the team used inflation-adjusted domestic receipts. As such, the list might undervalue films that did particularly well overseas, but it will do a better job putting older movies in context. In other words, $100 million in 1977 is much more impressive than $100 million in 2016.

May, Not August

Among the top 100 summer blockbusters of all time, May dominates, while August lags behind. Intuitively, this makes sense — films with longer summer shelf lives tend to do better overall. There’s likely a self-fulfilling cycle at work here too, as studios see May success, then aim to release future movies in the same timeframe.

Star Wars

Adjusted for inflation, the original “Star Wars” remains the highest-grossing summer movie ever, a film that went on to net nearly $2 billion in domestic receipts. In fact, the Star Wars series earns four of the top six slots, including all of the original series and “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

Episodes II and III appear further down the list, but critical reception to “The Phantom Menace” might have doomed the two movies to sub-Star Wars performance. “The Force Awakens” — the series’ 2015 reboot — made more than enough to make the list, but the film was released in December, marking the first time a major Star Wars film wasn’t released in the summer.


Steven Spielberg’s two directing Oscars already put him in rare company, but the man is even better at summer blockbusters than award-winning films. Between “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Spielberg nabs three of the top 10 slots. Several Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones sequels pepper the list as well.

All told, Spielberg notches nine spots among the top 100 films, by far the most of any director. Michael Bay’s five entries come mostly from the smash-hit Transformers series, while George Lucas’ four slots come thanks to the Star Wars franchise.

Children’s Movies

When it comes to genre, nothing basks in the summer’s lucrative rays quite like kids movies. For every iconic series on the list, there’s an animated feature to match, from “The Lion King” to “Bambi” to “Shrek 2.” Here, Hollywood is taking full advantage of summer vacation and busy parents. What better way to keep the kids occupied than shuffle them off to “Toy Story 3?”

Note: Movies on this list can have multiple genres at once, such as “animated,” “fantasy” and “children.”

After a record-breaking opening weekend, “Finding Dory” looks poised to continue the trend.

Naturally, action-adventure films like “Jurassic Park” do particularly well, as does science fiction and comedy, the familiar staples of summer cinema. Drama — which dominates November and December — nearly disappears during the summer months.

If there’s any surprise here, it might be horror’s poor showing. While the most iconic horror films tend to come out in October, there’s still been a steady stream of summer hackfests over the years, and only one cracks the top 100 (“Alien”).

Still Growing

But has the golden age of summer blockbusters come and gone? The data says no.

Each new decade has a habit of surpassing the last, even when adjusting for inflation. The 2010s are already on pace to surpass the 2000s, and keep in mind that many films will get bumped to make room for the summer hits of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Put another way, settle in for next year’s deluge of animated sequels, Michael Bay retreads, and lest we forget, piles and piles and piles of superheroes. After all, it’s just good business.

More: Decoding 2016’s Song of the Summer

We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.

Trending on BRWC:

Michael Mendelsohn: Interview 

Michael Mendelsohn: Interview 

By BRWC / 6th May 2024 / 1 Comment
Damaged: Review

Damaged: Review

By BRWC / 22nd April 2024 / 2 Comments
Velma Season 2: Review

Velma Season 2: Review

By BRWC / 9th May 2024 / 1 Comment
One Life: The BRWC Review

One Life: The BRWC Review

By BRWC / 24th April 2024
A Family Affair: Review

A Family Affair: Review

By BRWC / 20th April 2024

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese, which is a blog about films.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.