On 6 August 2023, Barbie went past the USD 1-billion milestone at the worldwide box office to become the 53rd movie to do so. Yes, 52 others hit the billion-dollar movie mark first, which begs the question: Which were the earliest to do so?
The overall box office gross of movies has been rising with each decade. But it is noteworthy that all the 53 billion-dollar movies have come from Hollywood. As American studios found newer and larger markets, such as India and China, the revenue from the films they made also rose significantly.
This particularly came true in the 1990s, when new film-making techniques by innovative directors, such as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, redefined cinema itself and awed global audiences with Hollywood blockbusters.
Directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, Barbie is just the latest on that long list. But it is the most noteworthy since it is the first and, so far, the only billion-dollar movie helmed by a solo female director. The other three — Frozen (2013), Frozen II (2019) and Captain Marvel (2019) — were helmed by director duos; Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck made the first two and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck went behind the camera for the third.
Additionally, even though a cursory look at the world’s highest-grossing films of all time might show Jurassic Park as the first to have reached the milestone, it is not so.
The Steven Spielberg film, which made dinosaurs a household name, earned USD 970 million during its theatrical run from its original release date of 11 June 1993. It was the biggest film released at the time, but its billion-dollar gross came only in August 2013, following the release of a 3D version of the film. By then, more than 13 films had crossed the milestone figure.
Similar is the case of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first film in the Harry Potter franchise. Released on 16 November 2001, it earned USD 975 million globally by the end of its original theatrical run in 2002. However, a 4K 3D restoration of the film released in China on 14 August 2020 helped it cross USD 1 billion in revenue on 18 August.
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The first movies to earn USD 1 billion at the worldwide box office
Jump To / Table of Contents
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
- The Dark Knight
- Alice in Wonderland
- Toy Story 3
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon
- Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates
Release date: 19 December 1997
Number of Oscars won: 11, including Best Picture and Best Director
Worldwide gross: USD 2,264,743,305
Synopsis: Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Winslet) fall in love during the maiden voyage on the luxurious R.M.S. Titanic despite their social differences. But calamity strikes the massive vessel when it hits an iceberg on 15 April 1912.
More about the film: Titanic is the first movie to cross the USD 1-billion mark at the global box office. It did so on 1 March 1998, which was 74 days after the release of the film. A 3D re-release of the film in 2012 helped it cross USD 2 billion, making it only the second film after Avatar to do so. To date, it is the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time.
Image: Courtesy © 1997 – Paramount Pictures/IMDb
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Orlando Bloom, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, Andy Serkis
Release date: 17 December 2003
Number of Oscars won: 11, including Best Picture and Best Director
Worldwide gross: USD 1,147,633,833 9
Synopsis: Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) are trying to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring and bring an end to Sauron’s existence. Meanwhile, Gandalf (McKellen) and Aragorn (Mortensen) are preparing a massive army of men and elves to face the invading forces of Sauron for a last stand at Minas Tirith.
More about the film: The Return of the King became the first The Lord of the Rings movie and the second overall to earn a worldwide gross of USD 1 billion when it crossed the benchmark figure on 22 February 2004. It was the 10th week of the film’s release, which concluded the illustrious trilogy by Peter Jackson. It is one of the three movies to win 11 Oscars and the last to do so to date.
Image: Courtesy © 2003 – New Line Cinema/IMDb
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport
Release date: 7 July 2006
Worldwide gross: USD 1,066,179,747
Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is forced to go on the run when Davy Jones (Nighy), the captain of the ghost ship Flying Dutchman, comes to collect a blood debt. The only way to free himself from the debt is for Jack to obtain Davy Jones’ heart.
More about the film: Dead Man’s Chest took only 63 days to go past the USD 1-billion mark on 8 September 2006. As such, it set the record for the fastest film to do so among the three that achieved the milestone at the time. It is Johnny Depp’s first billion-dollar movie and one of the only two Pirates of the Caribbean films to do so. The actor would go on to deliver two more that earned over USD 1 billion at the global box office.
Image: Courtesy Peter Mountain – © Disney Enterprises, Inc., All rights reserved./IMDb
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Release date: 18 July 2008
Number of Oscars won: 2
Worldwide gross: USD 1,006,234,167
Synopsis: Batman (Bale) is pushed to his limits when a sadistic criminal named Joker (Ledger) wreaks havoc on Gotham City. In his pursuit of the Clown Prince of Crime, the Caped Crusader finds that the lives of his allies and those close to him are in grave danger.
More about the film: The Dark Knight is the first film featuring the iconic comic book character that earned USD 1 billion in theatres. It is the first film of both director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale to cross the mark, which it did on 20 February 2009. Interestingly, the feat came after the film had been relaunched on 23 January 2009.
Image: Courtesy © TM &DC Comics.2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved./IMDb
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Dileep Rao
Release date: 18 December 2009
Number of Oscars won: 3
Worldwide gross: USD 2,923,706,026
Synopsis: In the far future, a human-led invasion of a moon known as Pandora puts the native blue-skinned Na’vi people in danger. Jake Sully (Worthington), a paralysed former Marine, is tasked to infiltrate the Na’vi by becoming an Avatar — a human mind in a Na’vi body. But as Jake learns more about the Na’vi and falls in love with a Na’vi woman named Neytiri (Saldaña), he chooses to become the saviour they badly needed.
More about the film: On 3 January 2010, Avatar scripted history by grossing USD 1 billion in just 17 days of release. It was the most expensive ever made at the time, costing USD 500 million. On the 47th day of its release, Avatar became the first movie in history to reach the USD 2-billion mark. One of the few six movies to have reached the landmark figure, it is still the highest-grossing film of all time.
Image: Courtesy WETA – © 2007 Twentieth Century Fox – All Rights Reserved./IMDb
Directed by: Tim Burton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry
Release date: 5 March 2010
Number of Oscars won: 2
Worldwide gross: USD 1,025,468,216
Synopsis: Alice (Wasikowska), now a 19-year-old, accidentally returns to the magical wonderland from her childhood, which she had forgotten about. She reunites with her old friends, including Mad Hatter (Depp), and learns that it is her destiny to end the cruel reign of the Red Queen (Carter).
More about the film: Alice in Wonderland is the second Johnny Depp movie to touch the milestone, which it did on 27 May 2010. It was the sixth film and the third non-sequel to earn USD 1 billion in theatres at the time.
Image: Courtesy © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved./IMDb
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Morris, Michael Keaton
Release date: 18 June 2010
Number of Oscars won: 2, including Best Animated Film
Worldwide gross: USD 1,067,316,101
Synopsis: When their human owner, Andy (Morris), leaves for college, the toy figurines are mistakenly delivered to a daycare centre instead of his attic. Woody (Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and Jessie (Cusack) must find a way to escape and reach home, but they have to convince the other toys that Andy didn’t abandon them.
More about the film: Toy Story 3, the third instalment in the acclaimed Toy Story franchise, is the first animated movie to cross the coveted figure. Its worldwide gross landmark, which came on 27 August 2010, also made Disney the first movie studio to release two billion-dollar films in the same year; the other being Alice in Wonderland.
Image: Courtesy © Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved./IMDb
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey
Release date: 20 May 2011
Worldwide gross: USD 1,046,721,266
Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is forced to join his former lover Angelica (Cruz) and her father, the notorious pirate lord Blackbeard (McShane), to find the Fountain of Youth. But Jack’s rival, Barbossa (Rush) and King Ferdinand’s Spanish Navy are also looking for the Fountain.
More about the film: On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, earned USD 1 billion on 1 July 2010. Over a third of its revenue, around USD 774 million, came from foreign box offices. At the time, Johnny Depp held the unprecedented record of starring in three billion-dollar movies. There were 33 others by 2020, most of whom largely because of their appearance in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.
Image: Courtesy © 2010 – Walt Disney Pictures/IMDb
Directed by: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman
Release date: 15 July 2011
Worldwide gross: USD 1,342,359,942
Synopsis: Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) must race against time to find the Horcruxes before taking on the dark wizard Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) in their final battle at Hogwarts.
More about the film: Deathly Hallows 2, the eighth and last film of the record-breaking franchise, is the first Harry Potter movie to earn a billion dollars. It reached the figure on 30 July 2011, with a strong showing on the back of its 3D release.
Image: Courtesy © 2011 Warner Bros. Harry Potter Publishing Rights (c) J.K. Rowling./IMDb
Directed by: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Frances McDormand
Release date: 29 June 2011
Worldwide gross: USD 1,123,794,079
Synopsis: Optimus Prime (voiced by Cullen) resurrects his mentor, the ancient Transformer named Sentinel Prime (voiced by Nimoy), to win a war against the Decepticons. But the decision leads to devastating consequences. Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) and his new girlfriend, Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), must now help the Autobots save Earth.
More about the film: Though the film was released almost three weeks before Deathly Hallows 2, it reached the milestone three days after the Harry Potter film on 2 August 2011. Dark of the Moon is nevertheless the first movie of Transformers franchise and the highest-grossing movie by Paramount at the time.
Image: Courtesy © 2011 – Paramount Pictures/IMDb
Directed by: George Lucas
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Keira Knightley, Ray Park
Release date: 19 May 1999
Worldwide gross: USD 1,027,082,707
Synopsis: Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and his young padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) come across a boy named Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd) who they believe can bring balance to the Force. But in their way is Darth Maul (Park), a Sith working for a mysterious Sith lord named Darth Sidious.
More about the film: The Phantom Menace is the first Star Wars movie to cross the landmark figure at the worldwide box office. But, interestingly, it didn’t do so during its original theatrical run. The feat came on 22 February 2012, two weeks after it was re-released in theatres. At the time, it was the 11th highest-grossing movie in the world.
Image: Courtesy © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved./IMDb
All figures as Box Office Mojo as on 10 August 2023.
All USD conversions have been done at the time of writing.
Hero and Featured image: Courtesy © 1997 – Paramount Pictures/IMDb
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
How many billion-dollar films are there?
There are 53 movies that have earned over USD 1 billion at the box office.
Which was the first USD 2-billion movie?
James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ (2009) is the first movie to hit the USD 2-billion mark.
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India