HL A&E: From Star Wars to The Lion King: Visualizing the 100 Highest-Grossing Summer Movies of All Time

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

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

Haute Tease

  • Sabyasachi Mukherjee Spring Collection - Talkin' About a Revolution

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Sabyasachi Mukherjee, designer of Sabyasachi, made his second appearance at this year's New York IMG Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week previewing his Spring/Summer 2008 Collection to a standing room only audience that erupted with applause as he showcased his designs.

  • High Violet Introduces A Wonderful Mixed Bag of Rock, Indie, Jazz/Blues

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    From the London music scene today comes Elevant with a new EP recorded at Abbey Road; Florence Joelle, Parisian Soul, Latin Jazz, think heat set to music, and Anilore, from East Village NYC punk jumped the pond earning rave reviews.  

  • Victoria & Abdul Review – Dame Judi Dench and Company Present Perfection

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Victoria & Abdul, from Focus Features and Working Title Films, presents a little known season in Queen Victoria’s reign when she challenged and angered those around her by learning, living and loving and refusing to go quietly into the night.

  • $12 Million To The Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    BEVERLY HILLS, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that it has received a $7 million gift from Dolby Laboratories to provide cutting-edge audiovisual technology in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures' movie theaters. Additionally, the Dolby family has made a $5 million gift to the Academy Museum's capital campaign. In recognition of this gift, the Academy will name the Museum's rooftop terrace the Dolby Family Terrace.  

  • Beltway Insider: Boston Bombing Suspect Moved; President, Senator Targeted in Bio-Terror Scare; CISPA Killed in Senate; Fertilizer Plant Victim’s Mourned

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Obama, with the Boston Marathon bombing suspect in custody, attended a memorial service at Baylor University in Waco for those who died in the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

  • CNBC: Neiman Marcus Bankruptcy Challenged, Creditors Push for Sale

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Neiman Marcus is expected to pursue its bankruptcy filing and is in talks with its current lenders about raising roughly $600 million in emergency financing to fund operations through the restructuring, people familiar with the situation tell CNBC.

  • Kentucky School Shooting Leaves Two Dead; 18 Injured

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Two students are dead and more than a dozen injured, four critically, after a lone gunman opened fire just as students were arriving for the day at Marshall County High School, in rural Kentucky, authorities have said.

  • BOULEVARD Review – Robin Williams Gives a Master Class, Memorable, Honest Performance

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    BOULEVARD, from Starz Digital and Camellia Entertainment, brings to the screen a powerful moving life drama that resonates of living truthfully and is delivered with reserved unforgettable force taking the audience on a personal journey of self-discovery.

  • Shiver Review – A Terrifying Trip into a Serial Killer’s Mind

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    SHIVER,” from Cyclone Productions and Bandersnatch Films, presents a nail-biting, psychological thriller that pits a blood thirsty serial killer against the skill, wit and determination of the detectives and a single surviving victim.

  • Grand Velas Los Cabos Restaurants Review - A Gastronomy Delight, Epicurean Ingenuity at its finest

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Grand Velas Los Cabos, as an all-inclusive offers a variety of gastronomic opportunities from lite fare to the Italian eatery Lucca, the French Piaf, and Velas 10, a steak and seafood house, all highly authentic and with an elevated approach to cuisine.

  • Chattanooga Bus Driver Has Court Appearance; Employer Knew of Complaints

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Johnthony Walker, 24, the bus driver that intentionally crashed his vehicle filled with children, had a brief court hearing Tuesday where he learned his preliminary hearing was postponed until December 15, 2017. His bail remains at $107,500.00.

  • ThermaSol Transforms the Techie Bath

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Turning the bath “haven” into “heaven” is easy with ThermaSol®. Their latest digital technologies ensure your every wish is their command. A touch of your fingertip brings warm, relaxing steam to life.  

  • Honeymoon In Vegas Review – Go For The Music, Stay For The Elvis Impersonators

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Writing reviews to send out is actually quite difficult for me.  The truth is, I’m a theatre snob, and I’m pretty hard to please.  Without creative geniuses such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, or even Stephen Sondheim, it’s hard for me to give my endorsement.  Not this time.  You will love ‘Honeymoon In Vegas’.

  • Three Women Missing a Decade Found Alive

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, three Cleveland, Ohio, women, who had been missing for over a decade, were found alive held captive together, after a stunning escape.

  • Historic Artic Cold Plunges Much of Nation into The Deep Freeze

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Polar Vortex, that upper atmosphere deep cold that usually sits in the Antarctica region, is dropping in for a visit and will bring with it stunningly cold temperatures and wind chills unlike any seen in twenty years.