Movies are an inherently risky business. Investors put forth millions of dollars – sometimes tens of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions – to create a movie. And then they’re at the complete whims of general audiences.
Some movies are monstrous flops and a studio loses tons of money. But sometimes a movie is a monumental hit and the investors enjoy a huge return on investment. These are those movies. The movies that become enormous worldwide successes, make an unbelievable amount of money at the box office, and make the studios very happy indeed.
These are ten of the most profitable movies ever made.
10 Gone With The Wind (1939)
Gone With the Wind is a historic film, and it all but revolutionized the industry back in 1939. Serving as a monstrous four hour long epic, Gone With the Wind cost an estimated $3.8 million to produce – only about $70 million today. It was an enormous success upon release, becoming the highest-grossing movie ever made. It has since made roughly $390 million, about 100x its budget. When adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind has made roughly $3.5 billion, making it the highest-grossing movie ever made.
9 Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars was a truly monumental film when it was released in the summer of 1977. Made for an estimated $11 million, it dethroned Jaws as the highest-grossing movie in North American history, making $220 million in its original domestic run (about $930 million today). It has since made $775 million worldwide thanks to numerous re-releases – about 70x its budget. When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars has made over $2.5 billion.
8 Pretty Woman (1990)
The unbelievable success of Pretty Woman proves how different the movie landscape was in 1990. A simple romantic comedy would never do this well today. Made for just $14 million, Pretty Woman was released to middling reviews in March of 1990. Yet the power of Julia Roberts proved enormous, and the movie stayed in the top ten for four months. It ended up grossing $463 million worldwide, making 33x its budget.
7 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
When people think of Spielberg, they think of magical movies like E.T. E.T. was made on a measly budget of $10.5 million – about $30 million today.
Yet Spielberg was able to craft pure movie magic, and E.T. spent a record sixteen weeks at number one. By 1983 it surpassed Star Wars as the highest-grossing movie ever, finishing its initial theatrical run with a worldwide gross of $619 million (~ $1.6 billion today). It has since grossed $792 million, making 75x its budget.
6 Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone is another movie that likely wouldn’t work in today’s superhero and extravaganza-dominated movie landscape. At least not to the extent that it did back in 1990. Made for $18 million, Home Alone spent twelve straight weeks at number one and stayed in the top ten until Easter. It became the third-highest grossing movie ever made at the time (behind Star Wars and E.T.), making $476 million at the worldwide box office. It ended up making 26x its budget.
5 Jaws (1975)
Before Star Wars, there was Jaws. This film that reportedly made people afraid of the water cost just $9 million to make, and it was released in the summer of 1975 to huge acclaim and popularity. It was the first movie to gross $100 million in North America, eventually finishing with $123 million. The movie has since grossed $470 million worldwide, making 52x its budget. When adjusted for inflation, Jaws has made over $2 billion worldwide.
4 The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is still a remarkably scary film nearly fifty years later. They don’t call it the scariest film of all time for nothing!
Made for $12 million, The Exorcist proved an unbelievable hit in the winter of ’73/’74, grossing a total of $112 million worldwide (about $650 million today). It has since grossed $441 million worldwide thanks to numerous re-releases, making nearly 37x its budget. When adjusted for inflation, The Exorcist remains the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.
3 My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
For some reason, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a huge hit. An independent movie distributed by IFC Films, the movie cost just $5 million to produce. Despite opening limited, My Big Fat Greek Wedding spread via word of mouth and grossed $368 million at the worldwide box office. This little movie that could became the fifth-highest grossing movie in the domestic market in 2002, and it made over 73x its very small budget.
2 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It doesn’t get much cheaper than The Blair Witch Project, seeing as how the entire movie is just three actors walking through the woods. While the movie itself was shot for about $60,000, post-production costs elevated the budget to roughly $500,000. No matter. The movie ended up grossing an astounding $248 million at the worldwide box office – 496x its budget (including post production). The Blair Witch Project was a genuine money maker.
1 Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Blair Witch Project helped revolutionize the horror genre, resulting in a slew of copy cats. Paranormal Activity was one of its most popular progenitors – and it was made even cheaper. The movie was made for a minuscule $15,000, with post-production bumping it up to $215,000. It ended up grossing $193 million at the worldwide box office, making roughly 897x its budget. To make matters even better, Paranormal Activity spawned a very lucrative franchise that has grossed a cumulative $890 million.
NEXT: Harry Potter Vs Lord Of The Rings: 10 Highest Grossing Movies, According To Box Office Mojo