What are the highest grossing summer movies of all time?

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. /
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Barbie and Oppenheimer are quite literally the must-see films of this summer, as both releases have a stellar ensemble of actors and actresses, exceptional visuals, and a talented director who created something that will stay with us for generations to come. It’s because of this that both films quickly made a profit only days after their release and will, most likely, continue to acquire more money from new watchers and re-watchers alike. Simply put, Barbie and Oppenheimer are money-makers!

All this buzz surrounding the 2023 movies and how much money they’ve made thus far has many wondering whether this type of success is unprecedented. Well, we’re here to tell you that a summer release this popular isn’t as uncommon as you think it is, as they are tons of films that also went on to have unfathomably large profits.

Without further ado, let’s get into which summer films are the highest-grossing ever!

Highest-grossing summer movies

As you might have guessed, the 1977 sci-fi film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope has the top spot, making about $1.95 billion (inflated) in domestic and international box offices.

Prior to its release, Star Wars: A New Hope was a film decades ahead of its time due to the story behind the film, riveting special effects, and talented Hollywood stars who certainly knew how to express fear in a way that captivates all audiences. What’s more, the film has aged very well compared to its predecessors and successors, hence why years later, the 1977 title is still making more and more money.

After Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the 1975 film Jaws is yet another highest-grossing summer film, as this thriller is said to have made $260 million domestically and  $471.2 million internationally. This would mean that the Steven Spielberg film made approximately $1.24 billion (with inflation).

Whether you’re more of a Jaws fan or a Star Wars crusader, we can all agree that both films have left a profound effect on the film industry. But these blockbusters aren’t the only films that broke summer box offices. Here are the most financially successful films every summer since 1975 (as per USA Today, Business Insider, and Box Office Mojo):

Note: All numbers below are from domestic box offices unless stated otherwise. 

  1. The Omen (1976) – $257.7 million
  2. Grease (1978) – $694.7 million
  3. The Amityville Horror (1979) – $310.3 million
  4. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – $884.6 million
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – $797.8 million
  6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – $435.1 million
  7.  Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) – $$847.5 million
  8. Ghostbusters (1984) – $641.3 million
  9. Back to the Future (1985) – $532.0 million
  10. Top Gun (1986) – $432.8 million
  11. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) – $354.1 million
  12. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – $343.0 million
  13. Batman (1989) – $567.4 million
  14. Ghost (1990) – $463.7 million
  15. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – $439.4 million
  16. Batman Returns (1992) – $353.6 million
  17. Jurassic Park (1993) – $825.9 million
  18. The Lion King (1994) – $803.2 million
  19. Batman Forever (1995) – $381.2 million
  20. Independence Day (1996) – $624.1 million
  21. Men in Black (1997) – $492.1 million
  22. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – $412.7 million
  23. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – $813.7 million
  24. Mission: Impossible II (2000) – $360.1 million
  25. Shrek (2001) – $426.1 million
  26. Spider-Man (2002) – $626.1 million
  27. Finding Nemo (2003) – $554.9 million
  28. Shrek 2 (2004) – $640.2 million
  29. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) –  $534.5 million
  30. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – $582.3 million
  31. Spider-Man 3 (2007) – $440.7 million
  32. The Dark Knight (2008) – $671.3 million
  33. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) – $485.6 million
  34. Toy Story 3 (2010) – $480.6 million
  35. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) – $432.6 million
  36. The Avengers (2012) – $692.7 million
  37. Iron Man 3 (2013) – $440.1 million
  38. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – $371.0 million
  39. Jurassic World (2015) – $712.2 million
  40. Finding Dory (2016) – $506.0 million
  41. Wonder Woman (2017) – $415.5 million
  42. Incredibles 2 (2018) – $597.4 million
  43. Aladdin (2019) – $356.6 million
  44. Tenet (2020) – $58.5 million
  45. Black Widow (2021) – $183.6 million
  46. Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – $718.7 million

Will Greta Gerwig’s Barbie be the top film of Summer 2023? Or will Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer take the lead instead? Only time will tell! Until then, be sure to head to your local theater to catch either of the films and contribute to history in the making!

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