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Why 2015 Was The Biggest Movie Year Ever

In 2015, something unprecedented occurred: five of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time were all released in the same calendar year. Two of them have since been knocked out of the top 10 — sorry, Minions and Avengers: Age of Ultron — but 2015 remains an annus mirabilis at the box office. It was the first year in which three movies from a single studio grossed more than $1 billion each, with Jurassic World, Furious 7, and Minions all doing big business for Universal.

As has been the case in subsequent years — and will almost certainly continue to be the case for the foreseeable future — Disney had a stellar 2015 by raking in more than $5 billion on its own. The Mouse House was responsible for the highest-grossing film of 2015 (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), contributing to yet another landmark: it was the first time that global box-office revenue surpassed $38 billion, in large part thanks to China. The box office grew by 48.7 percent there, marking the beginning of a sea change for the global film industry: China is projected to surpass the United States as the world's most profitable cinema market by the end of 2020.

But now, with a worldwide pandemic keeping movie-goers at home and halting production on new films, the numbers seem up in the air. With any number of movies delayed and no blockbusters coming to a theater near you anytime soon, take a moment to look back at one of Hollywood’s most profitable years.

The box office awakens

Stormtroopers shown at Walt Disney World.
Credit: Brian McGowan/ Unsplash

Two words immediately come to mind when explaining why 2015 was such a massive year at the box office: Star Wars. Seven years after completing his second trilogy in the space-opera franchise, George Lucas sold his production company, Lucasfilm, to Disney for $2.12 billion cash alongside $1.855 billion in stock — a vast sum of money that now looks like a bargain. A new slate of Star Wars projects was announced shortly thereafter, and anticipation once again reached a fever pitch for the latest movie in a galaxy far, far away.

Released in December, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens immediately broke several box-office records: fastest film to gross $1 billion (12 days), highest worldwide opening-weekend gross ($529 million), and highest IMAX opening-weekend gross ($48 million), to name a few. It ended up raking in a total of $2.068 billion worldwide, making it No. 4 on the all-time list. Four other Star Wars films have been released since then — Rogue One (2016), Episode VIII — The Last Jedi (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker (2019) — but none have earned nearly as much money.

Life, uh, finds a way

Jurassic World at Universal Studios.
Credit: Christopher Stark/ Unsplash

Released at the height of summer, Jurassic World set a record of its own by making $1 billion in 13 days — too bad it couldn’t wear that crown longer. Even so, this reboot of the prehistoric franchise was nothing less than a smash success: it made a total of $1.67 billion worldwide, considerably more than any other Jurassic movie to date. Considering the 1993 original Jurassic Park was the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic came along four years later, you might say that record-breaking returns are in this series’ DNA.

Fork in the road

Car driving fast seen from above
Credit: Avigator Fortuner/ Shutterstock

Sequels, remakes, and reboots have dominated the box office for years now. The Fast & Furious series has been a major part of that trend, and its staying power over the last two decades is a rare feat indeed. That said, the reasons for Furious 7 being the high-speed franchise’s highest-grossing entry aren’t entirely happy. It was the first installment released following the untimely death of star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013; longtime fans were especially eager to experience his final performance.

Suffice to say they came in droves. Furious 7 earned $1.515 billion in box-office receipts, becoming the franchise's top earner just 12 days after arriving in theaters. Before being surpassed by five others, it briefly stood as the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time.

Avengers assemble

The milky way full of stars
Credit: Freder/ iStock

These days you can’t talk about the box office without placing heavy emphasis on a certain cinematic universe. Marvel movies have always been high earners, but not until 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron did they start surpassing the $1 billion mark on a regular basis. The second Avengers team-up earned $1.403 billion, to be precise, enough for it to peak at No. 5 on the all-time box-office list before dropping to its current spot of No. 11.

So what about the other $30+ billion pulled in during 2015? Animated and franchise fare proved highly profitable as well, with everyone from old favorites like James Bond and Ethan Hunt to relative newcomers like the Minions and Katniss Everdeen having rather good years. Here’s the full top 10 list:

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: $2,068,223,624
  2. Jurassic World: $1,670,400,637
  3. Furious 7: $1,516,045,911
  4. Avengers: Age of Ultron: $1,402,805,868
  5. Minions: $1,159,398,397
  6. Spectre: $880,674,609
  7. Inside Out: $857,611,174
  8. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation: $682,714,267
  9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2: $658,344,137
  10. The Martian: $630,161,890

Hindsight is 20/20

Records were meant to be broken, especially when it comes to the box office. Several of these accomplishments have since been surpassed, with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame now standing as the highest-grossing film of all time. As you may have noticed, however, none of these records account for inflation. When that’s taken into account, 1939's Gone with the Wind holds the No. 1 spot with a massive $3.7 billion while Endgame occupies the No. 5 spot behind Titanic, Avatar, and the original 1977 Star Wars.

With movies like Wonder Woman 1984, F9, and Black Widow all delayed, 2020 will likely be responsible for fewer blockbusters than years past — meaning that, at least for now, these records are safe.

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