What makes a Hollywood blockbuster? We can anticipate the popularity of the next Marvel movie or pretty much anything Steven Spielberg is working on, right? That was not always the case.
Spielberg’s 1975 summer hit, Jaws, cemented the term for a movie not expected to make much revenue but becomes a household name – the summer blockbuster.
In a 1998 TIME piece by film critic Roger Ebert, he wrote, “Spielberg changed the course of modern Hollywood history. Jaws was a hit of vast proportions, inspiring executives to go for the home run instead of the base hit.”
Today, directors are crossing their fingers to make the next great American Blockbuster and several of those films have come out of the dark, surprising both movie-goers and the industry alike.
If you haven’t seen one of the films on this list, you may want to check it out.
10 Blair Witch Project: $248 Million
The budget was $60,000 and included unknown actors and actresses. The draw for the film was due to fans believing the film content was real; three film students go into the wood to make a documentary and the shaky “footage” and up-close frames led the audience to believe in the fear of the young people.
The film opened to $1.5 million and eventually climbed the charts to $140 million domestic and $248 million worldwide. Dollar-for dollar, the film is one of the most profitable movies of all time.
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9 Star Wars: $307 Million
It seems silly to movie-goers today that Star Wars would be anything but a blockbuster hit but when the first film in 1977 hit theaters, director George Lucas didn’t even go to the premiere because he thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. At the start of Lucas’ career, he was handed $11 million to make the sci-fi film about space and solving disputes via light saber action sequences. During the first weekend, the movie earned $1.5 million to everyone’s surprise and the popularity soared.
In its initial 18-month run, Star Wars made $307 million, and the rest is history. As of today, the first film in the mega-hit franchise is the second highest-grossing movie of all time, according to Looper.
8 My Big Fat Greek Wedding: $368 Million
Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson believed in the comedic one-woman show performed by Nia Vardalos about her life in a big Greek family. Offering $5 million to make the film and insisting Vardalos stars, Hanks and Wilson had no idea the film would gross $241 million domestic and $368 million worldwide, according to Screen Rant. The movie never made it to the #1 spot at the box office (the second highest grossing film to do so) but it is the highest grossing romantic comedy ever.
7 Slumdog Millionaire: $378 Million
With a cast of unknown Indian actors and a budget of $15 million, director Danny Boyle didn’t expect a blockbuster on his hands. The film opened strong with $360,000 and eventually expanded to $375 million worldwide.
6 Pretty Woman: $432 Million
A relative newcomer to Hollywood, Julia Roberts and well-known actor with no big hits in nearly a decade, Richard Gere, teamed up to make a film about a wealthy tycoon meeting a hooker. Doesn’t seem like a blockbuster in the making but given a $14 million budget and opening weekend raking in $11 million, Pretty Woman climbed the charts to an impressive $432 million during it’s time at the box office.
5 Jaws: $470 Million
You can’t make a list of blockbuster hits without including the original. Spielberg was given a $3.5 million budget which became $12 million as issues arose throughout filming. If the movie didn’t bring in revenue, Spielberg’s massive budget overruns would create a name for himself that he didn’t want. As luck would have it, Shortlist says Jaws opened to $7 million and eventually reached $470 million worldwide, launching Spielberg’s career and the summer movie blockbuster season we all know and love.
4 Home Alone: $476 Million
John Hughes wrote the screenplay with Macaulay Culkin in mind but passed the directorial job on to newcomer Chris Columbus. 20th Century Fox hoped for a modest holiday revenue from the film, but the $18 million budget was made back during opening weekend and revenue soared to $476 million worldwide, making the little holiday film one of the biggest hits of all time.
3 The Sixth Sense: $672 Million
Night Shyamalan’s first major hit was a surprise, perhaps even to him. Shyamalan wrote the script and while it was popular among studios and A-list actor Bruce Willis signed on, no one expected the $293 domestic and $672 million worldwide for a young boy who sees dead people. In 1999, the film was second to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, beating out Toy Story 2 and Austin Powers 2.
2 Rocky: $1.5 Billion
Actor Sylvester Stallone’s career was pretty much at a standstill. Nearly 30 years old and having only stared in a handful of low budget films, he wrote a screenplay in a matter of three days, titled Rocky, about a boxer in Philadelphia and his rise to success.
Producers wanted to use the film for current, popular actors at the time, but Stallone insisted he play the lead role for rights to the movie. Rocky was filmed on $1 million in under a month and hit show earned $117 million in no time. Its popularity launched a franchise that has earned $1.5 billion worldwide, cementing Stallone’s place in Hollywood history.
1 Titanic: $1.8 Billion
James Cameron asks for an unprecedented $190 million to create an epic love story aboard the famous ocean liner. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had not yet been behind a major blockbuster but all that changed. The industry had Titanic pegged as a very expensive flop, and it looked like they might be right when the film opened to a modest $28 million.
However, popularity grew and after 15 weeks at #1 at the box office, the movie had earned $600 million domestic and $1.8 billion worldwide, making it the most successful movie ever. Today, Titanic has earned $2.2 billion, the third highest grossing filming in history.
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Sources: TIME, Screen Rant, Shortlist , Looper
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