How Much Did You Contribute to the 15 Most Profitable Films' Grosses?

Everyone accidentally saw Avatar and made it the highest-grossing film ever, but did you know that movie cost, like, nine figures to make? It really did. Therefore, James Cameron's 3-D coloring book doesn't rank among the most profitable films ever made based on how much it grossed compared to its investment. CNBC's new list of the 15 most profitable films is based on that figure, with multiple films earning back over 2,500x their budget. Let's investigate ahead.

All figures' budgets are adjusted for inflation.

15. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Return on investment: 1008% (Budget $111 million / Gross revenue $1.1 billion)

14. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Return on investment: 1160% (Budget $38 million / Gross revenue $441 million)

13. There's Something About Mary (1998)

Return on investment: 1194% (Budget $31 million / Gross revenue $370 million)

12. The Hangover (2009)

Return on investment: 1297% (Budget $36 million / Gross revenue $467 million)

11. Jaws (1975)

Return on investment: 1308% (Budget $36 million / Gross revenue $471 million)

10. Ghost (1990)

Return on investment: 1446% (Budget: $35 million / Gross Revenue: $506 million)

9. Home Alone (1990)

Return on investment: 1590% (Budget $30 million / Gross revenue $477 million)

8. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Return on investment: 1749% (Budget: $35 million / Gross Revenue: $612 million)

7. American Beauty (1999)

Return on investment: 1780% (Budget $20 million / Gross revenue $356 million)

6. Star Wars (1977)

Return on investment: 1938% (Budget $40 million / Gross Revenue: $775 million

5. Grease (1978)

Return on investment: 1975% (Budget $20 million / Gross revenue $394 million)

4. Pretty Woman (1990)

Return on investment: 2013% (Budget $23 million / Gross revenue $463 million)

3. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Return on investment: 2520% (Budget $15 million / Gross revenue $378 million)

2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Return on investment: 3172% (Budget: $25 million / Gross Revenue: $793 million)

1. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Return on investment: 6150% (Budget $6 million / Gross revenue $369 million)

My God: Top-ten standing for American Beauty? Top-three placement for Slumdog Millionaire and My Big Fat Greek Wedding? It boggles the mind, even if you know that Greek is the highest-grossing romantic comedy ever. Something is sinister about the term "profitable," like we've been duped by cheap toy makers. Damn you and your Pet Rock of a romcom, Nia Vardalos!

Did you contribute to all these enormous successes? Even the embarrassing ones? How many of the Best Picture winners did you see after they took home the prize? And how much do you resent Christ and the year 2004 right about now?

· The 15 Most Profitable Films [CNBC via Moviefone]


  • CiscoMan says:

    If the budget numbers on Box Office Mojo are official, then it seems the list is missing The Blair Witch Project, which should be at number 2 (unless I'm terrible at math, which is also possible). $60,000 budget and a worldwide gross of $248,639,099 for a 4,143% return.

  • Nick says:

    I was thinking the same thing about Blair Witch. Also surprised that Paranormal Activity didn't make the cut. Didn't that budget consist of a couple days' worth of craft services and some Best Buy gift cards for the actors and a return little north of ten billion dollars?

  • The Winchester says:

    Shouldn't Paranormal Activity also be on this list?

  • Tommy Marx says:

    The problem with lists like this are that they are very subjective. Budgets are estimated, the cost for media is usually excluded, and why do figures have to be adjusted for inflation?
    As for Paranormal Activity, it had a reported budget of $15,000. Obviously the advertising added to the cost, but still, the movie made $193 million worldwide.
    This list seems extremely suspect.

  • Luke says:

    This list is bogus.

  • Mary says:

    Although it was a documentary, the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination was the most profitable film ever. I can't remember the exact figures, but he bought the film for something like $2.97 and sold it to Life Magazine for something like $100,000.

  • Neo says:

    Confession: I was duped twice by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". Thankfully, Nia Vardaloshack's career flat-lined soon after.

  • Karen says:

    Why the hate for American Beauty?

  • Antonio says:

    El Mariachi was made for $7,000 and the movie made over $2,000,000. 29,156% ROI and not even on the list :

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

    Where's _Deep Throat_? Cost about $50K to make, FBI estimates it grossed $100M, for a percentage of 200,000%. And _Inside Deep Throat_ claims it ended up grossing $600M!

  • mark says:

    Yep was thinking about paranormal activity.
    $15,000 budget and made $193,355,800.
    Thus, this list is just a list of films they can think of. Not a defintive list

  • TOMMYGUN says:

    you're sort of right, i believe that Blair Witch should technically be #1 since its return on investment is actually closer to 41,430%...

  • Robert says:

    I don't know, shouldn't we measure profit by the net revenue, and not by the ratio of budget to gross? It seems kind of meaningless to say Greek Wedding made 6150% profit, when that profit is only $363 million, which is a lot less than what Avatar or Titanic made.

  • Noah says:

    Definitely thought of paranormal activity the second I saw the title of the list. CNBC really shouldnt be claiming theirs is the definitive list when it's not....

  • chad says:

    Thank you. I was thinking the same list. And what a dumb fucking list!

  • Superjesus says:

    Paranormal activity more than doubles any films profitability on this list, it sits at over 12000% if you calculate simply return on the official budget

  • Superjesus says:

    profitably, not boxoffice. Avatr and Titanic may have the largest grosses but they are also extremely expensive, Avatar quite possibly being the most expensive film made too date. Thus they are nowhere near as profitable as the films on this list.

  • James says:

    Hehe. It only took 3 tries to get it right. If the figures given are correct, it's actually a 414,398.5% return.
    ($248,639,099 / $60,000) * 100 = 414,398.5%
    You'll find this is consistent with the calculations made in the article. Just like 50/100 = 0.50 = 50%, you have to multiply by 100 for the percent figure.

  • Alan Smithee says:

    Off the top of my head, Halloween would easily make the list since it pulled in a 18,650% profit.
    Whoever made this list also forgot to factor in the budget loss.

  • DKUK says:

    Yes true. But in the world of movie making, if you were a big studio wouldn't you rather spend 200 million and make 2 billion, than spend 30 million and make 300 million? I know that seems odd to look at it that way, but I can't think of many studios that can make seven 30 millions dollar films and gross over 300 million each.

  • loves2spooge says:

    The shot at Passion of the Christ feels a bit lame. Just cause Mel's a twat, don't means his movies now plain suck. Yeah, maybe the Passion's a bit of a gory snuff flick but the rest of his flicks are quite good. I don't care, he's still a good film-maker despite his retarded rants...

  • John says:

    Who writes these articles? Why is a name attributed? So they can make jabs and not stick to the facts? "Jaws" is one of my favorite films, but in the 1970's, the ROI winner was "American Graffiti" and "Halloween", so where do these numbers come from?

  • Sarfaraz says:

    Hmm.. Good

  • KevyB says:

    And you have just explained the EXACT problem with Hollywood. Why bother trying to make a good CHEAP movie when you can spend a half billion on something that MIGHT make $200 million over that? And what happens when a half-billion-dollar movie tanks, like many do? Compare losing $400 million to losing $40 million. The odds say a studio has a better chance of getting great box office out of a movie if it is one of ten $50-million movies than just one $500-million movie does. Just look at how many of the inexpensive Oscar films made good money.

  • DKUK says:

    Of course, one problem (as others have mentioned) is that we don't truly know how much a movie costs (or do we?)....There are also no guarantees in Hollywood; no director or actor is a sure hit. So even someone like a Cameron or a Nolan will have some box office failures at some point on HUGE budgets. It would be nice to see what percentage of movies over certain budgets, say 30mn, 60mn, 100mn, 200mn that have bombed and to see which ones have grossed the this is getting complicated for my brain ;o)