Currently, there are a hundred and ninety-three movies that have made more than $500 million dollars at the international box office (thirty-six of those movies have made over a billion dollars, and four have made more than $2 billion dollars). But some of the movies that have made it past the half billion dollar mark might come as something of a surprise. Here are five such movies – not bad ones, necessarily, but ones you might not have thought would have been popular enough to rake in so much money.
American Sniper (2014) – $547,426,372
The success of Clint Eastwood’s earnest biopic of Chris Kyle, the deadliest marksman in US military history (with two hundred and fifty-five confirmed kills), probably took everyone by surprise, including Eastwood himself, but the financial facts speak for themselves: the movie was the highest-grossing movie of 2014 in America, it passed Saving Private Ryan (1998) as the highest-grossing war movie of all time (so far), and it became Eastwood’s highest-grossing movie as well. Its success was probably due to good timing, and its having caught a wave of patriotism that bolstered its box office returns, but whatever the reasons it did so well, watching American Sniper now does make you wonder how such a tale of ultimate tragedy struck such a very loud chord with viewers across the globe.
Life of Pi (2012) – $609,016,565
Ang Lee’s adaptation of the novel by Yann Martel was always going to be something of a tough sell, telling as it does the allegorical story of a young boy trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But Lee did an amazing job with the visuals, and was better still at teasing out a variety of emotions and narrative highs and lows that made the movie an exceptional piece of work – by any standards. A movie that did so much better outside of the US (where its takings fell just shy of $125 million), Life of Pi could be seen as an indictment of US audiences’ inability to see things beyond face value, as opposed to their international cousins. Whatever the reason for its lacklustre performance on its home turf, there’s no denying that, further abroad, audiences had the right idea.
Hancock (2008) – $624, 386,746
Will Smith as an amnesiac superhero with anger issues? That sounds like a great idea for a movie, right? Critics weren’t so sure, and some reviewers were less than subtle in their dislike of the movie, but against the odds – or perhaps because of them; who knows? – Hancock did very well for itself at the box office, but like Life of Pi, it did so mostly outside of its home country, where it earned nearly $400 million dollars of its final tally. It’s an uneven movie, to be sure, and appears to have been made up as the production went along, but Smith and co-star Charlize Theron make for an attractive couple, and the humour – while bordering on desperate at times – does help salvage a movie that could have done with a fair bit of fine-tuning before being released on an unsuspecting public.
Maleficent (2014) – $758,539,785
Disney have had an amazing track record over the years, and this early example of a live action version of a classic animated movie – albeit with a bit of a twist – is a prime example of a feature performing way above expectations. With Angelina Jolie wavering between being bad and being good, it’s another entry on the list that wasn’t as warmly received as its box office success might indicate, and to be truthful it’s not the most successful reinterpretation of a classic children’s tale, but Jolie is good value as the conflicted sorceress, and it’s visually arresting at times. But in the end it’s a kids’ movie, and it’s the children from foreign territories that made it a success, with over half a billion dollars in box office revenue coming from outside the US. It used to be that US audiences ensured a cash cow for a movie. That’s definitely not the case now, and definitely when you consider the next movie on the this list…
Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) – $870,325,439
If you expected Wolf Warrior 2 to be on this list somewhere, then give yourself a great big pat on the back. If you haven’t even heard of it until now – well, we’ll just let that one pass. This is a movie where the statistics speak for themselves: the highest grossing Chinese movie of all time; the fastest movie to break the US$500 million barrier; in purely domestic terms, more financially successful than Avatar (2009) and Black Panther (2018); and it’s currently number sixty-one on the list of all-time worldwide box office grosses at Box Office Mojo. It’s a major phenomenon, an unexpected success story that nobody predicted (especially as its predecessor only made US$89.11 million), and though some critics weren’t as enraptured as Chinese audiences were, this has more than enough to recommend it to action movie fans or even those interested in what China considers to be a mainstream feature these days. What appears certain is that it will hold on to all those statistical accolades for some time to come.