Every summer, Hollywood banks on film-goers beating the heat by seeking air-conditioned movie theatres for some high-budget, low-brow entertainment. And each summer, audiences are blessed with at least one blockbuster that relies on a franchise's success to move ticket sales. This year, "Toy Story 3", "Shrek Forever After" and "Twilight: Eclipse" are among that category, though only one of those films belongs in the top ten highest-grossing film franchises in history. Find out which one in the top ten below.

IN PICTURES: Celebrities With Big Dreams That Paid Off

  1. Harry Potter
    The series has grossed $5,422,966,528 worldwide - and that's before the upcoming release of the seventh installment of the franchise. What is it that makes the Harry Potter series so successful? Is it that the movies transport audiences young and old to far and away lands full of magic and mystery? Or is that the producers of the franchise cash in on their obsessively loyal following by releasing what should be one film as two?
    Catch the first half of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in November. And return to the box office one more time a year from now to find out what happens in the end.

  2. James Bond
    Agent 007's success could come down to strength in numbers. The series includes a whopping 23 films, grossing a total of $5,074,402,453 since the release of the first film, "Dr. No", in 1962. And the films have only gotten bigger over the years.

    "Casino Royale", released in 2006, grossed $599,200,000 worldwide. "Quantum of Solace", released in 2008, had the highest budget of all the films, at $230,000,000. The price tag could be due to the film being shot in six countries with a luxury Aston Martin destroyed for each one of those countries in the making of action sequences. (Success in Hollywood isn't just measured by ticket sales - development costs play a large part, too. Check out Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)

  3. Star Wars
    If Star Wars is for geeks, then there sure are a lot of them on Earth (as opposed to in a galaxy far, far away). Grossing $4,411,410,761 internationally since 1977, George Lucas's baby found longevity in a trilogy of movies, released between 1999 and 2005, which visit Darth Vader's origins in a prequel to the original films. It would be impossible to measure the impact of Star Wars on pop culture - it's that vast. Remember Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs"?

  4. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings
    Much like the Harry Potter series, high ticket sales for "Lord of the Rings" films could likely be attributed to the fact that nearly every generation of teens is introduced to "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien, either as part of a high school English class or just for fun. But audiences likely weren't prepared for the films to actually be pretty decent.

    Director Peter Jackson has earned three Academy Awards from the franchise, and since the first film's release the franchise has earned $2,927,933,388 worldwide.

  5. Pirates of the Caribbean
    Walt Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" has come a long way since its origins as a ride at a California theme park. So far, Captain Jack Sparrow and his all-star crew have brought in $2,681,667,528 gross revenue worldwide since the first film's 2003 release. The second and third films broke box office records, including earning the highest 10-day gross, although "The Dark Knight" beat that record in 2008. The fourth part of the franchise, "On Stranger Tides", is set to be released in 3-D in 2011.

  6. Batman
    The Batman franchise is the first comic book series of the list, bringing in $2,669,234,002 since Tim Burton's first 1989 film, "Batman". Perhaps not surprising, "The Dark Knight" is the highest-grossing film of the franchise so far, due perhaps to the eerie circumstances of the death of Heath Ledger. The actor posthumously won the Academy Award for best supporting actor after playing the Joker to critical acclaim. (Summer movie season can be a major money maker for big studios, especially if they can produce a smash-hit. Don't miss The Economics Of Summer Blockbuster Movies.)

  7. Shrek
    What could have happened to the Shrek franchise had "Saturday Night Live" actor Chris Farley been kept as the voice of the title character in the first film, released in 2001? Would the franchise have earned $2,647,155,040 worldwide without Mike Myers and his Scottish accent, who replaced Farley after his untimely death in 1997? According the Internet Movie Database, when Shrek uses "finger quotes", he is paying homage to Farley's well-known "Saturday Night Live" character Bennett Brower.

  8. Spider-Man
    Who can resist the story of scrawny Peter Parker who wakes up with superhero powers and saves the city from evil? Not very many, since the franchise has earned $2,496,285,178 since it all began in 2002. After considering Leonardo DiCaprio, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Chris Klein for the part of Parker, Columbia wisely settled on Tobey Maguire. But with Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead", "Drag Me To Hell") not directing the fourth film in the series, set to be released in 2012, the franchise's future could be uncertain.

  9. Jurassic Park
    Audiences flocked to movie theatres to see Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" come to life on film in 1993, perhaps for the sole purpose of seeing dinosaurs on the big screen. Since then, the franchise grossed $2,075,654,626 internationally, perhaps due to director Steven Spielberg's foresight - he picked up the rights to the film before the best-selling novel was even published in 1990.
    Unlike most other franchises in the list, the dinosaur park movies have actually made fewer dollars over the years, despite having higher budgets. But that could be because Jurassic Park 3 is neither based on a Crichton novel nor directed by Spielberg. (Just because an overly-hyped film rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars does not mean it will receive critical acclaim. Read Money-Making Movies With Terrible Reviews.)

  10. Indiana Jones
    Also primarily Steven Spielberg joints (and created by George Lucas), the Indiana Jones franchise has grossed $1,980,610,580 worldwide from the last four films of the series. And each film has only earned more money over the years, which is only surprising since Harrison Ford is about 30 years older than he was when he made "Raiders of the Lost Ark", released in 1981. How cool is it to watch him huff and puff through booby traps in search of a crystal skull? Pretty cool, according to box office numbers.

The Bottom Line
So what makes a franchise earn big bucks and find longevity? Is it mass appeal, high budgets, special effects, obsessive fans or big Hollywood names? By the looks at this list, it's necessary to combine all of those elements to get the level of box office success these movies have had. Oh, and see if Steven Spielberg's not busy. He can likely help.

*Franchise statistics are courtesy of the-numbers.com*

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: I-Spy, IPOs And iPhones.

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Netflix Stock

    Examine the current state of Netflix Inc., and learn about three of the major fundamental risks that the company is currently facing.
  2. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  3. Investing

    Kevin O'Leary Biography

    Kevin O'Leary is a television personality, businessman and investor from Canada. A brash public personality with a net worth of roughly $300 million, he is considered to be the Canada’s answer ...
  4. Entrepreneurship

    7 Top-Earning Child Stars

    These seven top-earning child stars earned millions through different parts of the entertainment industry, including television, film and music.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    8 Top-Earning Country Singers

    These eight country singers have built careers singing about men and women who’ve done them wrong, and they’ve shared their heartache to the tune of millions of dollars.
  6. Investing

    Movie Vs. TV Industry: Which Is Most Profitable?

    Which entertainment sector is more profitable: movies or TV? Let’s take a look. You might be surprised by the results.
  7. Personal Finance

    5 Tips for Vintage Car Collecting

    Old autos. There’s just something about all that shiny metal that captivates our attention.
  8. Investing

    The 8 Best Business and Finance T.V. Shows

    With so many talking heads to choose from, which is the right show for your business and money matter needs? We review the best shows on now.
  9. Personal Finance

    6 Tips for Investing in Antiques

    Historically, antiques are highly appreciating assets, but be prepared for a long-term investment.
  10. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
  1. How are Rupert Murdoch's holdings distributed?

    Rupert Murdoch owns a controlling share of News Corporation and over 750 different businesses. Some of the major brands he ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How did Rupert Murdoch become a media mogul?

    Rupert Murdoch's father was a journalist and newspaper owner in Australia. Upon his death in 1952, Rupert inherited the News ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  2. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  3. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  4. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  5. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  6. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!