5 Top-Grossing Video Game Characters


Not so long ago, the idea of a video game franchise selling five million units would have been unthinkable. With the explosion of gaming worldwide, now a single game in a popular franchise can expect to move well over 10 million units. As with Hollywood films, there are stars that can move more units than others. Here we'll take a look at the colorful characters that propelled these games to success.

Methods and Measurement
Unfortunately, Mario has never filed a tax return, although he has held jobs as a plumber, adventurer, race car driver and professional tennis player. This makes it a little difficult to measure the earnings of any one character. Instead, we'll go for the less-ideal method of using the total sales for video games featuring these high-powered stars.

Furthermore, we're going to make a big assumption about the relative worth of the video games sold. In order to factor out the fact that inflation has made the value of a single video game much higher than back in the '80s, we will assume that all video game units are equivalent, so the only important measure is how many units these characters have sold. Now that the technical talk is over, let's get to the rankings.


The "Legend of Zelda" series by Nintendo stars green-clad adventurer Link, and establishes a theme for the top five: longevity. The long history of the Zelda series, started in 1986, has helped sell more than 59 million units, as of April 2010. Like another elite star, Link is almost always seeking his princess and defeating whatever foes he meets along the way.

Sonic The Hedgehog

Introduced by Sega to compete with a certain Italian plumber, "Sonic the Hedgehog" shot onto the scene and quickly powered its way up the popularity scale. To date, the game's high-powered hedgehog hero has sold more than 70 million units, often in games where the primary goal is to rip through level after level in a blue blur. Because the colors flashed so rapidly on this game series, it is believed that it may have triggered seizures in susceptible children. But despite the risks, Sonic is still around even though Sega's days as a console maker are over.

John Madden

Former NFL player John Madden's career as a TV commentator ended in 2009, but his flamboyant delivery lives on in the "Madden NFL" video game series by Electronic Arts. Currently, sales for the series are roughly 94 million units sold. As with many video games, the Great Recession has taken some of the steam out of the market, but it seems that gamers are coming up with the cash to live out their football fantasies, complete with Madden's trademark tones.


With a name combining the Japanese onomatopoeia for sparkling and the sound a mouse makes, Pikachu is the most recognizable character in the "Pokemon" franchise, which is owned by Nintendo. At roughly 200 million units sold, Pikachu is bigger than just video games; its vast interests include games, shows, comic books, figurines and much more. This electric mouse-like creature's unusual business earned Pikachu a spot on the Forbes list of top-earning fictional characters. A list, coincidently, led by another yellow fellow with a penchant for honey.


Mario has had the longest, most successful video game career in history. This tiny plumber with the 12-foot vertical leap has been getting Princess Peach out of scrapes for years, as well as taking on different roles in more than 200 appearances. This has helped him move roughly 262 million video game units. And don't assume the little guy's gut is slowing him down either - the latest version of "Mario Kart" for the Nintendo Wii was one of the top-selling games in 2008 and 2009.

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock
Related Articles
  1. 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 ...
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Personal Finance

    5 Tips for Vintage Car Collecting

    Old autos. There’s just something about all that shiny metal that captivates our attention.
  5. Personal Finance

    6 Tips for Investing in Antiques

    Historically, antiques are highly appreciating assets, but be prepared for a long-term investment.
  6. 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?
  7. Fundamental Analysis

    The Economics of FanDuel

    Part of fantasy sports’ success lies in one-day and week-long contests serving as an alternative to season-long games. FanDuel, a leader in this space, has recently surpassed a $1 billion valuation.
  8. Investing News

    Famous Celebrities Who Love Investing

    Celebrities have a bit of a bad reputation these days. These five celebrities, though, have used their fame and their money to invest successfully instead of spending it on looking good.
  9. Professionals

    The Top 5 Richest Restaurateurs

    The top five richest restaurateurs have proven that it is possible to not only turn a profit in the restaurant business but to become multi-millionaires!
  10. Professionals

    The Top Six Richest Supermodels

    Through excellent investing, brand management and high earnings, these six supermodels have cultivated multi-million dollar net worths.

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Gross Profit

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

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

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  4. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
  5. Cost Of Funds

    The interest rate paid by financial institutions for the funds that they deploy in their business. The cost of funds is one ...
  6. Cost Accounting

    A type of accounting process that aims to capture a company's costs of production by assessing the input costs of each step ...
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!