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While the movie industry might be complaining lately about a lack of DVD sales due to piracy, Americans still attend cinema more often than several other popular entertainment options, including sporting events. We look at the numbers behind our movie obsession, including the cost of making movies, the cost of attending.

Top-Grossing Films

2013 Top 10 Worldwide Box-Office Grossing Films

At the time of writing, the following were the top 10 grossing films worldwide (box-office gross) which were released at least in the U.S. in 2013. Numbers in brackets refer to a films ranking in the worldwide all-time box-office grossing films.*

  1. $1,215.4M – Iron Man 3 (#5 all-time)
  2. $919.0M – Despicable Me 2 (#27 all-time)
  3. $830.9M – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (#36 all-time)
  4. $788.7M – Fast & Furious 6 (#44 all-time)
  5. $756.6M – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (#50 all-time)
  6. $743.6M – Monsters University (#55 all-time)
  7. $668.0M – Man of Steel (#66 all-time)
  8. $663.4M – Gravity (#68 all-time)
  9. $639.9M – Frozen (#72 all-time)
  10. $630.0M – Thor: The Dark World (#75 all-time)

Worldwide Top 10 Box-Office Grossing Films of All-Time

The following are the all-time box-office grossing films worldwide. This includes special editions/ multiple theatrical releases. Amounts are not inflation-adjusted. All films listed below had completed their theatrical run at the time of writing.

  1. $2,782.3M – Avatar (the most expensive film ever made, to date)
  2. $2,186.8M – Titanic
  3. $1,518.6M – Marvel’s The Avengers
  4. $1,341.5M – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  5. $1,215.4M – Iron Man 3
  6. $1,123.8M – Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  7. $1,119.9M – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  8. $1,108.6M – Skyfall
  9. $1,084.4M – The Dark Knight Rises
  10. $1,066.2M – Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest

Comparing these rankings to the U.S. box-office top-grossing films of all-time, below.

Domestic Top 10 Box-Office Grossing Films of All-Time

The following are the all-time box-office grossing films domestically (USA). This includes special editions/ multiple theatrical releases. Amounts are not inflation-adjusted. Notice that the top 3 films domestically were also the top 3 films worldwide (at the time of writing).

  1. $760.5M – Avatar
  2. $658.7M – Titanic
  3. $623.4M – Marvel’s The Avengers
  4. $534.9M – The Dark Knight
  5. $474.5M – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  6. $461.0M – Star Wars
  7. $448.1M – The Dark Knight Rises
  8. $441.2M – Shrek 2
  9. $435.1M – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  10. $423.3M – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

*Rankings subject to change, as several films were still showing in theaters at the time of writing (January 2014).

Entertainment Ticket Prices and Attendance

Average Cinema Ticket Prices by Year

Here are the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) estimates of average cinema ticket prices by year, from 2002-2012.

  • 2012: $7.96
  • 2011: $7.93
  • 2010: $7.89
  • 2009: $7.50
  • 2008: $7.18
  • 2007: $6.88
  • 2006: $6.55
  • 2005: $6.41
  • 2004: $6.21
  • 2003: $6.03
  • 2002: $5.81

Ticket Prices by Event

The total cost of cinema tickets for an U.S. family of four came in as least expensive in 2011 and 2012, compared to other entertainment options including theme parks and professional sports league events. The costs below are sorted from lowest to highest for 2012.

Event 2011 2012
NFL (National Football League) $309.44 $313.52
NHL (National Hockey League) $228.4 $244.04
NBA (National Basketball Association) $193.92 $203.96
Theme parks $199 $199
MLB (Major League Baseball) $107.64 $107.92
Cinemas $31.72 $31.84

Entertainment Event Attendance

Movie theaters in the U.S. draw more total visitors yearly than other forms of entertainment (e.g., sporting events). Here are the estimated attendance figures in Millions, by category, for 2012 and 2011.


  • 1,358M cinema attendees
  • 359M theme park attendees
  • 131M sporting event attendees (NFL:17.2M, NHL:21.5M, NBA:17.1M, MLB:74.9M)


  • 1,285M people attended cinemas
  • 350M people attended theme parks
  • 133M people attended sporting events (NFL:17.1M, NHL:20.9M, NBA:21.3M, MLB:73.4)

Cinema Attendance Based on Percentage of U.S./ Canada Population

Based on U.S. and Canada combined population figures of people 2+ years old, here are the estimated percentages that were moviegoers in 2011 and 2012:

Year Population % moviegoers # tickets sold
2011 328.3M 68% 1.3B
2012 331.7M 67% 1.4B

Ticket Sales by Year

Here are cinema ticket sales (quantity in billions, revenue in billions) for the U.S./ Canada domestic market.

Year #Tickets
1995 1.22 5.29
1996 1.27 5.59
1997 1.42 6.51
1998 1.45 6.78
1999 1.44 7.3
2000 1.39 7.48
2001 1.44 8.13
2002 1.58 9.19
2003 1.55 9.35
2004 1.47 9.11
2005 1.39 8.93
2006 1.41 9.25
2007 1.4 9.63
2008 1.39 9.95
2009 1.42 10.65
2010 1.34 10.54
2011 1.28 10.19
2012 1.36 10.83

Movie Budgets

The “average” cost of making a movie is arguably a useless statistic, given the ranges of budgets in different categories (blockbusters, medium budget, small budget, and low or “no” budget). On the low end of the scale, after 2011, the MPAA stopped tracking theatrically-released films made for less that $1M, so an “average” is already misrepresented.

What is more useful is knowing a range in each category. Below is a breakdown of film budgets by cost category, followed by the budgets of the most expensive films, as well as the least expensive films to gross $1M or more in box-office receipts.

Where the Budget Money Goes

Hollywood accounting is historically notorious for how losses are represented against costs and grosses. What’s known is what studios want us to know. Some common percentages:

  • 5% – script and development
  • 25% – production costs (production crew, locations, equipment, materials, food, etc.)

Other costs, which vary by film, include:

  • Licensing.
  • Principal salaries (big-name players: actors, actresses, director, producer).
  • Other cast salaries.
  • Special effects — especially for some genre films.
  • Music composition and performance

Marketing is typically kept as a separate cost from the cost of production. Anywhere from 30-50% of what the production cost is then spent on marketing. This cost includes the creation of trailers, TV ads, billboards, Web sites, etc. So if a film costs $100M to make, marketing costs might be as high as $50M.

Sample Budget Breakdown: Spiderman 2

For example, Spiderman 2 cost nearly $200M for production and $75M for marketing. Here is the breakdown of the non-marketing budget:

  • $65M – visual effects
  • $45M – shooting costs
  • $27M – principal cast: $17M: Tobey Maguire, $7M: Kirsten Dunst, $3M: Alfred Molina
  • $20M – story
  • $15M – producer fees
  • $10M – screenplay
  • $10M – director
  • $3M – remaining cast
  • $2M – composer fees
  • $2M – music costs

Total production cost: $199M

Most Expensive Films

Below are some budget and gross numbers (at time of writing) for the most expensive theatrically-released films ever made.


  • #8 (“The Hobbit: There and Back Again”) does not release until Dec 2014.
  • #9 (“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) was still playing at the time of writing.
Movie Production
Worldwide Gross
1 Avatar $425M $2.782B
2 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End $300M $1.066B
3 The Dark Knight Rises $275M $1.084B
4 John Carter $275M $0.284B
5 The Lone Ranger $275M $0.260B
6 Tangled $260M $0.592B
7 Spider-Man 3 $258M $0.891B
8 The Hobbit: There and Back Again $250M $0B
9 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug $250M $0.757B
10 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $250M $1.046B

Low Budget Films That Grossed $1+M

Every once in a while, low/no-budget films gain various degrees of success. Here are the 10 lowest-budget, theatrically-released movies to date that earned at least $1M in box-office grosses.


  • If a movie is NOT listed as being released worldwide, the box-office gross is domestic-only.
  • “El Mariachi” was originally made for $7K (less than $9K Robert Rodriguez raised) in, but was re-edited for the American market with the $100K that Columbia Pictures provided after the film won the Audience Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. The re-edited version was released in the U.S. and grossed over $2M in box office receipts.
  • “Paranormal Activity” is not included in the list below (sourced from due to inconsistent reports. The film was reportedly originally made for between $10-18K, after which Paramount Pictures modified the film — acquiring U.S. rights (as Paramount/ DreamWorks) for $350K. The modified film (costing approximately $450K in total) grossed $108M domestically and $193M overall worldwide (box office) — making it supposedly the most profitable film ever made, based on ROI (Return on Investment). Using’s figures: $450K as the budget and $90M as the approximate profit gives an ROI is over 19,000%.
Rank Release Date Movie Production
Worldwide ?
1 2/26/1993 El Mariachi $7K $2.042M
2 8/1/1991 Slacker $23K $1.228M
3 8/1/1997 In the Company of Men $25K $2.884M
4 6/30/1972 Deep Throat $25K $45.00M
5 10/19/1994 Clerks $27K $3.894M yes
6 3/16/2001 Gabriela $50K $2.335M
7 8/9/1995 The Brothers McMullen $50K $10.43M
8 5/7/2004 Super Size Me $65K $29.53M yes
9 7/10/1998 Pi $68K $4.678M yes
10 8/30/1972 The Last House on the Left $87K $3.100M


Highest Paid Actors and Actresses

A large portion of upfront film production costs includes the fees of principal actors, which is often a measure of current popularity. The list highest paid Hollywood actors and actresses changes by year based on recent projects and endorsements. Hollywood celebrities might appear in the top 10 for a few years, fall off the list, then come back again later.

Top 10 Highest Paid Actors

Here are Forbes’ top 10 highest-paid actors for 2013. Note: $ amounts are Forbes’ estimates of earnings between Jun 2012 and Jun 2013.

  1. $75M – Robert Downey Jr.
  2. $60M – Channing Tatum
  3. $55M – Hugh Jackman
  4. $52M – Mark Wahlberg ($27M, #9)
  5. $46M – Dwayne Johnson (aka, “The Rock”) ($36M, #4)
  6. $39M – Leonardo DiCaprio ($37M, #2)
  7. $37M – Adam Sandler ($37M, #3)
  8. $35M – Tom Cruise ($75M, #1)
  9. $33M – Denzel Washington
  10. $32M – Liam Neeson

Top 10 Highest Paid Actresses

Here are Forbes’ top 10 highest-paid actresses for 2013. Note: $ amounts are Forbes’ estimates of earnings between Jun 2012 and Jun 2013.

  1. $33M – Angelina Jolie
  2. $26M – Jennifer Lawrence
  3. $22M – Kristen Stewart
  4. $20M – Jennifer Aniston
  5. $16M – Emma Stone
  6. $15M – Charlize Theron
  7. $14M – Sandra Bullock
  8. $14M – Natalie Portman
  9. $11M – Mila Kunis
  10. $11M – Julia Roberts



Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites: