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The Best ROI for Nostalgic Movie Franchises

The nostalgia of a movie franchise can last a lifetime. Some people grew up having lightsaber battles at their birthday parties, others formed musical bands that sing about elves and wizards, and some folks are willing to tattoo “Andy” on their foot just to show some love for their favorite films.

While the absolute value of art itself is priceless, it takes a lot of money to make movies happen. But for film studios, the best movie franchises can mean hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in return on investment (ROI).

We wanted to see which of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time brought home the best ROI. To find the ROI, we compared each movie’s budget and domestic gross box office earnings of their original release using IMDb data. We also looked at IMDb ratings in the event of any ties and to highlight which films were well received by fans.

Top Movie Franchises with the Best Return on Investment

Film franchises with the best ROI

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FranchiseTotal budgetTotal domestic gross (original release) Avg. ROIAvg. IMDb rating
Star Wars$1,716,500,000$4,700,786,608620%7.5
Lord of the Rings$281,000,000$1,030,181,320367%8.8
Toy Story$520,000,000$1,317,393,746360%8.1
Jurassic Park$549,000,000$1,837,316,886351%6.8
Finding Nemo$294,000,000$826,010,539302%7.7
The Avengers$1,147,000,000$2,619,552,260230%8
Harry Potter$1,180,000,000$2,390,076,596215%7.8
The Dark Knight$585,000,000$1,186,828,231201%8.5
Fast & Furious$1,009,000,000$1,516,800,436175%6.7

From our favorite film franchises, we learned that the average return on investment was 341% for these big-name movies, and they received an average IMDb rating of 7.6. When combined, these movies earned $17.4 trillion (yes, with a “t”) at the domestic box office for their original releases.

Star Wars: A new hope in return on investment

There’s no balance to the force here, folks—Stars Wars box office numbers dominate with an average ROI percentage of 620%. The average domestic gross sales for original Star Wars releases was $427,344,237. (Don’t you wish your space stories could earn nearly half a billion dollars on average?)

The space saga started with a blast that would earn the studios far more than expected. With a budget of $11 million and earnings of $307,263,857, Episode IV: A New Hope was the best bang for any studio’s buck by far with a whopping 2,793% return on investment.

Following the first Star Wars film, the next two best investments on our list were Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1,163% ROI), and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (777% ROI).

The original trilogy was a winner for fans and producers alike, but the other nine films in the franchise were a bit of a mixed bag for both returns and ratings.

Star Wars films in order of highest ROI

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross (original release)ROI percentageIMDb Rating
Episode IV: A New Hope1977$11,000,000$307,263,8572793%8.6
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back1980$18,000,000$209,398,0251163%8.7
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi1983$32,500,000$252,583,617777%8.3
Episode VII: The Force Awakens2015$245,000,000$936,662,225382%7.9
Episode I: The Phantom Menace1999$115,000,000$431,088,295375%6.5
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith2005$113,000,000$380,270,577337%7.5
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story2016$200,000,000$532,177,324266%7.8
Episode II: Attack of the Clones2002$115,000,000$302,191,252263%6.5
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi2017$317,000,000$620,181,382196%7
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker2019$275,000,000$515,202,542187%6.6
Solo: A Star Wars Story2018$275,000,000$213,767,51278%6.9

Only one Star Wars movie didn’t make its money back with its original domestic release: Solo: A Star Wars Story. On top of that, the big-budget prequel scored low with fans, earning one of the lowest IMDb ratings (6.9) on our list.

And although Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker had worse ratings, they had better ROIs.

Star Wars reviews are understandably a mixed bag since the series spans nearly 40 years and has fans across the globe. But the series as a whole is a moneymaker despite a few bad ratings and lower returns.

With the highly anticipated new season of The Mandalorian premiering October 30 on Disney+, we’re sure to see even more hope (and money) invested in the Star Wars franchise for years to come.

The lord of the billion-dollar bling (and fan ratings)

While it’s hard to compete with Star Wars, the studios made their money back, and then some, with the The Lord of the Rings franchise (sorry, Hobbit fans—we didn’t include those films). J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth trilogy had an average ROI of 367%, earning a sum of $1,030,181,320—that’s a billion in the bag for Bilbo’s buddies.

The Lord of the Rings had the best IMDb ratings out of any franchise listed, earning an average rating of 8.8, which is much higher than the list’s average of 7.6. The lowest-rated films were 2 Fast 2 Furious and Jurassic Park III, each earning a 5.9 IMDb rating.

The Lord of the Rings

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
The Fellowship of the Ring2001$93,000,000$313,364,114337%8.8
The Two Towers2002$94,000,000$339,789,881361%8.7
The Return of the King2003$94,000,000$377,027,325401%8.9

Not furious about a lower return with multimillion-dollar movies

The lowest-rated franchise was Fast & Furious, with an average rating of 6.7. That may sound like a low amount of love compared to The Lord of the Rings, but the stylish and action-packed racing movies didn’t exactly fail true fans either.

If you asked Vin Diesel’s character in the Fast & Furious films about the franchise’s returns, he might say: “It doesn’t matter if you make your return by a buck or a billion, winning’s winning.” But two of the Fast & Furious movies (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and The Fate of the Furious) didn’t gross enough domestically to win a return on the film’s budget.

Still, if you were to bet your pink slips on the entire returns of the Fast & Furious franchise, you’d feel revved up. The Fast & Furious made an average of 175% ROI, earning a sum of $189,600,055 at the box office over the course of eight films.

Fast & Furious

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release) ROIIMDb rating
The Fast and the Furious2001$38,000,000$144,533,925380%6.8
2 Fast 2 Furious2003$76,000,000$127,154,901167%5.9
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift2006$85,000,000$62,514,41574%6
Fast & Furious2009$85,000,000$155,064,265182%6.6
Fast Five2011$125,000,000$209,837,675168%7.3
Fast & Furious 62013$160,000,000$238,679,850149%7.1
Furious 72015$190,000,000$353,007,020186%7.1
The Fate of the Furious2017$250,000,000$226,008,38590%6.7

Batman is the most beloved

Out of any film on our list, The Dark Knight earned the highest IMDb rating of 9.0, meaning it was a big win for fans regardless of the box office and budget.

The best performing franchises were The Lord of the Rings (8.8), followed by The Dark Knight (9.5), and Toy Story (9.1). Despite its high return on investment, Star Wars (7.5) was the third-lowest for ratings in the list, only beating out Jurassic Park (6.8) and Fast & Furious (6.7).

Investors are probably happy with the Caped Crusader’s performance too. With a Batman-worthy budget of $185 million, The Dark Knight wasn’t exactly a cheap movie to make, but it had a great box office return of 288%.

And the three films from Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise earned a total of $395,608,410 in domestic gross box office sales for an average ROI of 201%.

The Dark Knight

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
Batman Begins2005$150,000,000$205,343,774137%8.2
The Dark Knight2008$185,000,000$533,345,358288%9
The Dark Knight Rises2012$250,000,000$448,139,099179%8.4

Bigger budgets don’t always mean better returns or ratings

Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War had the two biggest budgets on our list (both over $300 million), but they landed in the lower half of our list for ROI.

The Avengers series had an average budget of $286,750,000—that’s an extra $100 million more than the average budget for all 48 movies we looked at. But for investors, it was a smart move: the series made an average of $654,888,065 per film for an average 230% ROI.

Star Wars producers spent a ton of money on The Last Jedi, Solo, and Rise of Skywalker, but all of those films saw returns below 200%. That’s below the franchise’s median ROI of 250% and well below the Star Wars movies’ average ROI of 620%.

While it’s hard to get the sort of low-budget, high-return, high-rating success of the original Star Wars trilogy these days, it’s even harder to complain about making that kind of money in the first place.

The Avengers

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
The Avengers2012$220,000,000$623,357,910283%8
Avengers: Age of Ultron2015$250,000,000$459,005,868184%7.3
Avengers: Infinity War2018$321,000,000$678,815,482211%8.4
Avengers: Endgame2019$356,000,000$858,373,000241%8.4

If you film the franchises, the fans will come

For big-budget movie studios, building a successful franchise over years, or decades, is a good way to ensure their investments average out to make a profit. Out of these ten franchises, even the worst performing franchises still nearly doubled their money. And big hitters like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings turned a big budget investment into a far bigger return at the box office (and all of this doesn’t even consider merchandising, licensing, etc.).

How does your favorite film franchise stack up? Feel free to gloat or complain with your friends on Facebook and see what they think the best film franchise is.

Harry Potter, Toy Story, and more top-grossing franchises

We highlighted some of the successes and failures of the top-grossing movies, but didn’t cover everything. In case you needed more film and finance facts, we’ve listed the remaining top-grossing franchises by the year of release and included budget, domestic gross sales, return on investment (ROI), and IMDb rating

Harry Potter

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone$2,001$125,000,000$317,575,550254%7.4
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets$2,002$100,000,000$261,988,482262%7.9
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban$2,004$130,000,000$249,541,069192%7.7
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire$2,005$150,000,000$290,013,036193%7.5
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix2007$150,000,000$292,004,738195%7.6
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince2009$250,000,000$301,959,197121%7.7
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 12010$150,000,000$295,983,305197%8.1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 22011$125,000,000$381,011,219305%8.1

Toy Story

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
Toy Story$1,994$30,000,000$222,498,679742%8.3
Toy Story 21999$90,000,000$245,852,179273%7.9
Toy Story 32010$200,000,000$415,004,880208%8.3
Toy Story 42019$200,000,000$434,038,008217%7.8

Jurassic Park

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
Jurassic Park1993$63,000,000$357,067,947567%8.1
The Lost World: Jurassic Park1997$73,000,000$229,086,679314%6.6
Jurassic Park III$2,001$93,000,000$181,171,875195%5.9
Jurassic World2015$150,000,000$652,270,625435%7
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom2018$170,000,000$417,719,760246%6.2

Finding Nemo

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TitleYearBudgetDomestic gross sales (original release)ROIIMDb rating
Finding Nemo2003$94,000,000$339,714,978361%8.1
Finding Dory$2,016$200,000,000$486,295,561243%7.3

Methodology

We looked at our favorite serialized films with at least two movies in the franchise, and then found each film’s return on investment by comparing their budgets against their original release’s domestic gross sales. We then included IMDb ratings for additional context.

Sources

  1. Internet Movie Database, IMDb.com. Accessed September 11, 2020.

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