Success in filmmaking is subjective, but sales are a good place to start. Financial returns reflect public interest in a film, and high earnings give producers the incentive to make more movies like it. Revenues are thus an important metric of success for science fiction films.
Science fiction is any work exploring the possibilities of science, space travel, time travel, or alternative lifeforms. Many films combine sci-fi with other genres. Superhero films, for example, usually also qualify as science fiction, especially when the protagonist’s powers come from technology or scientific enhancements. The following movies are, adjusted for inflation, the highest-earning sci-fi films.
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20. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)- $474,599,567
This film shows Batman’s final battle to save Gotham.
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19. Back to the Future (1985)- $486,655,934
This portrays a time-traveling adventure and the paradoxes it unleashes.
18. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)- $500,106,226
This movie shows Anakin Skywalker’s final days before becoming Darth Vader.
17. Spider-Man 2 (2004)- $507,054,974
A tale of love, power, and science gone wrong, this film follows Spider-Man’s continuing adventures.
16. Batman (1989)- $530,707,421
This film introduced Batman to the big screen, showing his battle with the Joker.
15. Ghostbusters (1984)- $576,147,288
“Ghostbusters” explores the rise of four scientists who defend humanity from ghosts.
14. Independence Day (1996)- $583,938,193
This movie shows humanity’s last-ditch effort to save the planet from an alien armada.
13. Spider-Man (2002)- $585,756,409
“Spider-Man” describes the origin of the titular character and his nemesis, the Green Goblin.
12. The Dark Knight (2008)- $626,080,555
This film follows Batman in a high-tech fight against the Joker.
11. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)- $627,524,656
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” portrays a lineman desperate to contact an alien race.
10. Jurassic World (2015)- $652,198,010
This film explores the risks of genetic engineering through the lens of a dinosaur exhibit gone out of control.
9. The Avengers (2012)- $660,081,224
This film brings together a team of superheroes to protect the earth from aliens.
8. Jurassic Park (1993)- $760,802,636
The tale of a science expedient gone wrong, “Jurassic Park” pits humans against dinosaurs.
7. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)- $761,329,663
“The Phantom Menace” introduces Anakin Skywalker, the boy who will one day become Darth Vader.
6. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)- $784,006,776
“Return of the Jedi” displays the final battle between the Rebels and the Empire.
5. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)- $814,319,243
This film follows the Rebels in their attempt to escape a relentless Empire.
4. Avatar (2009)- $832,120,706
This film tells of an alien tribe that defends their planet from a human mining corporation.
3. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)- $936,662,225
“The Force Awakens” follows a renewed attempt to save the galaxy from the Dark Side of the Force.
2. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)- $1,133,175,867
1. Star Wars Episode IV- A New Hope (1977) — $1,385,311,97
The film that started it all, “A New Hope” introduced Jedi, the Force, Darth Vader, and the Empire, paving the way for one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
Superman (1978)- $460,765,735
This film tells of an alien raised on earth who possesses extraordinary power.
Men in Black (1997)- $460,416,977
This film introduces the Men in Black, government agents who protect the earth from aliens.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)- $459,005,868
In this film, the Avengers battle and a self-aware robot, Ultron.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)- $451,973,742
The human-friendly Autobots resist the evil Decepticons in this sci-fi thriller.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)- $450,775,367
This film follows Anakin Skywalker as he moves toward the Dark Side of the Force.
Iron Man 3 (2013)- $424,084,233
Genius inventor Tony Stark takes down genetically-enhanced terrorists in this Marvel Comics adaptation.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)- $420,740,887
This film portrays a conflict between humans stranded on a dinosaur-infested island.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)- $412,347,448
This film follows Spider-Man in his battle for love, success, and morality.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)- $408,084,349
This film examines the Avengers’ first great ideological schism.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)- $404,196,961
This movie shows the battle between two futuristic robots, one who protects humanity and the other dead-set on destroying it.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)- $393,614,858
This film follows the continuing war between humans and their AI oppressors.
Transformers (2007)- $391,169,383
This movie describes the first encounter between humanity and the Transformer battle-bots.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)- $374,609,364
“Dark of the Moon” describes the battle between robot factions for technological supremacy.
Iron Man (2008)- $374,051,130
“Iron Man” portrays the rise of Tony Stark, a genius businessman-turned high-tech superhero.
Deadpool (2016)- $363,070,709
This film follows Deadpool, a wise-cracking mutant superhero who makes his own rules.
Armageddon (1998)- $362,324,957
“Armageddon” describes humanity’s effort to avoid an asteroid apocalypse.
Batman Forever (1995)- $356,639,597
In this film, Batman battles comic-book nemeses Two-Face and the Riddler.
Signs (2002)- $330,754,439
Humans fend off alien invaders in this sci-fi horror adventure.
Inception (2010)- $312,600,38
This heist film describes high-tech specialists who plant ideas in people’s dreams.
I Am Legend (2007)- $311,582,688
This film follows a devoted scientist trying to save humanity in post-apocalyptic New York.