The Best Blockbuster Film Of Every Year From 1990 To Today
Some years had so many high-quality hits, it was hard to choose just one.
It’s hard to beat a good blockbuster. Hit movies can transcend social barriers, getting the entire nation talking in a way that other types of entertainment rarely achieve, and the best ones can last in our collective memory for decades.
We’ve gone back and looked at the 10 biggest hit movies from each year since the 1990s and picked out the best one in terms of its overall review scores, awards earned and lasting cultural impact. Our box office statistics come from Box Office Mojo and we are picking from the 10 biggest domestic hits of every year since 1990.
Look back and see if you agree with our picks for the best blockbuster of every year.
1990: ‘Dances with Wolves’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Home Alone,” “Ghost,” “Pretty Woman”
The top of the box office wasn’t full of acclaimed movies in 1990 but several of them are very memorable.
The highest-grossing movie of the year was “Home Alone,” which remains a nostalgic Christmas classic, but it’s hard to argue with “Dances with Wolves” as the year’s best blockbuster.
Not only was it the third-highest-grossing movie of the year, raking in $184.2 million, but it also won best picture honors at the Academy Awards and holds down the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of any blockbuster from 1990, at 82-percent Fresh. At three hours in length, “Dances with Wolves” may not be as replay-friendly as some of the others from that year but it’s definitely the most prestigious.
1991: ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “City Slickers”
The competition at the top of the box office in 1991 was very stiff, with several movies that raked in tons of money and rave critical reviews at the same time.
While “Terminator 2” might be the best sci-fi/action movie ever — and was the year’s top grosser — and “The Silence of the Lambs” was an Oscar magnet, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was the year’s highlight. The film made $145.8 million at the box office and was arguably the best animated movie ever made at that point, setting the stage for future Disney animated epics that would soon follow.
“Beauty and the Beast” was so awesome that Disney remade it in 2017 as a live-action film and it made more than $500 million that time!
1992: ‘A Few Good Men’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Aladdin,” “Wayne’s World,” “Sister Act”
Disney’s “Aladdin” was the top earner of 1992 but, due to its reputation suffering greatly over time, it can’t claim the title as the year’s best blockbuster. Instead, the star-packed courtroom drama that launched writer Aaron Sorkin’s career takes that title.
Not only did “A Few Good Men” earn $141.3 million at the box office, but it also collected four Oscar nominations and holds down an 82-percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The famous, “You can’t handle the truth,” final courtroom scene featuring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon is still electrifying today.
1993: ‘Jurassic Park’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Schindler’s List,” “The Fugitive,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”
What a powerhouse year 1993 was at the top of the domestic box office. Director Steven Spielberg had two in the top 10 with “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” but, in the end, his epic dinosaur flick has to take the crown as the year’s best blockbuster.
Not only did it earn $357 million, which was the most in Hollywood history at the time, but it also spawned a franchise that is still breaking box-office records today. Plus, the special effects in “Jurassic Park” were so cutting edge they led to a new generation of digital effects-driven action movies that still dominate every summer movie season.
1994: ‘Pulp Fiction’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Lion King,” “Forrest Gump,” “Speed”
Another great year of blockbusters, 1994 saw two of the best movies of the decade duking it out for supremacy: “The Lion King” and “Pulp Fiction.” Both were ranked among the year’s top grossers and both were critically acclaimed.
But “Pulp Fiction” wins the crown because of its originality and lasting impact on cinema. The movie, which had a stellar cast that included John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, helped make director Quentin Tarantino into a Hollywood force. “Pulp Fiction” also holds down a 94-percent Fresh Rotten Tomatoes score and collected $107.9 million at the box office on top of an $8 million budget.
1995: ‘Toy Story’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Apollo 13,” “GoldenEye,” “Seven”
Opinions on movies can vary widely but it’s pretty safe to say that everyone loves “Toy Story.” The first full-length movie to come from Pixar hit theaters in 1995 and wound up being the year’s highest-grossing movie and one of its best reviewed. In addition to collecting $191.7 million at the box office, “Toy Story” has a rare 100-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. It was also nominated for three Oscars but, shockingly, didn’t win a single one.
1996: ‘Mission: Impossible’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Independence Day,” “Twister,” “Jerry Maguire”
More than 20 years after “Mission: Impossible” hit theaters, the series is still going strong and making more money than ever. The first installment in the Tom Cruise franchise was the third-highest-grossing movie of 1996, making $180.9 million, which is actually the second-lowest gross of any film in the series. The film’s stellar cast, twisting plot, unique gadgets and amazing stunts make it a fun watch to this day.
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Men in Black,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Liar Liar”
The blockbuster to end all blockbusters, “Titanic” is really the only choice for 1997’s champ. Not only did it make more money than any other film of 1997 by more than double, but it also made more money than any other film ever made at the time. Not only was “Titanic” a huge hit with audiences, but it also won a record-tying 11 Oscars and holds down an 89-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. It was the movie event of the entire decade, let alone the year.
1998: ‘Saving Private Ryan’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Armageddon,” “There’s Something About Mary,” “Rush Hour”
It’s rare that an R-rated movie is a year’s highest-grossing film but Steven Spielberg’s masterful war epic, “Saving Private Ryan,” pulled it off. The film made $216.5 million at the box office and was one of the most well-reviewed movies of the year, holding a 93-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. The cast includes box-office icons like Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Vin Diesel. It was also nominated for 11 Oscars and won five of them.
1999: ‘The Matrix’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Blair Witch Project”
The year 1999 had some truly memorable blockbusters, including the first new Star Wars movie since 1983. But “The Matrix” is the one that remains the most memorable and thrilling for anyone who can remember seeing it for the first time in theaters. The special effects were unlike anything anyone had ever seen and the action scenes remain breathtaking to this day. “The Matrix” made $171.4 million in America that year, not even close to Star Wars’ $431 million, but it was a much better movie.
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Cast Away,” “Gladiator,” “Meet the Parents”
It’s hard to believe that “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was the highest-grossing movie of 2000, especially when you look at some of the other movies that came out that year.
“X-Men” ended up finishing eighth that year at the domestic box office, making $157.2 million, but its critical acclaim and lasting impact make it the best blockbuster of that year. Comic book movies weren’t big business in 2000 but “X-Men” put them back on the map thanks to its outstanding cast, thrilling action and mature themes. It also introduced the world to Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, a role he would reprise in nine more films over the next 18 years.
2001: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Shrek,” “Monster’s, Inc.”
The top four grossing movies of 2001, all listed above, represent one of the best crops of blockbusters in any year since the 1990s. While the first Harry Potter film was the year’s top grosser, the first Lord of the Rings film was a better movie overall. “The Fellowship of the Ring” was epic filmmaking on a scale that is rarely attempted and it was a huge hit with audiences and critics. It made $313.3 million — just $4 million shy of Harry Potter — and was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning four of them.
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
Another superhero movie that was a massive hit with audiences and critics was 2002’s “Spider-Man,” which made $403.7 million, making it the year’s highest earner. It also holds down a 90-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes, which is rare air for comic book movies. The year’s box office was dominated by sequels but “Spider-Man” rose above them all and kicked off a lucrative new series of its own.
2003: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “The Matrix Reloaded”
In another year dominated by sequels, the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy ruled them all. Not only did “The Return of the King” make more money than any other film, at $377 million, it was also hailed by critics as one of the year’s best movies, holding a 93-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. “The Return of the King” also dominated at the Oscars, winning a record-tying 11 trophies, including best picture.
2004: ‘The Incredibles’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Passion of the Christ,” “National Treasure,” “Shrek 2”
Arguably the best superhero movie of the 2000s, Pixar’s “The Incredibles” grossed $261.4 million at the box office in 2004, making it the year’s fifth-highest grosser.
It, and everything else that came out that year, got crushed by “Shrek 2,” but with a 97-percent Fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, “The Incredibles” might be the year’s best-reviewed film. It would still be a few years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe would take over the blockbuster scene but this was Disney’s first taste of superhero success and fans would eagerly wait 14 years for a sequel.
2005: ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Batman Begins,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “War of the Worlds”
There were some great blockbusters that hit theaters in 2005 but “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” had the best combination of revenue, acclaim and lasting popularity to top them all. It’s arguably the best of all the Harry Potter movies and it raked in $290 million at the box office, good for the third-highest gross of the year. With an 88-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes, it’s one of the best-reviewed movies of the entire Wizarding World franchise.
2006: ‘Casino Royale’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Cars,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Superman Returns”
After years of bad reviews, 2006’s “Casino Royale” brought James Bond back to the forefront with acclaim and box-office success. The reboot of the series, with Daniel Craig playing the British spy, was the best-reviewed Bond movie since the 1960s and remains one of the highest-grossing in the entire series.
Skip ahead to 2019 and Craig is still the current Bond, set to star in his fifth entry. The remaining crop of blockbusters from 2006, led by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” had less-than-stellar reviews to go along with their high ticket sales.
2007: ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Transformers,” “300,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
While 2007 saw the birth of the lucrative Transformers movie series, “The Bourne Ultimatum” was clearly the class of the box-office titans that year. The film made $227.4 million, good for seventh-best that year, which was the highest gross of any Jason Bourne movie so far. “The Bourne Ultimatum” was also praised as the best movie in that acclaimed series and one of the best-reviewed movies of 2007, earning a 92-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes.
2008: ‘The Dark Knight’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Iron Man,” “WALL-E,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
What an incredible year for blockbusters 2008 was. Three movies in the year’s top-five grossers — “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man” and “WALL-E” — each have Rotten Tomatoes scores of at least 90-percent Fresh. But “The Dark Knight” has to take the crown because it was such a cultural phenomenon and remains one of the most influential big-budget movies in recent history. Not only did “The Dark Knight” top the year’s box office by a wide margin with $533.3 million, but it also won two Oscars on eight nominations, which was unheard of for a superhero film.
2009: ‘Star Trek’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Avatar,” “Up,” “The Hangover”
While 2009’s “Avatar” would become the highest-grossing movie in history, it wasn’t nearly as loved by critics and didn’t have the lasting impact of “Star Trek.” This gorgeous reboot of the beloved sci-fi franchise made $257.7 million, the seventh-highest total of the year, and earned the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of any Star Trek film at 94 percent. There have been two direct sequels since then, with the most recent hitting theaters in 2016. “Star Trek” helped launch the career of star Chris Pine and helped plant the seeds for director J.J. Abrams to reboot the Star Wars franchise.
2010: ‘Toy Story 3’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Iron Man 2,” “Despicable Me,” “Inception”
Possibly Pixar’s best achievement, “Toy Story 3” crushed everything at the box office in 2010 and was one of the year’s most acclaimed films. It earned $415 million, the most of any movie in the beloved series, and holds down a 98-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. “Toy Story 3” also holds the distinction of being the last animated movie to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, where it would win two awards on five nominations. Plus, it made virtually everyone whoever saw it cry!
2011: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,” “Fast Five,” “Thor”
Sequels absolutely ruled the box office in 2011, with each of the top nine highest-grossing movies being follow-ups. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” the epic conclusion to the Harry Potter film series, pulled off the unlikely accomplishment of being both the highest-grossing and best-reviewed entry in the franchise. It topped the entire box office that year with $381 million in domestic earnings and it holds a 96-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. Marvel’s “Thor” was the only non-sequel in the year’s top 10 grossers.
2012: ‘The Avengers’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Hunger Games,” “Skyfall,” “The Dark Knight Rises”
One of the best blockbusters in Hollywood history, Marvel’s “The Avengers” was an impressive, epic action movie that was the result of years of world building. It saw the teaming up of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk, who had each starred in their own blockbusters, for one massive adventure that dominated the box office, earning $623.3 million for the top spot of 2012. For “The Avengers” to top the finale of the Dark Knight trilogy by more than $175 million let the world know Marvel was here to stay.
Other Notable Blockbusters: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Man of Steel,” “Gravity”
While “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was the year’s top grosser in 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most beloved movie of the year. The film was Disney’s biggest non-Pixar animated movie in years and it raked in $400.7 million at the box office that year. “Frozen” also was a massive hit with critics, earning a 90-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes and winning both Oscars it was nominated for. Fans have been holding their breath for six years for the sequel, which is expected to come in 2019.
2014: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “American Sniper,” “The LEGO Movie,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
It wasn’t the highest-grossing movie of 2014 but it’s safe to say that nobody who went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” wasn’t entertained. Marvel’s most offbeat and hilarious movie boasted an ensemble cast that helped make a star out of Chris Pratt and turned a talking raccoon into one of Bradley Cooper’s best roles. “Guardians of the Galaxy” made $333.1 million, good for third place in 2014, and was heavily acclaimed, setting the stage for a series of movies that continues today.
2015: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Inside Out”
Could there be any other choice for 2015’s best blockbuster than the return of Star Wars? “The Force Awakens” was arguably the most long-awaited movie in Hollywood history and it was welcomed with open arms by fans. It was the highest-grossing movie of 2015 and the highest earner in American box-office history, making an astounding $936.6 million. Its 93-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes and five Oscar nominations also show how much critics loved it.
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Zootopia,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Captain America: Civil War”
Maybe the biggest surprise smash hit of 2016 was “Deadpool,” an R-rated action movie starring an obscure Marvel superhero … or is he a villain? “Deadpool” made $363 million, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing movie of the year, and ensured a sequel that would also make a killing.
There was some stiff competition among the blockbusters of 2016, including arguably Disney’s best animated movie of the 2010s (“Zootopia”) and Marvel’s best movie yet (“Captain America: Civil War”), but “Deadpool” was the biggest phenomenon of them all and there had truly never been another comic book movie like it.
2017: ‘Wonder Woman’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “It”
This was the third consecutive year where a Star Wars movie topped the domestic box office, but DC’s “Wonder Woman” takes the mantle as the year’s best blockbuster. Not only was this the long-awaited big-screen debut of Wonder Woman, but it proved to be worth the wait by blowing away both fans and critics. “Wonder Woman” made $412.5 million, becoming the year’s third-highest-grossing movie and becoming the highest-grossing live-action movie ever directed by a woman. It holds a 93-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. A sequel is set for 2020.
2018: ‘Black Panther’
Other Notable Blockbusters: “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Aquaman,” “Mission: Impossible — Fallout”
Ten years, and billions of dollars, after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther” would become the highest-grossing and most acclaimed movie in the history of that franchise. This movie was a straight-up phenomenon, showing millions of kids a superhero movie with a cast largely made up of black actors and made by a black director.
“Black Panther” made $700 million domestically, topping the box office in 2018, and earned seven Oscar nominations, including best picture. It also holds a 97-percent Fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes, making “Black Panther” one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.