This week on the Boxoffice Podcast, co-hosts Daniel Loria, Rebecca Pahle, and Russ Fischer take a look back at the top ten-grossing movies of 2009—with Avatar, in the number one spot, returning to theaters this September in advance of the December release of sequel Avatar: The Way of Water.
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Domestic total: $749.7M
Director James Cameron’s box office record-breaker follows Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) on a mission to the world of Pandora where he becomes torn between following orders and protecting the home of the Na’vi. Avatar became the highest-grossing domestic film of all time with an incredible $749.7M, crushing the record previously set by Cameron just over a decade prior with Titanic ($600.7M). To reclaim the top spot, Avatar: The Way of Water will need to surpass not only the original film’s take, but also three films that have since taken the top spots on the chart: Spider-Man: No Way Home ($804.7M), Avengers: Endgame ($858.3M), and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens ($936.6M).
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Domestic total: $402.1M
When the Transformers film series launched in 2007, based on the media and toy franchise, it introduced Optimus Prime to a new generation, brining $319.2M to the domestic box office. 2009’s highly anticipated sequel still ranks as the highest performing film in the franchise with $402.1M, placing it at 41 on the list of all-time top domestic grossing films, just two million behind Jurassic Park. In the sequel, Sam Witwicky tries leaving the Autobots behind in favor of a normal life, but the Decepticons pull him back into the Transformers’ war. Further sequels include 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($352.3M), 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction ($245.4M), 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight ($130.1M), the spin-off Bumblebee ($127.1M), and 2023’s forthcoming Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which is set to introduce characters from the Transformers: Beast Wars franchise.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Domestic total: $301.9M
The sixth film in the Wizarding World franchise continues the adventures of “The Boy Who Lived.” An old textbook gives Harry Potter an upper hand in potions class, as he begins to learn more about the dark past of his enemy Lord Voldemort. With a domestic take of $301.9M, it stands as the third highest-grossing film in the franchise and currently sits at 95 on the all-time domestic gross chart, behind Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($318.8M) at 82 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two ($381.4M) at 45. This year’s Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore was a disappointment at the domestic box office with less than $100M. Internationally, the third film in the proposed Fantastic Beasts pentad grossed $309.3M.
4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Domestic total: $296.6M
Based on the popular fantasy romance novels by Stephenie Meyer, sparkling vampires appeared on the big screen in 2008’s Twilight ($193.9M). One day after the theatrical release, Summit Entertainment announced the production of the sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon. In the second installment, vampire Edward leaves Bella following an attack and she soon falls into another difficult relationship, this time with a werewolf. More than doubling the take of the first film at $297.8M, it went on to become the second highest-grossing film in the franchise after 2010’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ($300.5M). The saga’s final story was split into two films, 2011’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 ($281.2M) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 ($292.3M).
Domestic total: $293M
Though Pixar is essentially an IP in itself, Up is one of only two films on the list that wasn’t a sequel or the beginning of a new franchise. The charming story chronicles the life of an elderly man who relearns to love adventure with the help of an eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer. The heartbreaking 10 minute opening is a masterclass in storytelling. The critically acclaimed animated film soared at the box office to the tune of $293M.
6. The Hangover
Domestic total: $277.3M
Comedy hit The Hangover spawned two sequels: 2011’s The Hangover: Part II ($254.4M) and 2013’s The Hangover: Part III ($112.2M). With no memory of the previous night, three buddies wake up from a bachelor party in Las Vegas to discover the bachelor is missing. They must retrace their steps to find their friend before the wedding. Two years later, Part II‘s opening weekend nearly doubled that of the first film, with a domestic debut of $85.9M compared to The Hangover‘s $44.9M opening in 2009.
7. Star Trek
Domestic total: $257.7M
After 10 feature films comprising of the continued journeys of the small screen’s original series and spin-off Star Trek: The Next Generation, director J.J. Abrams launched a reboot based on the franchise’s original characters. The alternate universe story (referred to as the “Kelvin Timeline”) featured the adventures of young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) facing off against a Romulan from the future, who creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time. Subsequent sequels include 2011’s Star Trek Into Darkness ($228.7M) and 2013’s Star Trek Beyond ($158.8M). During 2022 San Diego Comic-Con, lead actor Pine reported that he has yet to see a script for a fourth installment, which Paramount has currently slated for December 23rd, 2023 with WandaVision‘s Matt Shakman directing and J.J. Abrams producing.
8. The Blind Side
Domestic total: $255.9M
The only live-action film on the list that isn’t a franchise or sequel, the biographical sports drama based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis tells the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless youth who became an All-American football player and first-round NFL draft pick. The crowd-pleasing film starring Sandra Bullock scored $255.9M at the box office. Though based on a true story, some controversy surrounded the adaptation, with the real Oher writing in his autobiography I Beat The Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond, “I felt like it [the movie] portrayed me as dumb instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it.”
9. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Domestic total: $219.6M
Created for a novelty record in 1958, Alvin and the Chipmunks launched multiple albums, animated series, video games, and even concert tours. The CGI/live-action Fox film franchise began in 2007 with Alvin and the Chipmunks squirreling away $217.3M at the domestic box office. The series went on to produce two more sequels, 2011’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ($133.1M) and 2015’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip ($85.8M). Last year, brand owners Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and his wife, Janice Karman, held talks with several potential buyers, seeking a reported $300M for rights to the classic characters. No word on if a sale has transpired and how that may impact future film rights, given that Disney purchased Fox back in 2019.
10. Sherlock Holmes
Domestic total: $209M
Another successful franchise launched in 2009 with a blockbuster based on the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eponymous Holmes with Jude Law as sidekick Watson, the Guy Ritchie directed reinvention uncovered $209M at the domestic box office and was followed two years later by Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ($186.8M). In the first film, Detective Sherlock Holmes and partner Watson engaged in a battle of wits with Lord Blackwood. Though commitments and rumors of a third film have arisen over the years, a trilogy-making sequel has yet to materialize.