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16 Most Profitable Movies Based on Return on Investment

Sure, the big box office hits earn millions of dollars of profit for their respective production studios but how do they compare to the most profitable movies based on return on investment? Are the gigantic returns doing justice to the huge budgets of these movies?

Now that Hollywood has become a plethora of sequels and superhero movies, with increasing budgets and vigorous marketing, numbers from the box office have become more important than ever. This is a turn for the worst if you ask me. The art is no more as important as it used to be because (almost) everyone has a commercial motive. Then again, studios may not be to blame for this. Viewers these days tend to go for movies with more special effects, more technology and just something that looks highly expensive. To attain that, movies spend large amounts of money making it imperative for them to earn bigger bucks than ever before, which obviously has a negative impact on their percentage of profit.

16 Most Profitable Movies Based on Return on Investment

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I mean, if we look at absolute profit figures, the most profitable movie is (drum roll!) Avatar with an estimated profit of an astounding $1.27 billion! But the thing is Avatar also has a notoriously gargantuan production budget, in fact, according to  The Numbers, it’s the highest budget movie in Hollywood. So in comparison to a budget of $450 million, the profit does not seem too impressive. In other words, its return on investment isn’t as high as the movies we have on our list which ranks flicks based on the proportion of profit to budget. Even if we look at the matter from the flip side, return on investment is highly important. Look at Mars Needs Moms, a huge nightmare for its studio even though it managed to gross $39 million at the box office. Now that figure might be a breath of fresh air for a small time studio but with a budget of approximately $170 million, it is actually the least profitable movie ever, once you deduct retail and similar costs. Same goes for John Carter, the movie that is on every list of high budget movies but ended up being one of the least profitable movies ever, even with hundreds of millions of box office gross. Talk about embarrassing box office bombs.

Speaking of budgets, they are sometimes very hard to estimate, as often studios try to mislead the media by giving unrealistically high or morbidly low figures. Let’s take Avatar as an example again. Some sources assert that James Cameron’s unique Na’vi world cost $237 million dollars to produce, while others think the number is as high as $500 million. Obviously, we cannot know for sure how much green was spent on Avatar, but according to our sources, Fox contributed the $237 million while approximately $200 million came from Cameron’s own production company.

Similarly, profits are sneaky to calculate too, in fact even more so than budgets, which is why our list should be treated with a little caution. The return on investment of the movies on our list has been calculated as a ratio of profit to the budget of the movie. All these specifics have been extracted from The Numbers, where they clearly explain how the figures have been calculated.

Shockingly, most of the movies on our list are not recent at all. In fact, when we searched on Google for most profitable movie 2017, as result we got the compelling thriller Get Out. The movie did not even make it to our list of most profitable movies based on return on investment. A flick from 2016 did though. Can you guess which spot acquired the movie we got when typed most profitable movie 2016? Guess you will have to read through to find out! Once you do, you will find that a variety of genres have managed to squirm their way into the list, but horror flicks definitely stand out. You will probably spot a few movies from our list of 11 most successful horror movie franchises of all time as well.

You might find a few musicals here too, which is unsurprising. I mean, who doesn’t like good music to go with a mesmerizing script? I know I do and if you’re like me you will find our piece on the 10 most famous, beautiful piano songs from movies highly interesting.

Another thing to note is that we have included only Hollywood flicks in our list which is unfortunate for Bollywood fans, but let me tell you, Bollywood has had its fair share of profits. Look at Aashiqui 2 for instance, which according to MyMoviesRack has a profit percentage of 612%, making it the most profitable movie in India.

A movie junkie like me can probably talk about facts like these forever, so let’s put an end to that and get on with the 16 most profitable movies based on return on investment.

16. War Room (2015)

Profit: $48,711,083

Budget: $3,000,000

This drama feature did not do well with the critics but what lacked there, was made up in monetary profit. Looks like people are not too averse to movies heavily featuring religion and faith after all.

15. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Profit: $330,271,980

Budget: $20,000,000

We are continuing the list of most profitable movies based on return on investment with a classic. A beautiful girl falls in love with a beast, discovering that he is not the vicious creature he appears to be: a tale as old as time indeed! This feature film with its amazing script and even more amazing music (which by the way earned it three nominations for Best Original Song at the Oscars) turned out to be popular among children and adults alike. Although the live action version of this film was all the hype ever since the breathtaking Emma Watson was announced to play Belle and did turn out to be an immense hit, it did not present Disney with as many returns as the classic version did.

14. Jaws (1975)

Profit: $224,361,043 

Budget: $12,000,000

Steven Spielberg never misses, does he? The captivating thriller did absolute justice to the terror-inducing, monstrous White Shark (which happens to be number one on our list of the most aggressive sharks in the world), and hence it’s no surprise that the film has stood the grueling test of time. This time Steven’s piece is number 14 on the list of most profitable movies based on return on investment.

13. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Profit: $22,452,279

Budget: $1,200,000

Another unbelievably talented director, Quentin Tarantino pulled out a masterpiece with this 1992 motion picture. The crime thriller was Tarantino’s first full-length movie as a director and its quality ensured that he be put down as one of the greatest in the business.

12. Split (2016)

Profit: $100,962,199

Budget: $5,000,000

The genius who came up with the masterpiece that is The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan returned in 2016 with yet another psychological thriller. Technically, the film earned the big bucks in 2017 as it was released in the US in January 2017, but since it had been screened in film festivals in the year 2016, and is officially a 2016 movie, we have considered it to be the most profitable movie of 2016.

11. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Profit: $58,139,044

Budget: $2,800,000

A story that follows Viktor Frankenstein’s grandson played by none other than Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein is often regarded as one of the best comedy movies of all time and rightly so. Give it one watch and you will surely be left in peals of laughter. Deserves to be among the most profitable movies based on return on investment, right?

10. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Profit: $69,743,367

Budget: $3,180,000

Probably the most famous Christmas movie ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life earned its production studio a return on investment of 2,093%. Well, why wouldn’t it, considering that even the American Film Institute considers it one of the 100 Greatest American Films of all Time. So if you feel a mite blue in the coming holidays, this movie is the one for you!

9. Insidious (2010)

Profit: $34,949,474

Budget: $1,500,000

Following the success of the first movie in this horror series, the makers of Insidious have since released a sequel and a prequel but none were as profitable as the original. That is not to say they were unsuccessful of course. Both of them managed to scoop up quite a lot of box office gold, but could not make it to our list of most profitable movies based on return on investment.

8. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Profit: $77,144,539

Budget: $3,000,000

From the same production company that brought us Insidious, Paranormal Activity 2 served as a prequel/sequel to the first movie. The series brought us horror in a refreshingly new way, with scenes being shown in a “discovered film” sort of way, almost like a documentary. The second movie was not as profitable as the first one of course, which will make an appearance further on our list. Can you guess which spot it holds?

7. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Profit: $324,095,330

Budget: $11,000,000

How can this list be complete without the movie that gave birth to the Star Wars franchise? Oh, how can we ever repay George Lucas for this amazing feat? I, for one, cannot imagine the world where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo do not exist. Well, I guess they do not exist in this world, but you know what I mean.

6. Grease (1978)

Profit: $186,581,041

Budget: $6,000,000

Arguably, the most famous live action musical ever, Grease is based on a musical of the same name and boasts both critical and commercial success. After all, who can say no to the good old romantic musical?

5. God’s Not Dead (2014)

Profit: $36,033,332

Budget: $1,150,000

The success of this Christian drama was actually quite a shock for everyone because it was quite literally bashed by critics. None of them had anything nice to say about the feature film, but I guess fans and critics never really agree on anything, do they?

4. Peter Pan (1953)

Profit: $140,277,793

Budget: $4,000,000

At number 4 on the list of most profitable movies based on return on investment, we have the animated feature that is a cinematic depiction of J. M. Barrie’s famous tale of Peter Pan, the boy who we all envy as the one who would never grow up. The adventures of Peter, Wendy and Captain Hook have since had other versions made, but this one by Disney will forever remain close to our hearts.

3. The Devil Inside (2012)

Profit: $37,380,085

Budget: $1,000,000

Again, one of those movies that no one seems to like but happens to be really successful. The Devil Inside has a lot of disturbingly violent scenes and was completely destroyed by critic reviews. The ending was probably the biggest disappointment for everyone. Nevertheless, the movie still opened at number one at the box office in its first week of release. Its position did drop drastically in the second week but the studio still managed to gather quite a lot of return on its investment.

2. The Gallows (2015)

Profit: $6,933,261

Budget: $100,000

Yet another horror movie, The Gallows has an abysmally low budget, the lowest of all the movies on our list. With such a small budget, even a little success at the box office ends up being extremely profitable and that is exactly what happened with The Gallows, which, like The Devil Inside, also received highly negative reviews.

1. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Profit: $89,350,115

Budget: $450,000

Undoubtedly the most profitable movies based on return on investmentParanormal Activity is delightfully scary. It might leave you not being able to be alone in a room for weeks but if you’re an avid fan of horror movies, it’s totally worth it!