Big screen productions have been keeping us entertained for years, from the silent moving pictures that characterized the 1930s to the modern blockbusters we know and love today.

Movies have always drawn inspiration from everyday life, and just as trends and tastes evolve over the years, so does our interest in films. Our love for blockbuster flicks hasn’t dwindled, in fact, it’s only grown with recent releases being some of the highest-grossing movies of all time. However, there have been changes in the likes of genre trends, director popularity, and filming locations.

Here at Giggster, we looked at the highest-grossing film each year since 1970 to find out how our preferences for movies have changed over time.

Adventure is the most popular film genre of the last 50 years, while sci-fi has dominated the movie charts in the last decade. The most popular filming locations are found in the United States and United Kingdom. Most of the highest-grossing movies are suitable for a wide range of audiences, rated PG-13 or below.

Around ¾ of the films on our list have elements of the adventure genre, and the genre’s popularity is only growing. For each consecutive year since 2009, the world’s highest-grossing film has encompassed a mix of genres, with adventure featuring in each production. The success of adventure movies can be explained by the adaptability of the genre. Since adventure films can be attributed to the plot moving from a place of comfort to somewhere unknown, the genre is often incorporated into cross-genre movies across a variety of film types from horror to action.

Following closely behind, action is a firm film genre favorite. One of the oldest film categories to exist, action films have been around since the 1920s and remain a popular choice among film buffs. Elements of action are commonly seen in hybrid-genre movies, notably featuring in many of the highest-grossing sci-films of the 2000s.

Just under half of the films on our list include aspects of the science fiction movie genre, commonly combined with genres like fantasy and action. Sci-Fi movies have notably dominated movie charts over the last 10 years.

Director Diversity

Los Angeles    |    New York    |    Atlanta

The role of a director is crucial in the visual outcome and creative process of film production, impacting the final picture you watch on screen. Looking at the highest-grossing films each year since 1970, Steven Spielberg was the director of six on our list, with the most recent being Jurassic Park, released in 1993.

Directing duo Anthony and John Russo, more commonly known as the Russo brothers, co-directed three films on our list, all of which were produced by Marvel Studios.

James Cameron directed three movies on our list, including Avatar and Titanic, while Michael Bay directed two.

It might come as no surprise that the most popular filming location among the highest-grossing films each year since 1970 is the United States. The dominance of the US in the film industry is undeniable - all but one of the movies on our list are Hollywood productions, with the exception of Demon Slayer: The Movie, a Japanese release that hit the box office during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most films on our list shot scenes in the United States, with New York and California as the most popular filming locations. Fantasy flicks including the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars movies favored filming locations of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Croatia.

Movie Age Certifications

The Motion Picture Association gives age classifications to motion pictures depending on the film’s content and its suitability for younger audiences. Over ¾ of the highest-grossing films each year since 1970 are rated PG-13, PG, or G.

Just less than half of the films on our list are rated PG-13 - defined as containing some material that may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Seven movies on our list are rated R, meaning the Motion Picture Association deemed their content unsuitable for anyone under 17 years of age without an accompanying adult.

Production Company Popularity

Film production companies can have an enormous influence on casting, director hiring, and scriptwriting, ultimately controlling the final outcome of the film.

Paramount Pictures have produced, or co-produced, ¼ of the highest-grossing films each year since 1970. As one of the world’s oldest film production companies and the second oldest production company in the US, Paramount has produced some of the most popular movies of all time.

Lucasfilm Ltd. was the main production company for nine films on our list, with Star Wars Ep. VIII: The Last Jedi as the most recent. The production company was best known for its independent work on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises before it was bought by Walt Disney Studios in 2012.

Iconic Movie Stars Over Time

Hollywood royalty has changed over the years, though many actors have starred in more than one of the top-grossing movies each year since 1970. Famous for starring in films from the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises, Harrison Ford is a top-billed cast member in seven films on our list.

Co-stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint were top-billed cast members for three films on our list, all from the Harry Potter film franchise.

Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom co-starred in 2002’s and 2003’s highest grossing movies from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bloom appeared alongside Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley in the highest-grossing movies of 2006 and 2007, from the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

The Highest Grossing Movies of the last 50 Years

The full list of the highest-grossing films at the worldwide box office each year since 1970 - did your favorite make the cut?

Methodology

To analyze movie trends over the last 50 years, Giggster looked at the highest-grossing movie worldwide each year since 1970, sourced from The Numbers. Using IMDb, each film’s filming location, top-billed cast, production company, director, and genre was sourced.

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