Franchises have been the lifeblood of the movie business for a long time now, and it gets increasingly difficult for original ideas to make it past the studio executives, who would often be much happier relying on a tried-and-true brand.
In fact, only eleven of the 100 highest-grossing movies ever made are based on completely original ideas and aren’t sequels, reboots, remakes, or adaptations of some description. Only two completely fresh concepts have ever crossed the billion-dollar threshold, and, looking at the evidence, it appears that nothing is going to change in the near or distant future.
10 The Secret Life of Pets ($875.5 Million)
Illumination burst onto the scene with the success of Despicable Me, and, as ubiquitous as the Minions soon became, The Secret Life of Pets is arguably the studio’s best movie.
Neither the animation itself or the plot were anything approaching groundbreaking, but there’s an old-fashioned sense of boundless enthusiasm and optimist permeated every single one of the movie’s brief 86 minutes.
9 Avatar ($2.79 Billion)
Obviously, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic has been unfairly labeled as a ripoff of everything from Dances with Wolves to Ferngully, but that’s doing the filmmaker a huge disservice. The plot may be familiar and veer dangerously close to formulaic, but Cameron spent years developing the world of Avatar from the ground up, including developing a unique language for the Na’vi.
His persistence paid off, and it reigned for over a decade as the highest-grossing movie in history before Avengers: Endgame came along and snatched the crown for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
8 Independence Day ($817.4 Million)
Roland Emmerich’s style of filmmaking may have eventually become a punchline as he descended ever further into self-parody, but Independence Day remains one of the most unashamedly ludicrous and patently enjoyable big-budget blockbusters ever made.
A charismatic cast embracing the ridiculous premise, some jaw-dropping visual effects, and a reliance on practical pyrotechnics in the midst of the oncoming CGI revolution saw Independence Day embraced as required viewing all over the world every fourth of July.
7 Zootopia ($1.02 Billion)
Animation has a much easier time of getting fresh ideas pushed through development, but Zootopia still managed to surprise a lot of people when it raced past a billion dollars at the box office. One of only two original concepts to have cracked ten figures, Disney veterans Byron Howard and Rich Moore knew exactly how to tailor their story to the widest possible audience.
A hybrid of a crime thriller and buddy cop movie disguised as a family-friendly animation, Zootopia is also packed with timely subtext and weightier themes that you’d expect from a breezy Disney effort.
6 Coco ($807.8 Million)
Lee Unkrich has been a key part of the Pixar fabric ever since Toy Story, and his second directorial effort is a stunning mediation on life, love, loss, culture, and family that was joyously entertaining and had audiences around the world shedding floods of tears by the end.
All of the studio’s usual themes and flights of imagination are present, but Unkrich clearly had a deep personal connection to the material, elevating Coco into the pantheon of animated greats that comfortably stands shoulder to shoulder among Pixar’s greatest.
5 Finding Nemo ($940.4 Million)
Pixar has become more reliant on sequels than ever in recent years, but original content is still the animation powerhouse’s stock in trade, and Finding Nemo remains one of the studio’s very best.
Visually revolutionary at the time, the father/son story is a well-worn narrative trope, but the intelligent script and phenomenal voice work elevated the movie to instant classic status.
4 Inside Out ($858 Million)
Inside Out may have earned over $850 million at the box office and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but the argument could still be made that it ranks as Pixar’s most underappreciated movie.
In terms of sheer visual and storytelling ambition, nothing in the studio’s back catalog comes close to matching the heartfelt, emotional, often surreal, frequently gut-wrenching, and incredibly moving tale of emotional reckoning.
3 E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial ($793.5 Million)
The fact that Steven Spielberg’s classic is still one of the highest-grossing original movies ever made almost 40 years later shows either a startling lack of originality from Hollywood or cements the enduring power of the story, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Any self-respecting film fan has seen E.T. at least once, and the tale of a boy and his alien hasn’t lost any of its emotional power in the decades since, and will no-doubt always remain one of the finest family films ever made.
2 The Lion King ($968.5 Million)
There might be Biblical and Shakespearean elements in play, but The Lion King’s central narrative takes universal themes and puts them at the center of an undisputed animated classic. The highest-grossing hand-drawn animation ever made, audiences instantly fell in love with the vibrant color pallet, instantly iconic songs, and well-rounded characters.
Jon Favreau’s live-action remake opted to simply tell the exact same story all over again instead of trying anything new, which just goes to show the enduring popularity of The Lion King.
1 Inception ($836.8 Million)
Christopher Nolan is well known for pushing technical boundaries, and the acclaimed filmmaker let his imagination run wild when crafting his cerebral heist thriller.
Complex without being convoluted and thought-provoking without being pretentious, Inception wraps an existential drama in the guise of an action blockbuster in a deft and delicate balancing act that very few people would even dream of, never mind pull off so spectacularly.
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