Top-Grossing Movies That Never Hit Number 1 At The Box Office

Warner Bros.

Reaching the top of the charts to become the highest grossing film of any given week is a huge accomplishment for any theatrical release but just because a film doesn’t hit number one doesn’t mean it can’t be a massive financial and critical success. Great movies are often overshadowed by blockbuster films like Star Wars, Transformers, or even the Fast & Furious franchise. Here are 15 highly profitable films that didn’t quite make it to the top of the box office charts.

15. Chicago (2002) – $170,687,518

Released in December of 2002, this musical crime-drama based on the stage musical of the same name starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, and Renée Zellweger in the lead roles. The film explored themes of celebrity, scandal, and corruption in 1920’s Chicago and was a huge critical and financial success for Miramax.

Chicago earned over $170 million at the box office and although the film continued to stay at the top of the charts for months after its release it never hit the pinnacle. The film’s box office earning were succeeded by the likes of the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Daredevil during the later stages of the film’s theatrical release. Still, not bad at all for a film adaptation of a hit musical.

Via Rotten Tomatoes

14. A Beautiful Mind (2001) – $170,742,341

This Russell Crowe vehicle released in 2002 got off to a slow start at the box office but as the positive reviews from critics started to roll in and word spread of the film’s quality, moviegoers flocked to their local theatres. A Beautiful Mind is a biographical drama based on the life of John Nash, an eccentric mathematical genius and Nobel Laureate in Economics. The film also featured a fantastic supporting cast with the likes of Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, and Jennifer Connelly rounding out the roster.

The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and took home 4 of them including Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly. A Beautiful Mind never actually made it to the number one spot on the box office charts in 2001-2002 as it was held off by the likes of yet another installment in the Lord of the Rings franchise.


13. The Greatest Showman (2017) – $173,520,696

Inspired by the real-life story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of its star attractions, this musical film went to earn almost $175 million at the box office. Starring the versatile Hugh Jackman in the lead role and a capable supporting cast including the likes of Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson, the film was a massive hit despite receiving some mixed reviews.

Several critics were quick to criticise the film for its artistic license but that didn’t hold it back from being nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy as well as a Best Actor nomination for Jackman at the 75th Golden Globe Awards. Unfortunately, The Greatest Showman was overshadowed by the juggernaut that is Star Wars, with The Last Jedi releasing the week prior and dominating at the box office.


12. How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) – $177,002,924

How To Train Your Dragon 2 was released in the summer of 2014 and is the follow-up to the widely popular first film released by DreamWorks Animation in 2010. The film features the voices of some big stars including Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig. How To Train Your Dragon 2 takes place five years after the first film and follows Hiccup and his friends as young adults. Along the journey, they meet Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother, and Drago Bludvist, a madman with aspirations to take over the world.

Although the film was a critical and financial success, it peaked at number two on the box office earnings list which it hit after a strong opening week. The film was swiftly crushed by Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which earned a whopping $100 million in its opening week.

Via Cartoon Brew

11. Lincoln (2012) – $182,207,973

Lincoln is a 2012 historical drama directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular 16th President of the United States. The film follows Abraham Lincoln throughout a pivotal period of his presidency towards the end of the civil war as he fights for the civil rights of America’s population.

Carried by yet another masterful performance by Day-Lewis that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, the film went on to earn over $180 million at the domestic box office. The film itself was nominated for an additional 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, and a Best Director nomination for Steven Spielberg. While historical dramas aren’t exactly known for being a huge draw at theaters, Lincoln was able to reach the third spot several times during its theatrical release falling short of blockbuster films like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 and Skyfall.


10. Dances With Wolves (1990) – $184,208,848

Dances With Wolves is a 1990 Western film featuring Kevin Costner star, producer, and director. The film is often credited with leading the resurgence of the Western genre of films being produced in Hollywood. Dances With Wolves is a film adaptation of the book of the same name written by Michael Blake in 1988. The film follows the story of a Union Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier in search of a military post, and of his encounters with a group of Lakota Indians.

Produced for meager $22 million budget, the film was a massive financial and critical success winning seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. The film earned almost $185 million at the domestic box office and faced some stiff competition in the holiday heavyweight Home Alone. Dances With Wolves didn’t reach its stride a the box office until a few weeks after its initial release once reviews started to circulate and word got around about this epic Western classic. The film continued to have strong tickets sales well into its third month after release, which propelled it to the number two spot in box office sales for the week of February 1st, 1990.

Via Classical MPR

9. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) – $186,740,799

Released in May of 2004, The Day After Tomorrow is a sci-fi disaster film starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. Based on the novel The Coming Global Superstorm, the film illustrates the catastrophic climatic events following the effects of severe global warming. The Day After Tomorrow was a huge financial success earning $544 million globally and $186 million domestically on a $125 million budget. Filmed mostly in Toronto and Montreal, this Roland Emmerich-directed film remains the highest grossing picture shot in Canada.

Critically the film didn’t fare so well, it was praised for its excellent special effects but picked apart for writing and multiple scientific inaccuracies. The lukewarm reception didn’t hold the film back and it went on to be the sixth highest grossing film of 2004 and reached as high as number two on the box office leaderboard.

Via Cinema Sins

8. Intersteller (2014) – $188,020,017

This 2014 sci-fi epic starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Christopher Nolan made it all the way to #2 on the weekly box office rankings but was held off by films like Pixar’s Big Hero 6, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. Set in a dystopian future where humanity is on the brink of extinction, Interstellar follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity. The film was well received and applauded by the scientific community for its realistic depictions of wormholes and black holes.

The film features an excellent supporting cast as well as some of the best visuals in recent memory which in fact won them an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Interstellar premiered on October 26, 2014, in Los Angeles, California and the film went on to earn over $677 million globally and $188 million domestically making it the tenth highest grossing film of 2014.


7. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) – $196,573,705

Released in 2009, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs is the third installment in the Ice Age series. Reprising their roles from the first two films are Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Queen Latifa, as well as newcomer Simon Pegg to the outstanding cast of voice actors. The film features a simple premise of Sid the Sloth being kidnapped by a Tyrannosaurus and the rest of the gang banding together to save him. Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the first film in the franchise to be released in 3D.

Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the 20th Century Fox film far exceeded expectations at the box office. Earning a staggering $886 million in global ticket sales, at the time it ranked as the second highest grossing animated film of all time; not bad at all for a third installment. Despite its financial success, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs somehow never hit the top spot on the charts as it was just barely topped by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen during its time in theaters.


6. World War Z (2013) – $202,359,711

World War Z is a 2013 zombie action horror film starring Brad Pitt as former UN investigator Gerry Lane. Lane is faced with the tall task of traveling the globe in order to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. The film received mixed reviews from critics, as it was praised for its realistic portrayal of a zombie apocalypse but criticized for its use of outdated special effects. Despite this, World War Z was financial success earning over $540 million globally and $202 million domestically, making it the highest grossing zombie film of all time.

World War Z faced some stiff competition from quality animated films during its time in theaters, as it fell behind Pixar’s Monsters University in its opening week and Despicable Me 2 in the weeks after. Despite never reaching the number one spot the film was a huge hit for Paramount Pictures and a sequel has long been rumored to be in the works.

Via Nerdist

5. Sherlock Holmes (2009) – $209,028,679

Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie was released in the holiday season of 2009 and was a major financial success for Warner Bros. Pictures. The film starred Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson respectively. Set in 1890s London, the private detective Holmes and sidekick Watson are hired by a secret society to uncover a plot to expand the British Empire by supernatural and criminal means. The film received mostly positive reviews as Downey Jr. and Law were applauded for their portrayal of the iconic duo.

Hot off the heels of his role as Iron Man and resurgence into the Hollywood elite, moviegoers were compelled to see what Downey Jr. was going to do next. This no doubt helped Sherlock Holmes get the exposure and marketing boost that propelled the film to an opening weekend gross of $62 million which placed it just behind Avatar on box office charts. The film went on to earn $209 million domestically and although it never climbed to the number one spot, Sherlock Holmes was a financial success and went on to spawn a sequel in 2011.

Warner Bros.

4. Alvin And The Chipmunks (2007) – $217,326,974

Based on the popular 80s cartoon Alvin And The Chipmunks made its theatrical debut during the holiday season of 2007. The film featured a mix of computer animated characters as well as real-life actors and starred Jason Lee as Dave Seville. The story revolves around the origins of their relationship with Dave and their quest to become a famous musical act.

The film went on to earn $361 million at the global box office and $217 million domestically on an estimated $60 million budget. Alvin And The Chipmunkreached the number two spot during the holiday season in 2007 falling just short of the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. The film spawned a successful franchise that has seen three more entries since its release with the 2009 follow up landing in the number three spot on this list.

Via YouTube

3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel (2009) – $219,614,612

The follow-up to the widely successful 2007 film Alvin And The Chipmunks, the 2009 film Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel built upon the first film’s success by adding the Chipettes into the mix. After the first film connected so well with audiences, 20th Century Fox quickly greenlit a sequel and it proved to be a wise financial decision with the film grossing more globally and domestically than the first installment.

The film grossed $219 million domestically on a modest $70 million budget and reached as high as number three on the charts falling victim to James Cameron’s AvatarThe film received generally positive reviews and featured a star-studded lineup of voice actors with the like of Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate joining the cast.


2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) – $241,438,208

This 2002 romantic comedy stars the relatively unknown Nia Vardalos as Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos, a middle-class woman of Greek ethnicity who falls in love with the non-Greek Ian Miller. What follows is some hilarious insight into Greek American culture and what it’s like to be integrated into a tight nit European family. Audiences quickly connected with the relatable characters and word spread about this charming rom-com sending it soring up the charts.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding earned $241 million domestically, which was good enough to make it the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. The film reached as high as number two in box office earnings falling a mere $2 million short of the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs. The success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding led to a short-lived television series entitled My Big Fat Greek Life and a film sequel titled My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 in 2016.

Via Variety

1. Sing (2016) – $270,395,425

This 2016 animated musical comedy from Universal stars the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, and John C. Reilly. Sing is about a group of anthropomorphic animals that enter a singing competition, hosted by a koala hoping to save his theater. The film features an excellent soundtrack with a wide variety of classic songs performed by the cast.

Produced for just $75 million the film went on to earn $634 million at the global box office making it one of the highest grossing animated films ever. With a total domestic box office of $270 million, Sing is the highest grossing film of all time to never reach number one at the domestic box office.

Via Variety

Charles Rogers

Charliee Rogers is a freelance writer, father of two, and video game player!