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Biggest Summer Movies Of The 2010s

As moviegoing got underway in the second decade of the 21st century, predictable trends carried over from its first decade, pointing the way for further summer box office sizzle. That meant giving fans what they wanted — more of the same, sequel begetting sequel — and usually resulting in even more of the same for the studios, with many happy returns. 

Superhero movies have always been a big draw, but they soared ever higher in the 2010s, as Marvel Studios did a marvelous job of creating a Cinematic Universe that fans continually wanted to revisit. Audiences also couldn't resist the temptation of a long awaited Pixar follow-up, return trips to the world of "Jurassic," or even catching a (sort of) live-action version of a beloved Disney classic. So much for original films.

Most everything that hit the mark came out of Disney, which owned such a huge chunk of the market share that its films ended up competing with one another. Sometimes Chris Pratt was competing with ... Chris Pratt, currently the 6th highest grossing lead actor of all time. 

Grab your popcorn (and some air conditioning), and let's re-examine the biggest summer movies of the 2010s.

[Note: Domestic summer box office totals listed are from Box Office Mojo, and counts only films released during the defined summer season -- from the first Friday in May through Labor Day weekend -- which leaves out the late April releases of both "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame."]

15. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) - $386,882,846

As the first Marvel entry to follow in the devastating wake of "Avengers: Endgame," Tom Holland's second solo "Spider-Man" movie had a lot of weight on its shoulders. "Far From Home" found Peter Parker away from New York, and the Avengers, with Holland enjoying the more "low key" affair. He told /Film that his Spidey-focused projects are "like the biggest indie movies ever made because it does just feel like we're making a high school movie that happens in Europe."

Fears of sequel fatigue were running high that summer of 2019, with "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," "X-Men: Dark Phoenix," and "Men in Black: International" all underperforming expectations. Turns out there was nothing to fear as "Far From Home" was concerned: it landed to the tune of $185 million, knocking "Spider-Man 2" out as title holder for best six-day opener over the July 4th holiday.

Box office analyst Shawn Robbins told Vulture that the success of "Far From Home" showed that "it doesn't matter if you're 14 or 40 years old, especially if you grew up on the comics, he's relatable in the way of, even if he's a superhero, he still deals with everyday human things. That's why audiences keep gravitating toward him after eight movies in 18 years."

Spider-Man not only saved the day, but Tom Holland personally saved the delicate relationship that existed between partner studios Sony and Disney, allowing the character to fight on another day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) - $389,706,914

When Chris Pratt and a ragtag group of misfits became cosmic heroes in 2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy," no one expected (via Box Office Mojo) this original Marvel movie to produce (inter)stellar numbers at the box office, but it went on to become one of the year's biggest earners, topping out at $332.9 million.

"Sequelitis" was a concern for all, but when "Vol. 2" kicked off the summer of 2017, with the Guardians and their high flying antics crossing paths with Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell and even David Hasselhoff, it paid off in huge dividends, netting $146.5 million in its opening weekend ($52.2 million better than its predecessor).

A lot of eyes were glued to the box office numbers, and what the returns meant. Forbes was rooting against it making a billion (as it would create "unrealistic and often implausible expectations that hurt the films and the studios making them."), while Moviefone questioned whether it was actually a box office disappointment.

Even director James Gunn couldn't help himself from waking up to "check my phone for the morning box office reports." In an honest Facebook post, he added "I'd like to remember that that's truly all nonsense and noise ... I haven't worked two and a half years just to watch a string of numbers getting higher." They may get even higher when "Vol. 3" lands in theaters in May 2023.

13. Captain America: Civil War (2016) - $408,035,143

In the aftermath of 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," our heroes were divided over oversight of the team, with one faction behind Tony Stark's Iron Man and the other siding with Steve Rogers' Captain America. It all played out in "Captain America: Civil War," which some saw as "Avengers 2.5," while Robert Downey Jr. saw it as "my little 'Iron Man 4.'"

While Hulk and Thor were notably absent, Black Panther and Tom Holland's Spider-Man (and the Bluth family stair car) made their big screen entrances in "Civil War," which helped the Russo brothers' picture set a record for advance ticket sales on Fandango for a superhero movie (via Variety). It had the fifth-best opening of all time, with $179.1 million, and gave Disney it's 11th #1 box office topper out of those last 21 weekends (via New York Times).

Although it saw a 59.5% drop-off the following weekend, the not-too-shabby total of $72.6 million ranked it as the eighth-largest second weekend of all time, while the movie became the fourth Marvel film to surpass a billion dollars worldwide.

2016 was quite a year for Disney, which by summer held a third of market share, with "Civil War" joining hits "Zootopia" and "The Jungle Book" as box office successes. It prompted studio distribution head Dave Hollis to tell The Wrap, "We're in the midst of fantastic run," adding, "We're excited about what's coming."

12. Iron Man 3 (2013) - $408,913,036

Shane Black made a name for himself penning the screenplays for '80s classics like "Lethal Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," but his name didn't appear in any credits until he returned to filmmaking in 2005, writing and directing "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." That film starred Robert Downey Jr, who said it was "in some ways the best film I've ever done," and acknowledged that it helped him land the role of Iron Man. That all came full circle when Black signed on to direct and co-write "Iron Man 3."

As the first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry to follow in the mammoth footsteps of "The Avengers," "Iron Man 3" featured Pepper Potts' return to action, while Ben Kingsley joined as fake baddie The Mandarin. While it couldn't quite live up to the numbers for "The Avengers," it chipped in the second best opening ever at $174.1 million. Disney's head of distribution, Dave Hollis, divulged to EW, "We sat here a year ago with 'The Avengers,' and there was speculation of what the impact of what such a big weekend and the coming together of all these heroes might mean for each of the subsequent films, and we're first-hand witnessing that the brand is as strong as it's ever been."

11. Toy Story 3 (2010) - $409,214,041

Ever since 1995's "Toy Story" stole audiences' hearts, Pixar kept rolling out one hit release after another, including 1999's "Toy Story 2." But it would take more than a decade to get a third one in theaters. Lee Unkrich got the sole directorial honors for "Toy Story 3," which finds Andy departing for college, leaving Woody and the gang's ownership up for grabs. Unkrich felt the pressure of the franchise's artistic and financial weight, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "We've all seen other quality film series go off the tracks when they hit Number 3. We just wanted to do whatever we could to not let that happen." 

"Toy Story 3" went full steam ahead and pulled into the station with $110.3 million, scoring the biggest opening domestic weekend for a G-rated movie ever, a mark it would hold only until "Toy Story 4" surpassed it. Even before summer's end, with its domestic and international takes combined, it became the first animated film to cross the billion dollar mark. Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross proclaimed in a press release, "These box office triumphs prove that creative storytelling brought to life by imaginative, inspired and talented professionals is something audiences respond to the world over."

10. Wonder Woman (2017) - $409,841,142

After directing Charlize Theron to Oscar gold in her 2003 directorial debut, "Monster," it would take 14 years for Patty Jenkins to release a follow-up. But it was one that made her the first woman to direct a superhero movie, and only the second woman to helm a film with a budget over $100 million.

"Wonder Woman" was a dream project for Jenkins, who told CBS, "[I've] heard people say for many years, 'Ah, nobody would go see a female superhero film, women don't like action,' all those things. That part of me is watching, saying, 'Ah, let's prove them wrong.'"

The Gal Gadot-starring film proved them all wrong with a healthy opening of $103.2 million, breaking Sam Taylor-Johnson's hold on having the largest opening by a female director with her "Fifty Shades of Grey." Senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told CNN, "Any ridiculous notion that a woman may not be suited to direct a big budget superhero movie is hopefully once and for all shattered."

Within a single week of release, even kindergarten teachers were noticing the effects the film had on their students. One teacher said, "Imagine what the next generation will achieve if we give them more movies like 'Wonder Woman,'" to which Jenkins replied, "This makes every hard day worth it."

9. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) - $415,439,855

The second installment in the "Jurassic World" trilogy finds Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and other concerned human parties in a world of trouble as they return to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano. Spanish director J.A. Bayona drew real-life parallels from the film, telling Vanity Fair, "We are living in a time of monsters right now, but we also need monsters, we need fantasy to process what we are going through."

With a production budget of $170 million, and a promotional and marketing tally that topped that number by $15 million, the fifth "Jurassic" film dropped into theaters a week after "Incredibles 2" did incredible business. Earning $148 million on its first weekend, "Fallen Kingdom" became Universal's second biggest opener of all time, trailing only the $208.8 million gross of the original "Jurassic World." Universal's head of domestic distribution, Jim Orr, told Variety, "We are obviously thrilled with our opening at the North American box office ... [J.A. Bayona] really crafted an extraordinarily intense film."

8. Toy Story 4 (2019) - $431,263,269

"Toy Story" films are precious animated treasures, with almost a decade separating the releases of the second, third, and fourth installments. Voice actor Tom Hanks (Woody) told Mama's Geeky, "I have always been dazzled when they come back and say we're going to try another one. The question is always, really? Ain't you guys bold. You think? You think you can match that last one we did. Good luck."

In his feature directorial debut, it was up to Josh Cooley to keep the franchise flame ablaze in "Toy Story 4." In this whirlwind adventure, the gang hits the road, reuniting with old friends, discovering new ones (hello Forky), facing off against their first female villain, and spending a lot of time in a dusty antique mall filled with over 10,000 pieces of gems, junk and Pixar Easter eggs. Round 4 made child's play out of the other new option in theaters, "Child's Play," and marked the best weekend debut for the franchise, with $120.9 million. It stayed #1 the following week, dispatching newcomers "Annabelle Comes Home" and "Yesterday," slipping to #3 the following week when "Spider Man: Far From Home" swung into cineplexes.

Disney's president of global distribution, Cathleen Taff, told Vanity Fair that the success of all four "Toy Story" films was "a testament to the team's commitment to excellence." That excellence netted "Toy Story 4" an Oscar for Best Animated Feature a year later.

7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - $434,564,293

"The Dark Knight Rises" was the culmination of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but sadly, the real world overshadowed its release on July 20th, when a gunman terrorized an Aurora, Colorado midnight screening, murdering a dozen moviegoers and wounding 70 in a mass shooting.

Nolan penned a heartfelt statement, saying, "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me."

Thereafter, security was beefed up at theaters, some banned patrons from wearing masks, and out of respect for the victims, Warner Bros. Pictures held off on box office reports until Monday. Despite it all, "The Dark Knight Rises" set a single-day record for a 2D film and rose to the tune of $160.8 million that first weekend, not even falling out of the top 10 until mid-September.

After the tragedy, there was a shift away from opening only with midnight previews to screenings starting much earlier on Thursday evenings (via The Hollywood Reporter).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

6. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - $458,387,118

Following up 2012's gargantuan "The Avengers," one of the top-grossing films of all time, was always going to be a tall task, and when "Avengers: Age of Ultron" kicked off the summer of 2015, the romantic fantasy "The Age of Adaline" wasn't its only source of competition. That same weekend saw the NBA playoffs in full swing, the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, and the "fight of the century," with Floyd Mayweather Jr. going the distance against Manny Pacquiao in the ring.

Some of these events were actually seen as reasons why the sequel couldn't quite live up to the original on its opening weekend, although a take of $84.5 million on opening day and $191.2 over the entire first weekend helped it rank 2nd behind the final Harry Potter installment and "The Avengers" for those two respective milestones. Four weeks after its release, it crossed the $400 million mark domestically, and currently ranks within the top 25 for top lifetime grosses.

This sequel, which saw the Marvel crew reteaming to battle the title artificial intelligence, who's hellbent on destroying humankind, was again co-written and directed by Joss Whedon. He found the process exhausting, and told Variety that the "absurdly personal movie ... talked about how I felt about humanity, and what it means, in very esoteric and bizarre ways, for hundreds of billions of dollars. The fact that Marvel gave me that opportunity is so bonkers, and so beautiful."

5. Finding Dory (2016) - $483,131,077

The success of 2003's "Finding Nemo" almost tore Pixar and Disney apart, but ultimately tied the two animation giants together, with everyone clamoring for a sequel. 13 years later, "Finding Dory" delivered a story centered on the blue tang fish character voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, as she searches for her parents, with a little help from her colorful finned friends.

Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis summarized the built-in audience for the much anticipated sequel by telling Deadline, "The original movie is so beloved and a part of our culture ... At the time, it was the biggest animation release of all time and left an indelible mark for great reason, and now there's an insatiable want-to-see."

In its first weekend, opening opposite the Kevin Hart-Dwayne Johnson yuk fest "Central Intelligence," "Finding Dory" set the high mark for best single day for an animated film ever at the box office, as well as the weekend as a whole, knocking "Shrek the Third" from the throne. It held on to the top spot at the box office for two more weeks, and ended the year as its highest grossing domestic release.

2016 was quite a divisive year in America, and DeGeneres told Curve magazine that "Finding Dory" was a much-welcomed tonic: "A film that puts that positive message out there, distracts people from what's happening, is exactly what we all need."

4. The Lion King (2019) - $524,913,439

Since the early 2010s, Disney started spinning new gold out of the old by making live-action versions of their classic animated films — breathing human life into titles like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Beauty and The Beast." Photo-realistic animated animals took a great leap forward in 2016 with Jon Favreau's "The Jungle Book," and the Mouse House was so impressed that they tapped him to tame the wilds of "The Lion King." 

Favreau re-enlisted the talents of James Earl Jones, Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice, and Elton John, who all helped to shape the 1994 Oscar winner and all-time king of hand animation films, while also signing up an all-star pride of new voice actors, including the likes of Beyoncé, Donald Glover, and even John Oliver.

In the final summer before the pandemic hit — disrupting not just the world, but the motion picture industry as well — Disney's live action (or is it animated??) take on "The Lion King" roared mightily at the box office. Cashing in with an opening weekend gross of $191.7 million dollars, Favreau's film set the high mark for biggest July opener ever, and by the time its run ended over Thanksgiving weekend, it held the title of highest grossing remake of all time, both domestically and internationally. It currently ranks within the Top 15 of all-time domestic grosses, while Favreau holds the 15th spot for top grossing director in North America (two places above George Lucas).

3. Incredibles 2 (2018) - $603,113,505

Brad Bird's first Pixar film, 2004's Oscar-winning "The Incredibles" — about a family of superheroes hiding in plain sight — logged the fifth best box office take that year. 14 years later, Bird was ready to return to Metroville and let the Parr clan save the day again. 

Despite a turbulent path to the screen, with shifting schedules and changing villains, plus the overshadowing news (via The New York Times) of Pixar chief John Lasseter exiting the company, it seemed like nothing could stop the colossal that was "Incredibles 2" when it hit theaters. Debuting with $182.6 million, it topped "Finding Dory" from the same studio to become the biggest opener for an animated movie, and eighth best for any type of movie. It currently holds the domestic record for all-time gross for a PG movie, in the process pushing iconic films like "Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" a rung lower on the list.

Brad Bird found the happy returns to be a relief, but tried not to dwell on the numbers, admitting to Den of Geek, "There are a million logical reasons to not make a film, and I think, if you get focused on all the critics, or money, or any of that other stuff, it never leads anywhere good."

2. The Avengers (2012) - $620,628,446

2012 didn't get off to the most auspicious start for Disney when "John Carter" turned out to be a financial disaster, costing the studio's head of filmmaking his job. Luckily, help was soon on the way in the form of the sixth Marvel Cinematic Universe film, which assembled all our favorite screen heroes into one titanic adventure. Joss Whedon had the Herculean task to wrangle all those super characters and create a cohesive big screen spectacle with "The Avengers" (not to be confused with the Ralph Fiennes-Uma Thurman-Sean Connery misfire).

Marvel films were once seen as risky prospects, and have since became sure things, but studio boss Kevin Feige stressed to Variety, "The main idea is to make a movie that appeals to both the fanboys and fangirls who have known these characters for years and to those who are hearing about them for the first time in the trailer. It's a bit of a fine line."

The fine line they straddled for "The Avengers" hit the bullseye, with a then all-time domestic weekend gross of $207.4 million, a huge number that has since been surpassed. That total is still good enough to hold the record for top May opener ever, and biggest domestic non-sequel debut. "The Avengers" topped out after the summer with $623.3 million, and it currently ranks as the 10th highest grossing domestic film of all time.

1. Jurassic World (2015) - $647,728,196

The original "Jurassic Park" trilogy set a high benchmark for box office success, totaling over $767 million dollars in their cumulative domestic release. Dormant for 14 years, the franchise started anew when Steven Spielberg was impressed with Colin Trevorrow's 2012 indie, "Safety Not Guaranteed," and gave him the keys to open up "Jurassic World." Trevorrow wasn't a fan of the existing screenplay and wrote his own, telling IndieWire, "If the movie is a failure, it has to be my fault. I can't have anyone else to blame. If it's a success, then it belongs to all of us."

Fans of the old films and newcomers were more than ready to enter this new "World," and showed that the franchise still had plenty of (dinosaur) legs left. "Jurassic World" spent three weeks straight at #1, with the first weekend tallying $208.8 million. That was good enough to slightly edge out "The Avengers" for best opening ever, which even had Marvel chief Kevin Feige giving props to "Jurassic World," tweeting his congratulations to all parties involved, including his Star-Lord, and the star of "Jurassic World," Chris Pratt.

Spielberg himself was impressed with the movie that currently ranks as the 8th highest grossing domestic film of all time, saying in a featurette, "To see 'Jurassic World' come to life is almost like seeing 'Jurassic Park' come true," adding that it went down "an original road that none of the other movies dared to travel."