Ten Highest Grossing Films of 2008


Next week, Commentary Track will start rolling out its writers’ picks for the top films of 2008. And with the Oscars approaching, there is a lot of buzz about what the best films of last year were. But, suppose you don’t care about that and want to know what the most popular films of last year were. We’ve got you covered.

We haven’t been spending a lot of time on box office receipts lately, so this is as good a place as any to announce that the Box Office Recap feature will return in March. It will be monthly, and list the three highest-grossing films of each week from the month before and the ten highest-grossing films from two months before (to allow films to get a full run). We’ll also bring back the Box Office Recap game, where you’ll be asked to pick the three highest-grossing films of the month.

This year’s list brings the usual fare. We have three superhero films, four animated features, and two films featuring iconic action heroes. There are a couple surprises, though. First of all, only four of these films are sequels, proving that Hollywood may still have original ideas. And, perhaps most strangely, two of the year’s most critically acclaimed films appear on this list.

For the record, the revenues are pulled from domestic gross receipts. Title links are to Commentary Track reviews.

1. The Dark Knight ($533 million) – This is one of those films that exhibits the rare confluence of critical acclaim and mass appeal. It seems like everyone was talking about this film, even those who are not huge film buffs. This ended up being the second-highest grossing film of all-time domestically (behind Titanic) and fourth worldwide. I think this film raises the bar for all superhero movies. It’s a pretty safe bet that there will be a third film in this franchise, though nothing has yet been solidified.

2. Iron Man ($318 million) – Although not quite as good as The Dark Knight, this is still a solid entry to the superhero genre, mostly thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the arrogant heap of metal. I don’t know if comic books have quite entered the mainstream yet, but the comic book film certainly has. This franchise will probably be around for a while. Iron Man 2 is currently anticipated for May 2010.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($317 million) – Perhaps the most redeeming thing about this film is the fact that it inspired the phrase “nuking the fridge,” which is similar to a television show “jumping the shark.” (Referring, of course, to the ridiculous scene where Indy survives a nuclear explosion by hiding inside a refrigerator.) The phrase refers to a moment in a movie franchise that is so implausible and out of place that you cannot take it seriously any more. See also: the dance sequence in Spider-Man 3. Of course, everyone was excited about the first Indiana Jones film in nearly twenty years, and so people came out in droves opening weekend. My question is, after seeing such a poor film, will people come back for a fifth one? Not sure if this franchise will continue, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another film, perhaps without Ford and Spielberg.

4. Hancock ($228 million) – I have to admit that the trailers to this action-comedy looked really interesting, though I was disappointed by the execution. Of course, Will Smith could probably make $100 million releasing his home videos. You know the superhero genre has really arrived when a subversion of the genre could be so successful. The film doesn’t seem to be setting up a franchise, so I doubt we’ll see any sequels to this one.

5. WALL-E ($224 million) – Pixar makes its annual appearance on this list with a film that has won quite a few awards by critics’ associations at the best movie of 2008. This is a film that works on a lot of levels – it’s got elements of science fiction, silent films, and romantic comedies all at the same time. Up next for Pixar is, well, Up, about a widower who goes on an adventure by attaching balloons to his house. It releases on May 29.

6. Kung Fu Panda ($215 million) – Jack Black draws in the adults and the anthropomorphic animals draw in the kids. Is that how it works? This is the first film on this list that I haven’t seen, but I would probably recognize most of the characters from it. DreamWorks really did an excellent job marketing this film. Even though I don’t usually pay attention to ads for animated films, I couldn’t help but hear about this one. Kung Fu Panda 2 is currently scheduled for June 2011.

7. Twilight ($188 million) – And this is the odd man out. A film specifically targeted at the tweener crowd. What kid in that age range wouldn’t want to see a movie about sexy (though chaste) vampires? Based on a wildly popular series of young adult novels, this is not quite the next Harry Potter, but it’s pretty damn close. The sequel, New Moon, is supposed to be out in November.

8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($180 million) – A sequel to a popular animated film. Assuming that there’s a third film, I wonder what it’d be called. It’s difficult to make a pun out of the word “three.”

9. Quantum of Solace ($168 million) – A lot of people consider the previous James Bond film, Casino Royale to be one of the best films in the entire franchise. Of course people were excited to see the sequel. This was a disappointment, but, unlike the new Indiana Jones film, it did whet my appetite for yet another Bond film. Nothing is planned, as far as I can tell, but this is a franchise that could last forever.

10. Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears a Who! ($155 million) – I am wondering if this film was expected to do better. An animated feature based on Dr. Suess with the voices of Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey? Sounds like a winning combination to me.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad year for popular cinema. I’ve only seen six of the films on this list, but my understanding is that most of the films here were at least decent entertainment. I am hoping that the trend of trying to make these films that cater to mass audiences at least watchable will continue. Then again, there is a new Transformers film this summer.

4 responses to “Ten Highest Grossing Films of 2008

  1. Coincidentally I also saw six films that made the list (a slightly different six from yours) and enjoyed five. The exception was Hancock, the most disappointing film I saw in 2008. Not the worst film I saw – that dubious distinction goes to 10,000 B.C. – but the one that most significantly underperformed compared to my expectations.

    It would be interesting to compare this list to a list of the ten most profitable films of 2008. Anyone know of a website or other source for that info?

  2. I think that it’s difficult to get a list of the ten most profitable films, because studios don’t always release the budgets for films. Having said that, all kinds of charts are available at http://www.boxofficemojo.com.

    Hancock was a huge disappointment. I think the first half of the film is very good, but this film has the worst “twist” that I think I have ever seen.

  3. The list is a compelling reminder that there are vast under served markets out there, not least among them parents who want films they can take their younger children to. If the studios spent the sums on films for those markets that they spend on hyping their Oscar losers, they would get a better return on investment.

  4. I can’t believe I saw all of these top grossers. I thought I was a real conoisseur of film .



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