Most Billboard readers have at least a rough idea of the top albums and songs of each year but may be less familiar with the top box-office hits from each year. Fortunately, boxofficemojo.com has that information for each year dating back to 1977.
So what do we learn scrolling through the list of top-grossing films for each year since Jimmy Carter became president and Elvis Presley died? One thing that comes across loud and clear is the degree to which sequels and franchises have come to dominate the marketplace. Just four of the year-end box-office champs were films that were not part of franchises (or did not spark a franchise or a reboot of some kind). Those four films that stand alone are E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ghost and Titanic.
Star Wars is the top franchise on this recap, with six installments that have been the year’s top-grossing film. Batman is runner-up, with four installments that finished first for the year. Spider-Man is third, with three installments that yielded the year’s top box-office hit.
James Cameron and George Lucas are tied as the only directors who each directed three films that took the year-end crown. Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Tony Scott, Steven Spielberg, Andrew Stanton and Robert Zemeckis are tied for second place, each having directed two year-end champs.
John Williams is far and away the top film scorer. The legendary composer scored 10 films that took the year-end box-office crown. Danny Elfman and Alan Silvestri have each scored films that finished first four times. (Hans Zimmer will join them if Top Gun: Maverick, on which he teamed with Harold Faltermeyer and Lady Gaga to provide the music, finishes first for the year.)
Lucas and Williams are the only director/composer team to collaborate on three year-end box-office champs. Six other such teams have collaborated on two year-end champs: Spielberg and Williams; Zemeckis and Silvestri; Scott and Faltermeyer; Cameron and James Horner; Burton and Elfman; and Stanton and Thomas Newman.
Top Gun: Maverick is far out front for 2022 to date, with a domestic (U.S. and Canada) gross of more than $664 million. But it’s too early to crown Maverick as the year’s top-grossing film. Sequels to two other films that were the year’s top box-office hit, Avatar and Black Panther, are due later this year. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is scheduled for release on Nov. 11. Avatar: The Way of Water is due Dec. 16. If you think that’s too late for a film to have a realistic chance of taking the box-office crown by Dec. 31, just remember last year, when a film that was released on Dec. 17 (Spider Man: No Way Home) grossed enough in the last two weeks of the year to finish No. 1 for the year.
Let’s scroll back through the films that had the most success at the domestic box office (that’s the U.S. and Canada) in each calendar year since 1977, when Annie debuted on Broadway, Laverne & Shirley was the top TV show and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours dominated the Billboard 200.