When Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in October 1923, they had to squeeze their animation tools into the back half of a Hollywood real estate office.
One hundred years later, everyone knows the Disney name.
From Disney’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, in 1937, to more recent films like Avatar: The Way of Water, in 2022, many of Walt Disney Studios’ works became major box-office hits and score on the highest-grossing films of all time in the U.S.
Twelve of those top-100 films released in the last decade, but that era of domination may be closing. Three of the recent additions to the top 100 have come from other studios, including Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick, Universal’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Warner Brothers’ Barbie.
“I worry that (Disney’s) success may not last,” said Michael Cornick, a media professor at BYU-Idaho who runs the international cinema program. “Audiences are feeling the Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar fatigue.”
Regardless, Scroll collected data from BoxOfficeMojo’s inflation-adjusted rankings of the top 100 highest-grossing films in U.S. history, sorted by box-office earnings.
Disney’s top grossing films
After adjusting for inflation, Walt Disney Studios made 28 of the U.S. top highest-grossing movies of all time. They own another 16 through acquisitions, bringing the studio’s total to 44.
No other studio comes close. Amazon MGM Studios, Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures each own the second-most at 12, followed by Paramount Pictures with 10 and Sony Pictures with 9. Lionsgate, the only non-major studio on the list, distributed The Passion of the Christ (71).
Timeline of Disney’s films
Disney films from almost every decade have a place in the current top 100.
Walt Disney Studios found early success with animated films such as Cinderella in 1950 (66) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians in 1961 (12).
After releasing The Jungle Book (34) in 1967, it would be another 27 years before the studio experienced another hit.
Disney’s timeline of top 100 movies flatlines through the ’70s and ’80s. After Walt and Roy Disney died, the studio struggled to find success in films like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective.
The pivot back to musicals, starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989, paved the way for what historians call the Disney Renaissance.
Disney released many of its best-known works from 1989-1999, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Hercules. Despite the overall financial success of films from that era, only 1994’s The Lion King still breaks the top 100, at number 20.
The age of acquisition
These are the top 100 films ordered from oldest to newest.
From December 2015 to December 2019, Disney released 11 films that placed in the top 100, starting with The Force Awakens (11) and concluding with The Rise of Skywalker (91). In that same three-year period, no other publisher released any top 100 films.
That streak of 11 hits without any competitors is unprecedented in movie history.
The key to Disney’s domination in that period? Subsidiary studios.
Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 brought the Star Wars original trilogy and prequel trilogy under their domain. Every film from the Skywalker Saga except Episode II – Attack of the Clones placed in the top 100, as well as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
No movie from Marvel Studios had cracked the top 100 at the time Disney bought them, but they’ve scored recent hits in Avengers Endgame (16), The Avengers (29), Black Panther (31) and Avengers Infinity War (36).
Disney distributed all of Pixar’s films since 1999, but only 2003’s Finding Nemo (62) cracked the top 100 before Disney purchased Pixar in 2006. Recent hits like Incredibles 2 (50) and Finding Dory (82) make them a central part of Disney’s animation success.
Only two films from Walt Disney Studios, Disney’s flagship production company, have made the top 100 in recent years: live-action remakes of The Lion King (65) and Beauty and the Beast (80).
When Disney bought 20th Century Fox in 2019, their numbers suddenly doubled. Classics like The Sound of Music (3) and Avatar (15) joined the ranks, plus older pieces like The Towering Inferno (63) and The Poseidon Adventure (91).
The next hundred years
The movie industry continues to evolve. This year the industry saw a historic strike from the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild over the relationship between creators and studios.
The rise of streaming services, changing laws about copyright and Disney’s focus on intellectual properties continue to shift the industry.
Disney has nine releases planned for the rest of 2023, including Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels on Nov. 10 and Taika Watiti’s sports comedy Next Goal Wins on Nov. 17.