Star Wars for more than 40 years, has been an enduring force within the pop culture landscape. From A New Hope to The Mandalorian, George Lucas’ beloved creation has entertained generations and inspired one of the most sprawling franchises in history. It also happens to be, unsurprisingly, one of the most financially successful. That’s exactly why Disney paid $4.05 billion to purchase Lucasfilm in 2012.
Since its inception, the Star Wars franchise has grossed more than $10 billion at the global box office. From some of the biggest movies of all time to some truly unexpected disappointments, the iconic sci-fi series has truly run the gamut. But which ones made the most money? Which ones underperformed? We’re here to break down every Star Wars movie’s performance at the box office.
12Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The often forgotten relic of the franchise cinematically, 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the first animated movie in the history of the series. The first several episodes of the Cartoon Network series, which went on to have an incredibly successful run, were repurposed as a feature-length movie that made its way to theaters. Unfortunately, those first few episodes were rough. Stitched together as a movie, it failed to capture the attention of the fanbase, just a few years removed from Revenge of the Sith. The critically-lamented Clone Wars movie earned just $68.9 million worldwide during its run. However, it did serve as the humble start to a show that became a pillar of the Star Wars universe. Things just got off to a bumpy start.
11Solo: A Star Wars Story
This is truly the only failure, relatively speaking, when it comes to live-action Star Wars movies. Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in May 2018, just a handful of months after the release of The Last Jedi, which proved to be the most divisive entry in the history of the franchise. That, coupled with a troubled production, which saw Ron Howard take over as director more than halfway through the shoot, proved to be a recipe for disaster. Han Solo’s solo outing, which stars Alden Ehrenreich as the character first brought to life by Harrison Ford, earned a mere $393.1 million globally. That would be a success for certain blockbusters. But this is Star Wars we’re talking about. Not only that but, due to extensive reshoots, the budget ballooned to a reported $275 million. No matter how you slice it, that’s rough.
10Return of the Jedi
This is where things get interesting. Time lends perspective and it’s important to remember; this is all relative. Return of the Jedi served as the conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy. Many likely thought this would be the end of the franchise. Richard Marquand directed Episode VI, which earned $475.1 million worldwide. At the time, international markets weren’t nearly as big as they are now. The breakdown was $309.2 million domestic and $165.9 internationally. Not to mention this doesn’t account for inflation. Plus, the movie was made for a budget of just $32.5 million. That means it earned more than 14 times what it cost to produce. So, even though it’s relatively low on the list, make no mistake, Return of the Jedi was, and still is, a massively successful movie.
9The Empire Strikes Back
To this very day, The Empire Strikes Back is still widely considered to be the peak of the Star Wars franchise, in addition to being one of the greatest sequels ever made. It also had the impossible burden of having to follow the original 1977 sci-fi classic, which was, at the time, the single biggest movie ever. No pressure. Directed by Irvin Kershner, Episode V exceeded expectations and became a true cinematic classic that proved Star Wars was more than a one-and-done hit. It also earned a tremendous amount of money by 1980 standards, taking in $549 million globally. That would be a damn fine total even by modern high bars that are set for most blockbusters. And it doesn’t hurt that those returns were accomplished with a budget of less than $25 million.
8Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones was so many things. A sequel that had to both improve upon the critical disappointment of The Phantom Menace, the first entry in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. The middle entry in the saga of Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. The first major Hollywood production to be shot entirely on digital, as opposed to film. A Star Wars movie with much less Jar Jar Binks and much more Yoda with a lightsaber. It was a lot. To what degree it succeeded as a cinematic story can be debated for days. It was, at the end of the day, a middling financial success, relative to the rest of the franchise. Episode II took in $656.6 million worldwide. Taking into account the $115 million production budget it certainly made a great deal of money, though not as much as its predecessor. But the fact that an entry many consider to be a major low-point for the series managed to make so much money demonstrates why Star Wars, to this day, is so very valuable in the media landscape.
7A New Hope
This is it. This is where it all began. George Lucas delivered one of the all-time cinematic classics in 1977 with Star Wars, later subtitled to include Episode IV and A New Hope. Fox famously had little to no faith in the movie. It’s easy to take for granted now but at the time, this didn’t seem, on paper, like a blockbuster waiting to happen. But Lucas delivered the goods in a way nobody could have possibly predicted. It became, without exaggeration, the biggest movie the world had ever seen. To date, the movie has earned $773.3 million globally. That would be tremendous even today. But when the relatively tiny $11 million budget is factored in, one could still argue this is the single biggest cinematic win in history. Not to mention the untold millions it generated in merchandise sales. Much of which went directly to Lucas since he locked up the merchandising rights in what has to be one of the great business moves in the history of Hollywood as well.
6Revenge of the Sith
By the time Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in 2005, it seemed some things came together for the prequel trilogy. The story of Anakin Skywalker was reaching its conclusion. George Lucas had refined things a bit. Less Jar Jar, more of what people want to see. Lightsabers. Space battles. Meaningful drama. And, at the time, many fans assumed this was the last Star Wars movie they were ever going to see. The final product is the closest the prequels came to delivering a truly great movie. And it paid off. People wanted to see how this played out. Riding a wave of generally positive reviews, at least compared to the preceding two movies, Episode III earned an extremely good $848.9 million at the box office, including $468.7 domestically. Even taking its $115 million production budget into account, this was a home run. It turned out not to be the final entry in the Skywalker saga though, thanks in large part to Disney.
5The Phantom Menace
There was a time when the world thought Return of the Jedi was it for Star Wars. Yes, hardcore fans could turn to novels such as the Heir to the Empire trilogy, video games and comics. But for the general public, there were no movies. No TV shows. Then, George Lucas decided it was time to show us Episodes I through III. Show us the journey that Anakin Skywalker took to become Darth Vader. We can argue ad nauseam about the successes and failures of The Phantom Menace but there is no denying that in 1999, this felt like the biggest pop culture moment in history. People flooded theaters just to see the trailer in the era before such things were readily available on YouTube. It simply cannot be overstated just how big of a deal this was. And, regardless of the reception, it performed like gangbusters at the box office. Episode I has earned $1.02 billion since its debut, in part thanks to a 3D re-release. While it is, or at least was prior to 2020, becoming somewhat commonplace for movies to pass the $1 billion milestone, The Phantom Menace earning the kind of money it did when it did was virtually unheard of.
4Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion in 2012, it was assumed the studio would make use of the franchise beyond just making another trilogy. But 2016’s Rogue One was certainly a risk. Not counting the pair of Ewok movies that are not considered canon, no spin-offs had ever been attempted. This was going to tell the story of how the Death Star plans wound up in the hands of the Rebel Alliance, focusing largely on new characters. The presence of Darth Vader certainly helped director Gareth Edwards out but this presented a test for Star Wars that it hadn’t faced. It was a painstaking process with reshoots, help from Tony Gilroy and much speculation ahead of its release. In the end, Rogue One was a huge success, taking in $1.05 billion globally, including a stellar $522.9 domestically. This proved that the franchise had gas in the tank beyond the Skywalker saga, which means Disney can keep milking this cash cow for years to come.
3The Rise of Skywalker
2019’s The Rise of Skywalker did not have an easy path to walk down. This was not only the conclusion to Disney’s sequel trilogy but it had to follow-up The Last Jedi, which wound up being a shockingly divisive movie. J.J. Abrams, who had previously re-introduced Star Wars to the masses once again with The Force Awakens, returned to finish what he started, attempting to please everyone and close out the saga in satisfying fashion. To what degree the movie was successful will be debated from now until the end of time. But it was another financial success for the Disney era of Lucasfilm, taking in $1.07 billion globally. Granted, there was quite the drop-off between Episode VIII and Episode IX to the tune of nearly $260 million. Be that as it may, any time a movie grosses $1 billion or more, it is tough to call that a failure.
2The Last Jedi
Director Rian Johnson was tasked with taking over for J.J. Abrams following the release of The Force Awakens, which was hugely successful and kicked off the sequel trilogy in a big way. Johnson’s The Last Jedi, released in 2017, remains the most divisive entry in the history of Star Wars. Disney and Lucasfilm seemed blindsided by the sharp divide among fans and critics. A loud, particularly vocal minority of The Last Jedi haters online truly poisoned the well and made the situation ugly in the months that followed. Be that as it may, moviegoers turned out in droves to see Episode VIII, which promised to bring Luke Skywalker back to the forefront following his momentary appearance at the end of The Force Awakens. The movie earned $1.33 billion at the worldwide box office, including an amazing $620.1 million domestically. Divisive though it may be, The Last Jedi ranks as the 14th highest-grossing movie in history.
1The Force Awakens
It is hard to imagine, especially with the uncertainty movie theaters are facing, that we will ever see a cinematic moment as big as The Force Awakens ever again. While The Phantom Menace marked a massive return for Star Wars, this was truly on another level. Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and planned to continue the Skywalker saga. Not looking back but looking forward. The original trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all coming back. Han Solo, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker (sort of) together again. It was huge.
From the moment the words “Chewie, we’re home” were uttered, it was game over. In 2015, when director J.J. Abrams introduced us to Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren, the entire world, it seemed, showed up to soak in Episode VII on the big screen. Earning a record $247.9 million on its opening weekend, The Force Awakens went on to earn an incredible $936.6 million at the domestic box office alone, a record that still stands and may well never be broken. It finished with $2.06 billion globally becoming just the third movie ever, at the time, to pass the $2 billion milestone. It still ranks as the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time and, by a wide margin, the biggest Star Wars movie of all time, in terms of pure earnings.