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Percentage-Wise, The 20 Most Profitable Movies of All Time

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 28, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 28, 2010 |

In furtherance of my lifelong obsession with box-office numbers, I had every intention this morning of spending a couple of hours pouring over box-office grosses and comparing them to budgets to arrive at the ten most profitably movies of all time, on a percentage basis. As it turns out, the good people over at The Numbers have not only already compiled such a list, but they included the Top 20 most profitable movies of all time, percentage-wise. I’m not petty enough to deprive you of such information just because I didn’t compile it, so I offer you their list and also encourage box-office enthusiasts to check out The Numbers.

Note that the following revenue numbers do not include DVD sales or other ancillary revenue.

1. Paranormal Activity (Budget: $15,000; Revenue: $193 million): 645,801.51%

2. Tarnation (Budget: $218; Revenue: $1.1 million): 266,416.97%

3. Mad Max (Budget: $200,000; Revenue $99.7 million): 24,837.50%

4. Super Size Me (Budget: $65,000; Revenue: $29,529,368): 22,614.90%

5. The Blair Witch Project (Budget: $600,000; Revenue: $248 million): 20,591.67%

6. Night of the Living Dead (Budget:$114,000; Revenue: $30 million): 13,057.89%

7. Rocky (Budget: $1 million; Revenue: $225 million): 11,150.00%

8. Halloween (Budget: $325,000; Revenue: $70 million): 10,669.23%

9. American Graffiti: (Budget: $777,000; Revenue: $140 million): 8,909.01%

10. Once (Budget: $150,000; Revenue: $18 million): 6,232.39%

11. The Stewardesses (Budget: $200,000; Revenue: $25 million): 6,150.00%

12. Napoleon Dynamite (Budget: $400,000; Revenue: $46 million): 5,667.62%

13. Friday the 13th (Budget: $550,000; Revenue: $59,7 million): 5,332.24%

14. Open Water (Budget: $500,000; Revenue: $52,100,882): 5,110.09%

15. Gone with the Wind (Budget: $3.9 million; Revenue: $390 million): 4,906.73%

16. The Birth of a Nation (Budget: $110,000; Revenue: $11,000,000): 4,900.00%

17. The Big Parade (Budget: $245,000; Revenue: $22 million): 4,389.80%

18. Saw (Budget: $1.2 million; Revenue: $103 million): 4,195.68%

19. Primer (Budget: $7,000; Revenue: $565,846): 3,941.76%

20. The Evil Dead (Budget: $375,000; Revenue: $29,400,000): 3,820.00%

Out of added curiosity, where applicable (and in an effort to supply my own original content), I’ve looked at the follow-up efforts of the above directors to see how profitable their sophomore efforts were. I wanted to see if there were any sort of trends I could pick up based on the follow-ups to mostly low and micro-budget films. However, there’s no consistent trend; some directors went on to have hugely successful careers, while others faded almost immediately into obscurity.

1. Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli is in the process of filming Area 51.

2. Tarnation’s Jonathan Caouette has had a couple of festival circuit docs, but no major releases since 2003’s Tarnation.

3. Mad Max. George Miller’s follow-up, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, made $23 million on a $2 million budget.

4. Super Size Me. Morgan Spurlock’s follow-up doc, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? made $348,000. Budget figures are not available.

5. The Blair Witch Project’s Daniel Myrick has made a few films, but the only one that’s apparently gotten an actual release is a movie called The Objective, which cost $1.8 million to make and made $95 in theaters. No, not $95 million or even $95,000. $95 dollars.

6. Night of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead made $55 million on a $900,000 budget, but that was ten years later. His follow-up was a movie called There’s Always Vanilla, which cost $70,000 to make. There are no box office figures available for that movie. I doubt it was very successful, but of course, Romero would redeem himself many times over.

7. Rocky: Rocky was a mid-career effort for John G. Avildsen. His follow-up was Slow Dancing in the Big City, which made a modest $11 million in 1978. There are no budget figures available (Avildsen would, however, redeem himself with Karate Kid in 1984).

8. Halloween: Halloween was John Carpenter’s ninth directorial effort; he followed it up on the big screen with The Fog, which made a solid $21 million on a $1 million budget.

9. American Graffiti: I’d say Graffiti’s director, George Lucas, did pretty well with his follow-up, Star Wars which made $460 million on a $13 million budget.

10. Once: John Carney hasn’t had a theatrical release since 2006’s Once.

11. The Stewardesses: Al Silliman Jr. only made one film after The Stewardesses, a movie called The Surfers, made nine years later. No figures are available.

12. Napoleon Dynamite: Jared Hess’ follow-up, Nacho Libre made $28 million on a $32 million budget.

13. Friday the 13th: Sean S. Cunningham followed up 13th with A Stranger is Watching which was released in only New York City (and has no budget/box-office figures available). Cunningham had one minor movie left in the tank, Spring Break, which made $6 million (no budget figures available).

14. Open Water’s Chris Kentis hasn’t made a film since Water was released in 2003.

15. Gone with the Wind: Victor Fleming’s first credited follow-up to Wind was 1941’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No figures are available.

16. The Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith’s follow-up was Intolerance, released in 1916. Obviously, there are no figures available, though it was well received by critics. Also, Griffith was a racist asshole. But talented!

17. The Big Parade: King Vidor made La boheme in 1925. No figures available.

18. Saw: James Wan followed up Saw four years later with Dead Silence. It made $22 million worldwide ($17 million in the US) on a $20 million budget.

19. Primer: Shane Carruth still hasn’t made a follow-up to Primer.

20. The Evil Dead: Sam Rami’s follow-up to The Evil Dead actually wasn’t Evil Dead II, it was Crimewave, written by the Coen Brothers. It was a box-office failure, making only $3,500 on a $3 million budget.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.