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11. Jaws (1975)

Return on investment: 1308%
Budget $36 million (inflation-adjusted)
Gross revenue $471 million

Prior to 1975, Steven Spielberg had directed four films, none of which performed that remarkably. However, his fifth film, Jaws, made him a household name. It so terrified filmgoers with its depiction of a shark’s reign of terror that it was responsible for more empty beaches than BP.

Based on the Peter Benchley book of the same name, Jaws had a relatively low budget and the constant breaking down of the mechanical shark forced Spielberg to keep it off camera for the majority of the movie. This led to the unbearable tension for which the movie is still famous and for the giddy payoff of its final reels, when we see the shark in all its glory. Word spread quickly about the terrifying new movie, and to date it has grossed over $470 million, over thirteen times its cost.

Photo: Universal Pictures