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On Friday, “Snow White and the Huntsman” will debut on movie screens across North America. The film is a live-action retelling of the “Snow White” legend, starring Charlize Theron as the wicked queen and Kristen Stewart of the “Twilight” saga as the fairest one of all. The budget for the film is $170 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The amount is actually relatively modest for the fantasy genre, in which films with budgets exceeding $200 million are par for the course. “John Carter,” which was released in March and had a budget of $250 million, had an opening-weekend domestic box office take of $36 million, making it one of the first major flops of 2012. But that’s fantasy filmmaking for you. It’s a high-risk genre that requires spectacular visual effects and huge budgets, and the potential for failure is immense. When a fantasy movie connects with audiences, however, a potential gold mine awaits, with sequels, prequels and spin-offs extending into the next decade and beyond.
CNBC.com collected the domestic gross box office of fantasy movies, using data from BoxOfficeMojo.com and adjusting the numbers for inflation to see which fantasy movies, as defined by BoxOfficeMojo.com, are the highest grossing of all time. Read ahead to find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Updated 29 May 2012
Domestic gross: $89 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $93 million
“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is a 2010 movie based on the 2005 book “The Lightning Thief.” The book is one of a series of five stories about a modern-day teenager who discovers he’s the demigod son of Poseidon, the ancient Greek sea deity.
The movie was directed by Chris Columbus, who helmed three of the “Harry Potter” films, and many critics compared it unfavorably to that franchise. U.S. audiences felt the same way, and the movie fell short of making back its $95 million production budget. It did much better in international markets though, so a sequel is currently scheduled for March 2013.
Domestic gross: $91 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $115 million
1999’s “The Mummy” was based on the 1932 Boris Karloff movie of the same name, and its international box office take of almost $416 million made a sequel a foregone conclusion. That sequel, 2001’s “The Mummy Returns,” featured former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a supporting role as an undead warrior called the Scorpion King. It was even more successful than the original, so it spawned 2002’s “The Scorpion King,” which expanded Johnson’s small role to that of the main character.
The movie didn’t match the success of the “Mummy” films, and critics dismissed it as a substandard knock-off of “Conan the Barbarian.” It did well enough, however, to spawn the 2008 direct-to-DVD feature “The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior,” which is a prequel to the 2002 film, making it a prequel to a spin-off of a sequel to a remake.
Domestic Gross: $132 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $137 million
“The Last Airbender” is a 2010 film directed by M. Night Shyamalan of “The Sixth Sense” fame. The movie is based on “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” an animated series that aired on the Nickelodeon network from 2005 to 2008. The movie is a big-budget, live-action martial arts adventure in 3D aimed at the ‘tween demographic.
The movie was eaten alive by critics, who hated it with the intensity of a thousand suns. One such critic was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who called it “an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” The film had a respectable domestic box office take of $132 million, but don’t expect a movie this universally loathed to spawn a sequel.
Domestic Gross: $163 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $169 million
In 1981, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released “Clash of the Titans,” an adaptation of the ancient Greek myth of Perseus. It featured such movie royalty as Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith but, more important, it was the last movie made by legendary visual effects man Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion artistry graced such classics as “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts.”
A 2010 remake rendered the story in 3D and used state-of-the-art digital effects. Critics didn’t particularly care for it, but it was popular enough with audiences to justify a sequel, “Wrath of the Titans,” which is scheduled to open in U.S. theaters on March 30.
Domestic Gross: $181 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $182 million
The 2011 movie “Thor” is based on the Marvel Comic of the same name. The titular hammer-wielding Norse god is banished by Odin from the magical realm of Asgard, and he ends up in present-day New Mexico, where he does battle against his ne’er-do-well brother Loki.
The movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, whose past directorial efforts included adaptations of Shakespeare, and it stars such Oscar-winning actors as Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. But the main attractions here were action and 3D, which “Thor” provided enough of to bring it a respectable take at the U.S. box office.
Average Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Gross Per Film (2012): $199 million
“The Chronicles of Narnia” is a series of children’s fantasy books written in the 1950s by C.S. Lewis. It’s been adapted several times for several different mediums, including television, radio and the stage, but it wasn’t until 2005’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that it was brought to movie theaters.
The first film in the franchise grossed $292 million domestically, the equivalent of $339 million in 2012 dollars. However, subsequent films, such as 2008’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and 2010’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” failed to replicate the success of the original, and plans to adapt the remaining four books in the series are currently on hold.
Domestic Gross: $120 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $200 million
“Hook” is a 1991 sequel to “Peter Pan” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Robin Williams as the adult Peter who, contrary to his earlier assertions, grew up. He has forgotten his entire childhood, including his adventures with Wendy, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys, but when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children, he returns to Neverland to reclaim them from his manually challenged nemesis.
Despite its star power, “Hook” was poorly received by critics, but audiences responded enthusiastically and it did brisk business when it was released. It went on to become the highest-grossing pirate-themed movie ever made, until it was supplanted by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, which bumped it down to fifth place.
Average Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Gross Per Film (2012): $338 million
There can scarcely be a person alive who doesn’t know about the “Harry Potter” film series. However, for the benefit of those who somehow don’t know about it, it’s a series of eight films based on the novels by J.K. Rowling about a teenaged wizard.
For a full decade the franchise reigned supreme at the box office. Unlike many films in the fantasy genre, the “Harry Potter” movies have all received high praise from critics, and from Rowling herself. The series ended in 2011 with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.”
Domestic Gross: $334 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2012): $347 million
Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” has been the subject of countless adaptations, including several television specials and theatrical films, the earliest of which was a silent movie released in 1903. Over 100 years later, the newest film version was released and it became one of the highest-grossing movies ever.
The 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” stars Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and was directed by Tim Burton, whose flair for the fantastic has been on full display for decades in such films as “Edward Scissorhands” and the 2005 adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The film was the second-highest-grossing movie of 2010, behind “Toy Story 3.”
Average Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Gross Per Film (2012): $434 million
For years, filmmakers had attempted to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy of books to movie screens. The effort was abandoned by numerous film studios, all of whom deemed it too costly to pull off, but in 1997 New Zealand’s Peter Jackson won the rights to direct the film, and New Line Cinema agreed to pay the bills.
It was a huge risk. All three films were shot simultaneously, with a budget of just under $100 million per installment, so if the public didn’t like the first one, the entire franchise would die a very slow, expensive and excruciating public death. Luckily, the films were hugely successful, and each one made more money than the one before it. It was such a success that Jackson has gone back to the Tolkien trough, and in December 2012, the first half of the two-part adaptation of “The Hobbit” is scheduled to be released, with the other half to be released one year later.
If you're interested in more dwarves, battle-axes and dark magic, then watch this extended first look at Snow White and The Huntsman.