Which Movie Genres Earned The Most At The Box Office Between 1980 & 2020?

Published on April 28, 2021, 10:00 am
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Not everyone is a cinephile, but it is safe to say that most people enjoy a good movie now and then, whether it is something deep, action-packed, or just a casual feel-good popcorn flick. Nowadays, highly talented people around the world are involved in film making, but by far the most influential and popular place for this business is Hollywood. 

Directors, writers, composers, and sound and light engineers are the creative part of the industry, while machines like Hollywood are all about the business and making sure movies turn a profit. When it comes to huge blockbuster titles and big-budget films, studios have to make sure the movie they produce will be successful, however, the audience’s taste also plays a huge role in the overall schematic – and this taste can change dramatically, as we’re about to learn.

This Interactive Timeline Shows Exactly How Audience Preference & Box Office Revenue Changed Throughout The Years

It’s no secret that the Hollywood formula has changed many times over the years, but so has the audience’s preference. Here at Cutting Room Music, we were curious to see just how drastically the popularity of certain movie genres changed over the course of several decades, so we hopped on BoxOfficeMojo and did our research. We came across some really interesting results, and we managed to createan interactive chart that showcases how much money each genre has made worldwide from 1980 to 2020.

Take a look at the video below. It explores the evolution of all the movie genres and how much they made at the box office, in a span of 40 years.

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The 80s & 90s: The Golden Days Of Comedy & Drama

Up until the early 2000s, comedy and drama flicks ruled the box office. In the 80s, for example, comedies earned a total of $20 billion at the box office. Then, during the 90s, comedy flicks earned $32 billion, while during the 2000s, they made a total of $73 billion. During this time, movies like GhostbustersBeverly Hills CopThe Big LebowskiThe Truman Show and Groundhog Day packed cinemas worldwide and made millions of people laugh, while also making millions of dollars at the box office.

Dramas, on the other hand, made around $16 billion in the 80s, $42 billion in the 90s, and $75 billion in the 2000s. Movies like TitanicThe Breakfast ClubDead Poets SocietyDirty DancingForrest Gump, or Good Will Hunting were massive hits during the 80s, 90s and 2000s, and are still considered classics to this day. 

It is also worth pointing out that romance movies, although highly popular in the 80’s, gradually lost their appeal to audiences, and by 2020, the genre was among the least popular.

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Between 2010 & 2020, Action & Adventure Movies Earned Over $300 Billion, Combined

Before 2000, people mostly enjoyed comedies and dramas, as we’ve already seen, but action and adventure movies were also very popular before the turn of the century. Titles like Indiana JonesDie HardTop Gun and The Terminator paved the way for what was to come after the mid-2000s. The new James Bond movies, the Mission Impossible series, the Bourne series, as well as the Fast & Furious series made these two movie genres more and more popular.

As technology evolved, the 2000s also marked the start of many action-packed superhero movies. In 2000, 20th Century Fox released the first X-Men movie, and the series went on to span across a total of 13 movies until 2020. Sony also found huge success with Spider-Man flicks for many years, while Marvel Studios and Disney created an incredible cinematic universe with the MCU, releasing 23 movies in just 11 years. DC Comics and Warner Brothers Studios also kept busy with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, as well as with the DC Extended Universe movies.

As a result, adventure and action movies made around $26 billion and $29 billion, respectively, during the 90s, and by the end of 2010, these genres were miles ahead of the competition. Action movies grossed $149 billion from 2010 to 2020, while adventure movies earned $164 billion in the same time span. The two genres combined earned over $300 billion between 2010 and 2020.

Technology Pushes Boundaries When It Comes To Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Animation

As technology continued to evolve, CGI and special effects in movies became increasingly better between 2010 and 2020. InceptionInterstellarAd Astra and Blade Runner 2049 are just a few sci-fi marvels released in the past decade that did incredibly well at the box office. Studios like Pixar, Dreamworks Animation and Walt Disney Studios pioneered when it came to unique animated movies, and pushed the genre forward. The fantasy genre, however, outshined both sci-fi and animations during the 2000s, due to the immense success of the Lord of the Rings movie series and Harry Potter series.

During the 2000s, sci-fi, fantasy and animation movies grossed $29 billion, $49 billion and $24 billion, respectively. From 2010 to 2020, sci-fi films earned $90 billion at the box office, fantasy movies grossed $87 billion, and animation movies $51 billion worldwide.

Our Obsession With True Crime Opened New Doors For The Thriller, Crime, & Horror Genres

David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Guy Ritchie, James Wan, Guillermo del Toro and many, many others blended and pushed the horror, thriller and crime genres forward in the past decades. Their incredible, and sometimes twisted, work continues to impress and leave audiences in awe, shock, and disbelief after finishing their movies.

In the past decade, thriller movies grossed $73 billion at the box office, while crime and horror films earned $33 billion and $18 billion, respectively. The three genres gradually grew at the box office each decade, and their influence on pop culture is undeniable. We also have Netflix to thank for fueling our true crime obsessions with documentary series like Making a MurdererTiger KingKiller Inside: the Mind of Aaron Hernandez, and many, many more.


For this story, we used public data from BoxOfficeMojo to extractthe revenue data for the top grossing movies of each year, from 1980 to 2020. We completed our data sets with proprietary research and used Flourish to create the charts and visuals.

Originally published here by Robert Demeter.

Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | Bronx.com - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.