For more than 40 years, Star Wars 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. Even though it appears to be a few years until a new Star Wars film hits theaters, with Rogue Squadron removed from Disney’s schedule, the franchise is still going strong with Andor set for release on Disney+, followed shortly by both The Bad Batch season 2 and The Mandalorian season 3.
It also happens to be, unsurprisingly, one of the most financially successful film series of all time with nine of the 12 films released theatrically being the highest-grossing films of their respective years. That’s exactly why Disney paid $4.05 billion to purchase Lucasfilm in 2012.
Updated September 23, 2022: With Star Wars continuing to be a hugely successful franchise, this article has been updated with additional context and the latest box office numbers.
Since its inception, the Star Wars franchise has grossed more than $10 billion at the global box office, not even adjusted for inflation. From some of the biggest movies of all time to some truly unexpected disappointments, the iconic sci-fi property has truly run the gamut. But which ones made the most money? Which ones underperformed? Admittedly, it is difficult to create a precise ranking — not only were several of these films re-released in theaters over the decades, but the USD changes from inflation every year (and even every month). On top of that, the older Star Wars films weren’t initially released on such a massive worldwide scale as is common today, when the Chinese market contributes significantly to the global box office. Nonetheless, we’re here to attempt it, and this is our breakdown of every Star Wars movie’s performance at the worldwide box office, adjusted for inflation.
12 Star Wars: The Clone Wars – $93 Million
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 years after the Genndy Tartakovsky’s great Clone Wars, were repurposed as a feature-length movie that made its way to theaters. Unfortunately, those first few episodes were rough. The episodes were stitched together as a movie and premiered just three years after the release of Revenge of the Sith.
The Clone Wars failed to capture the attention of the fanbase and mainstream audiences and opened at number three at the box office behind newcomer Tropic Thunder and reigning box office champ The Dark Knight. The critically-lamented Clone Wars movie earned just $68.9 million worldwide during its run (roughly $93 million in today’s dollars). However, while it was a bumpy start it did serve as the humble beginning to a show that became a pillar of the Star Wars universe that still captures the imagination of viewers today.
11 Solo: A Star Wars Story – $462 Million
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 may have led to some franchise burnout. That, coupled with a troubled production that saw Ron Howard take over as director more than halfway through the shoot, and a good portion of the movie requiring extensive reshoots, 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 ($462 million adjusted for inflation). That would be a success for certain blockbusters, but by Star Wars standards, it was a major disappointment. The low return might have not been so bad, had the reshoots not ballooned the budget of the movie to become the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made at approximately $300 million. No matter how you slice it, that’s rough; the box office flop of Solo would fundamentally change Lucasfilm, leading to an increased (almost sole) focus on streaming TV series.
10 Attack of the Clones – $1.075 billion
Attack of the Clones was so many things. A sequel that had to both improve upon the critical disappointment of The Phantom Menace. It was 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 $653 million worldwide, or $1.075 billion when adjusted for inflation. Taking into account the $115 million production budget it certainly made a great deal of money, though not as much as its predecessor. It was also the first time a Star Wars movie was not the most successful film at the domestic box office, as it was beaten by both Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 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.
9 The Rise of Skywalker – $1.2 Billion
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 satisfyingly. To what degree the movie (Episode IX in the official narrative) was successful will be debated from now until the end of Star Wars fandom (i.e. the end of time).
But it was another financial success for the Disney era of Lucasfilm, taking in $1.07 billion globally. In the three years since the film’s release, the overall worldwide gross adjusted would be about $1.2 billion. 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.
8 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – $1.3 Billion
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion in 2012, it was assumed that the studio would make use of the franchise beyond just making another trilogy. But 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 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. Riding high off the renewed enthusiasm for Star Wars following The Force Awakens the previous holiday season, Rogue One opened the week before Christmas and became a high hit over the holiday weekend. Rogue One took in $1.05 billion globally, including a stellar $522.9 domestically. Adjusting the box office for inflation would elevate this to about $1.303 billion. Domestically, it was the highest-grossing movie of 2016 (number two worldwide behind Captain America: Civil War), so Rogue One proved that the franchise had gas in the tank beyond the Skywalker saga.
7 Revenge of the Sith – $1.3 Billion
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). 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 a strong $868 million at the box office (roughly $1.3 billion today), including $380 domestically. While it was not the biggest movie at the worldwide box office (it was beaten by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), it was the highest-grossing film in the summer of 2005 and the highest-grossing film of the year at the domestic box office. Even taking its $115 million production budget into account, this was a home run, and Revenge of the Sith holds up today. It turned out not to be the final entry in the Skywalker saga though, thanks in large part to Disney.
6 Return of the Jedi – $1.4 Billion
This is where things get interesting — time lends perspective, and it’s important to remember that 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, and for 16 years it was. Richard Marquand directed Episode VI, which earned $475.1 million worldwide. As stated, international markets weren’t nearly as big in the ’70s and ’80s as they are now.
The breakdown was $309.2 million domestically and $165.9 internationally, which at the time made this one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and made more than the previous film, The Empire Strikes Back. Not to mention, this doesn’t account for inflation, which is roughly $1.4 billion. 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. Return of the Jedi was and still is a massively successful movie.
5 The Last Jedi – $1.6 Billion
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. The box office is even more impressive when adjusted for inflation, with a worldwide adjusted total of $1.6 billion. The Last Jedi was the highest-grossing movie of 2017 domestically and worldwide. Divisive though it may be, The Last Jedi ranks as the 16th highest-grossing movie at the worldwide box office.
4 The Phantom Menace – $1.7 Billion
There was a time when the world thought Return of the Jedi was it for the franchise. Yes, hardcore fans could turn to Star Wars books such as the Heir to the Empire trilogy, along with video games, and comics. But for the general public, there were no movies. There were no TV shows. Then, George Lucas decided it was time to show us the journey that Anakin Skywalker took to become Darth Vader. One 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 a generation. People flooded theaters just to see the trailer in the era before such things were readily available on YouTube. At the time, CNN estimated that 2.2 million full-time employees missed work just to see the movie on opening day. It simply cannot be overstated just how big of a deal this was.
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 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. Adjusted for inflation, The Phantom Menace grossed over $1.7 billion worldwide, showing just how great the desire to see Star Wars return was back in 1999.
3 A New Hope – $1.814 Billion
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. For a while, it was the most successful movie of all time, and even its re-release in 1997 brought in an impressive total. To date, the movie has earned $775 million globally. Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $3 billion; however, it’s not so easy.
Let’s do some math, because there have been some arguments about exactly how much A New Hope as made. The original Star Wars film made $307,263,857 in 1977 (just domestically; if it had an international market, it would have been much more). When adjusted for inflation, that’s $1,509,305,091. It then made $15,476,785 in a 1982 re-release, $138,257,865 in the 1997 ‘special edition’ release, and about $578,000 in the past decade for a May the 4th release and a theatrical release specifically in Asian and Middle Eastern markets. The rates of inflation obviously change based on each year of these releases, and when combined, they form $1.84 billion.
That’s already a tremendous amount of money, 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 this 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. Star Wars was an event that everybody saw, and it became part of the cultural zeitgeist for generations. While a couple of Star Wars films technically made more money, the fact that A New Hope birthed such a lucrative franchise means it’s arguably worth more than any other release. It is just hard to truly grasp not only how big Star Wars was in 1977, but how it changed everything.
2 The Empire Strikes Back – $1.93 Billion
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 $538 million globally, almost $2 billion adjusted for inflation ($1.9337 billion, to be precise). 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.
However, it should be noted that the film was seen as a slight disappointment at the time, as it earned less than the previous Star Wars and would be outgrossed by Return of the Jedi. Domestically, it is the lowest-grossing film in the Skywalker Saga. It goes to show that it took some time for people to come around to The Empire Strikes Back, but time was truly kind to it.
1 The Force Awakens – $2.5 Billion
There has rarely been a cinematic moment as big as The Force Awakens. 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 the Skywalker saga. Not looking back but looking forward. The original trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill were all coming back. Seeing Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker (sort of) together again was a monumental event that audiences had been waiting 32 years for.
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 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 regardless of inflation (adjusted for that, the movie has grossed $2.5 billion). With countless Star Wars TV shows being created and diluting the excitement of new releases, it’s impossible to imagine people being as excited about a title in this franchise ever again.