What Is the Highest Grossing Horror Movie of All Time?

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What Is the Highest Grossing Horror Movie of All Time?

The Big Picture

  • The highest-grossing horror movie of all time, before inflation, is It. The Stephen King adaptation earned $701,842,551 globally and drew huge crowds of terrified moviegoers.
  • When adjusting for inflation, Jaws takes the title as the highest-grossing horror movie. Steven Spielberg’s iconic killer shark film earned $476.5 million in 1975, which would be equivalent to $1.154 billion today.
  • The Exorcist, released in 1973, may be the second highest-grossing horror movie after adjusting for inflation. It grossed $441.3 million, which would amount to $996.5 million in today’s numbers. The film is known for its ruthless and bleak nature, making it a truly terrifying experience.

Horror, despite not being the most universally beloved genre, is one of the most reliable genres to bring folks into theaters and rake in boatloads of cash, but which one stands tall as the highest-grossing movie in its field? In all of film history, many things have changed, but spooky movies making a big splash at the box office has pretty much remained. People love going out to the theater to be terrified in a massive crowd of people, feeding off of each other’s fears and screaming their heads off all in unison. But has a killer clown brought the biggest crowd or a giant shark? Maybe a demon-possessed little girl? Well, depending on whatever metric you want to go off of, finding the answer can be a little bit hairy.

So, the first thing to take into consideration when trying to tackle this question is inflation. Sure, a movie back in the ’70s “might have only made a couple of hundred million dollars” at the box office, as opposed to a movie nowadays that comes close to clearing a billion. Well, back in the day, 1939’s Gone With the Wind earned $402,382,193 million — just a ridiculous sum of money for that time. When you’re accounting for inflation, you take the number of tickets that Gone With the Wind sold, factor in how much more expensive tickets are today than they were when that movie was released, and then you’ll end up with a far greater answer. The average price of movie tickets was 23 cents back in 1939, and nowadays it’s about $11.75. Well, that would put Gone at about $1.850 billion at the box office. So which title takes the spot as the highest-grossing horror movie in history? Yeah, inflation will shake that answer up a bit.

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What Is the Highest Grossing Horror Movie… Before Inflation?

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Well, if you’re just looking at the raw numbers themselves, then the title for highest-grossing horror movie of all time would have to go to Andy Muschietti’s It. For those that are unfamiliar, It follows a group of kids in the small town of Derry, Maine, as they try to get to the bottom of what is causing so many other children in their area to disappear, only to end up finding something much more sinister and bizarre than they could have ever expected. This Stephen King adaptation first hit screens in September 2017, and if you remember going to see it when it first came out, you’ll remember the scene was an absolute madhouse. Theaters were jam-packed with folks coming from far and wide to be terrorized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). The film ended up grossing $701,842,551 at the worldwide box office, an absolute monster of a movie. You rarely ever see horror movies or R-rated films raking in this much money, but that’s the power of Stephen King, nostalgic properties, and freaky clowns.

Despite being a beast of a blockbuster, once you account for inflation by 2023 standards, Muschietti’s film is knocked down a peg or two. It is still a massive horror movie… but it isn’t quite the number-one horror movie of all time once inflation enters the chat. Again, horror has always had a massive presence at the box office, so the game-changing movies that you think of in this genre are also likely horror’s biggest money-making machines. Once you account for inflation, then movies like The Omen, Alien, The Amityville Horror, and The Sixth Sense qualify as a few of the highest-grossing movies in the genre but don’t quite take the top spot.

What Is the Highest Grossing Horror Movie… After Inflation?

Jaws openng scene Chrissie Watkins death
Image Via Universal

After adjusting for inflation, the spot for the highest-grossing horror movie of all time goes to Jaws! That’s right, Steven Spielberg‘s career-defining killer shark movie grossed $476.5 million at the box office, just a massive sum of money for a movie that came out in 1975. While that amount of money would be huge for any movie in any era, in ’75, $476.5 million was totally unheard of, but it doesn’t even stop there. If a 2023 movie sold the same amount of tickets that Jaws did, it would end up grossing $1.154 billion, which is what technically makes it the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.

Even though Spielberg’s film was an enormous sensation at the box office and is considered the first real blockbuster, there’s a bit of a caveat in all of this. Jaws is pretty intense… it is scary at times… but is it really a horror movie? Scares do vary from movie to movie — it’s not like Jaws is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or anything, but it doesn’t even seem to fall in the same ballpark of nightmare-inducing scares as tame horror movies like Poltergeist, another Spielberg project. Jaws is one of the greatest movies ever… it just feels a bit anticlimactic to say that it’s the highest-grossing horror movie of all time when it feels way more like an action-thriller than anything.

What Is the Scariest Box Office Smash of All Time?

The possessed Regan (Linda Blair) seen floating above her bed in 'The Exorcist'
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

So, what movie has both scared the absolute pants off of everyone in sight, haunted people’s dreams, and made more money than any horror movie ever? Well, besides Jaws. The answer to that question would be The Exorcist, released in 1973 and grossing $441.3 million at the box office. In today’s numbers, that would mean the late, great William Friedkin‘s film grossed $996.5 million at the box office. Sheesh! Can you imagine that many people going out and seeing a movie like that? Jaws is pretty scary at times, but it’s also got the fun hallmarks of loads of other Spielberg movies. The Exorcist is no fun at all. It’s a ruthless and bleak horror film that pulls no punches. Technically the second highest-grossing horror movie ever, but definitely the scarier when compared to Jaws.

You’d be hard-pressed to find three cooler horror movies to take the title for the highest-grossing movie in the genre. It is a modern horror classic, Jaws changed movies forever by creating the modern blockbuster, and The Exorcist raked in a mountain of cash while also shocking audiences more than any movie before. Yeah… those are all-timers.

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