Legend has it that when Margot Robbie pitched Warner Bros her idea for what the Barbie movie should be, she won the executives over by telling them that it would make a billion dollars. Last week she was proved right.

Barbie has now made $1.18bn at the global box office. This is an incredible achievement. Of all the movies ever made, only 53 have managed to hit this milestone. Needless to say, that number is much less if you only want to count good films.

Because, while Barbie definitely deserves this accolade (the New Yorker’s Richard Brody tweeted such), the billion dollar club does sometimes look like a place where creativity goes to die. It’s a fatberg of sequels and remakes and cynically licensed intellectual property content, inching its way down the Hollywood sewer.

Proof? That’s easy. Of the 53 films that have ever made a billion dollars, two are from the Despicable Me franchise. Two are Transformers films. There are four live action Disney remakes, four Jurassic Parks, five Star Wars films and 15 superhero movies, 11 of which were made by Marvel. The megafranchise bloat is so evident that the inclusion of 2012’s Skyfall (the 23rd movie about a character created 70 years ago) feels like a refreshing outlier.

Now, obviously it’s important to remember that there’s so much crap here because the figures haven’t been adjusted for inflation. That explains why the list of films is so recent, since only three of the 53 were not released in the 21st century, and the oldest on the list came out in 1993. Had the list been adjusted, then it would still be dominated by Gone with the Wind, an 84-year-old movie whose worldwide gross based on 2022 ticket prices would be $4.1bn. The Sound of Music is on that list. ET is on that list. The Ten Commandments is on that list.

But let’s play fair. The current non-adjusted billion-dollar club might not be very good. It might be a terrible indictment of the instinct to cater for a mass audience’s worst impulses. It might contain Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin remake, a film so genuinely terrible that it might legally qualify as a war crime. But here’s the thing: it isn’t all bad. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a cluster of great films. Here are some of the best.

Titanic

TitanicLeonardo Dicaprio,Kate Winslet Character(s): Jack Dawson,Rose DeWitt Bukater Film: Titanic Director: James Cameron 01 November 1997 20th Century Fox Image Ref: REIS_4794 **Warning** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of 20th Century Fox and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To 20th Century Fox is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

You’re right to have questions about Titanic. A film that took a horrifying real-world disaster and mined it for the purposes of sludgy romance will always have an element of ick to it, not least because it points to someone making a Hallmark movie about 9/11 50 years from now. Nevertheless, in a sea of billion-dollar movies that got there simply by piggybacking on IP, there’s something refreshing about seeing a film that exists as a singular entity. Imagine if James Cameron made Titanic today. Imagine how it would have definitely been spun off into a wider Titanic universe. Imagine how awful that would be.

The Dark Knight

2008, THE DARK KNIGHTHEATH LEDGER Character(s): The Joker Film ‘THE DARK KNIGHT’ (2008) Directed By CHRISTOPHER NOLAN 14 July 2008 SSU80614 Allstar/WARNER BROS. (USA/UK 2008) **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of WARNER BROS. and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To WARNER BROS. is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Photograph: Warner Bros./Allstar

Again, not an original by any means. Not only was The Dark Knight a sequel, but it was sequel to a reboot in a series that has been defined by its untold reboots for almost 85 years. But The Dark Knight got to a billion dollars the same way that Barbie got to a billion dollars, by taking an instantly recognisable piece of nostalgic iconography and using its momentum to tell a story of hidden depth. For Barbie, this meant using a plastic toy to redefine modern feminism. For The Dark Knight, it meant taking a superhero and telling us that one day a clown will burn our face off for kicks.

Avengers: Infinity War

This image released by Marvel Studios shows, front row from left, Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson and Sebastian Stan in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.” The supersized superhero hit has crossed $2 billion in worldwide ticket sales, becoming only the fourth film to reach that rarified box-office milestone. (Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios via AP)
Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick/AP

Yes, by this point the MCU had basically become a soap opera that we all paid to see out of crashing obligation, but try to put yourself back in the moment you saw this for the first time. No film this financially successful has ever ended with such a monumental bummer. Points awarded for this. Points deducted for reversing it all in the next one.

Toy Story 3

2010, TOY STORY 3LOTS-O’-HUGGIN’ BEAR, BUZZ LIGHTYEAR & WOODY Film ‘TOY STORY 3’ (2010) Directed By LEE UNKRICH 16 June 2010 SSW91131 Allstar/WALT DISNEY / PIXAR **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of WALT DISNEY / PIXAR and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To WALT DISNEY / PIXAR is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Photograph: Walt Disney/Pixar/Allstar

Actually, I take it back. However red-eyed and sniffy you were at the end of Infinity War, you can safely triple it for Toy Story 3; a film where some of the most beloved characters in all of cinema history quietly come to realise that their owner has outgrown them, and are forced to confront the bleak reality of a life without purpose. Jesus Christ, this is a kid’s film.

Jurassic Park

1993, JURASSIC PARKJEFF GOLDBLUM, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, LAURA DERN & SAM NEILL Character(s): Dr. Ian Malcolm,John Hammond,Dr. Ellie Sattler,Dr. Alan Grant Film ‘JURASSIC PARK’ (1993) Directed By STEVEN SPIELBERG 09 June 1993 CTK35240 Allstar/UNIVERSAL (USA 1993) **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of UNIVERSAL and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To UNIVERSAL is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Photograph: Universal/Allstar

The original, not the horrible Chris Pratt remakes that all also earned a billion dollars for some reason. Yuck.

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