Which Disney Franchises Have Made the Most Money?
Other businesses describe Disney’s franchises as “an embarrassment of riches.”
These outsiders jealously recite numbers about how much Disney dominates various industries like film box office and toy sales.
Have you ever wondered which Disney titles have proven the most lucrative over the years?
Here are the ten Disney franchises that have made the most money.
What’s Not Included
Obviously, The Walt Disney Company is 100 years old. So, much of this data is debatable.
For example, I’ve excluded Winnie the Pooh, which recently entered the public domain.
Until that point, Disney had acquired licensing rights more than 60 years ago in 1961 and monetized the residents of Hundred Acre Wood to a stunning degree.
The Winnie the Pooh franchise claims revenue of $48.5 billion. How much of that belongs to Disney?
My research suggests it’s more than $40 billion in the 21st century alone.
Since the main aspects of the character are in the public domain now, I felt weird about including it.
Still, you might be shocked to know that Winnie the Pooh as a franchise is the third-most lucrative one of all time!
In terms of recognizable franchises that didn’t quite qualify for the top ten, The Muppets finished 11th, while Ice Age is 12th.
Yes, Disney owns Ice Age, which explains why there’s a Scrat video available on Disney+.
Two other exclusions of note are X-Men and The Avengers. Disney didn’t own X-Men when it earned the overwhelming majority of its revenue.
With The Avengers, I grouped this franchise into a larger one whose name you can probably guess.
In researching this article, the one thing that became abundantly clear is how dominant Disney remains with its franchises.
Pirates of the Caribbean — $7.9 Billion
First, let me explain how the calculations work. We’re discussing media franchises only, and there’s just no way to include theme park revenue.
Disney never reveals how much each of its treasured properties earns at the parks.
So, we’re stuck with three main sources of revenue: theatrical box office, physical media revenue (like DVDs and Blu-Rays), and merchandising sales.
Disney is the unquestioned leader in all three of these industries, which helps with most franchises…but not really with this one.
Pirates of the Caribbean performed most of its heavy lifting by earning more than $4.5 billion in box office, nearly $1.8 billion in physical media, and $1.6 million in merchandising.
Frozen — $13.9 Billion
You’ll notice that most of the titles on this list have been around for decades…but not Frozen!
The first film debuted in theaters in November 2013. In just under ten years, Frozen has already grossed a whopping $13.9 billion!
While the films and the musical have earned a significant amount of box office, that’s not the way this franchise makes its money.
Parents are nodding knowingly as they’ve spent a LOT of money on Frozen merch over the past decade.
Toy Story — $14.8 Billion
Here’s one that may surprise you a bit for two reasons. The first is that Toy Story is much older than Frozen.
As such, you’d expect the financial gap between the two franchises to be much larger. And there’s an explanation here.
We haven’t received a solid update on Toy Story merchandising for several years now. It had sold $11 billion in merch through 2015.
I presume this number is much higher now, but there isn’t the supporting data to prove it.
That brings us to the second surprise. As you’ll read in a moment, Toy Story isn’t the largest revenue generator among Pixar films!
I say that with an asterisk, though. My educated guess is that Toy Story has actually surpassed $20 billion by now, but I can’t prove that.
The Lion King — $15.2 Billion
The shocker about The Lion King isn’t its placement on this list. I’m confident you would have guessed this franchise as one of Disney’s best.
The surprise stems from how The Lion King has earned its money.
More than $3 billion has come from merchandise, while Disney has earned another $4.1 billion from theatrical box office and physical media.
More than half of The Lion King’s money is due to the unprecedented success of the Broadway play.
At last count in 2017, The Lion King had grossed more than $8.1 billion on Broadway! As this article notes, that’s more than Star Wars had managed!
Cars — $21.5 Billion
That’s right, folks.
Based on the data at hand, Cars has earned Pixar the most money of any franchise. And again, some parents are nodding knowingly.
An entire generation of children slept in Lightning McQueen blankets on Lightning McQueen-shaped beds.
All told, Cars has sold more than $19.1 billion in merchandise, and that number is five years old. So, the actual total is higher.
According to some estimates, Cars has sold more toys than any movie franchise in history other than…well, we’ll get to that one in a minute.
Spider-Man — $25.4 Billion
Spider-Man’s one-two punch of toy sales and film box office is pretty much the gold standard over the past quarter-century.
These films have earned just under $10 billion at the movie theaters, while Spidey has locked up $14.5 billion in toy sales.
Obviously, a lot of that happened before Disney took over. Also, Sony still owns the film rights.
To me, the most remarkable part is that Spider-Man performs this well as a standalone entity. I could just as easily list it as a part of…
The Marvel Cinematic Universe — $34.8 Billion
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. On its own, Spider-Man almost matches the entirety of the MCU.
Then again, the Spider-Man franchise enjoyed a five-film head start. And Disney only started producing MCU merchandise when it bought Marvel in 2009.
So, the minimal gap between the two products isn’t that surprising, all things considered.
This fact does lend credence to the thought that Spidey is the Batman of the MCU, though.
By the way, I’m pretty sure that these calcs dramatically shortchange merchandising revenue for Marvel.
I’m only crediting the MCU with $6.6 billion, which was the most recent data I could find. It’s gotta be higher than that, right?
Disney Princesses $45.4 Billion
I suspect you would have guessed the top four in some order.
Personally, I’m a bit surprised that Star Wars gets the edge over Disney Princesses, and I say that as someone who has tracked Star Wars data for 25 years.
I feel that way because I’m acutely aware of what a juggernaut the Disney Princess is.
You’re so immune to this truth by now that you likely don’t think about it, but you can’t enter a big box retailer or even a grocery store without seeing Disney Princess merch.
You’ll find licensed products in the form of apparel, toys, and even cookware.
For the right price, Disney will happily stick one of its Princesses on any sort of product.
There’s something called an Ornamental Design Patent that basically allows a company to patent a specific kind of product.
So, nobody can patent a toaster since someone has already done that.
However, a business could patent a toaster with three different Disney Princesses on it.
This business strategy has created an entire blossoming cottage industry for Disney Princesses.
Star Wars — $46.7 Billion
Remember how I said that Cars had sold $19.1 billion in merchandise, which may be the second-most all-time?
Well, the difference between first and second place isn’t close. As a brand, Star Wars has generated $29 billion in merchandise.
Yes, this franchise has netted $10 billion more than any other film franchise ever, which explains why George Lucas’ house is bigger than yours or mine.
Obviously, Star Wars also enjoys massive box office numbers of $10.4 billion, which would be the largest total on this list if not for the MCU.
Mickey Mouse & Friends — $52.2 Billion
Before I discuss the super-obvious winner here, let’s circle back to Star Wars and the Disney Princesses.
Star Wars wins the title for most merchandising revenue for media based on movies/television, at least in the modern era.
The Disney Princesses don’t really count here since their origins date back to the 1930s.
Still, that brand has sold $45.5 million in merchandise in the 2000s. I’m using those two brands as a baseline for Mickey Mouse & Friends.
At the time of publication, this franchise stands as the second-most popular one in the history of media, with merchandising revenue of $51.7 billion.
Those numbers are current through 2018, which is a recurring theme here.
The toy industry dropped its transparency during the pandemic and hasn’t really restarted since then.
For this reason, most of these totals fall on the low end. You can safely add a few billion more for everything but Pirates of the Caribbean.
With Mickey Mouse & Friends, we’re discussing one of only two brands that officially claim licensed merchandise revenue in excess of $50 billion.
The other franchise in this category is Pokemon, which bests Mickey Mouse & Friends but would lose if we included the Disney Princesses.
I’d call that grouping Disney’s core brands, and its revenue would exceed $100 billion.
Currently, Pokemon lists $88 billion, virtually all of which comes from merchandise/product sales.
So, Disney falls short of Pokemon only because I differentiate between the brands.
In totality, these Disney franchises have claimed at least $277.8 billion in revenue. Yes, that’s a quarter-trillion dollars.
Disney franchises dominate the pop culture landscape, and that reality isn’t changing anytime soon.
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