I realised that whenever I’m awake I’m consuming some media content, one way or the other. It’s ridiculous. There’s an argument that dreams are actually media and if that’s the case then I don’t really have an off switch.
This media consumption of mine had me wondering, what is the greatest piece of media ever produced? That’s too subjective, so I turned my thoughts to the most successful piece of media ever produced.
That’s still subjective, a book that leads to political revolutions could be considered more successful than a fictional one like Harry Potter that sold bajillions of copies.
So, I decided to focus on the most successful media pieces, financially. There should be no subjectivity there.
It might behove us to first define what we mean by media. Let’s not overthink this, we are just talking about; movies, TV shows, music, books, video games, trading cards and stuff like that.
So here we go, we will look at franchises first and then look at the most successful single media pieces. These could be but one entrant in a franchise but it should be interesting to see what the most successful book in history pulled in for example.
The most successful media franchises
If there’s anything that’s become clear to everyone in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success in the past few years, franchises are how the big bucks are made. You need to be able to build on something that resonates with your audience.
In looking at franchises we will have to consider merchandising revenue. You will find that for many franchises, some that started out as books and some as video games or movies, merchandising revenue easily bests every other revenue stream.
1. Pokémon – $100 billion
You may see other figures of at least $92 billion floating around. That changes nothing. The Pokémon franchise is the highest-grossing media franchise in history.
That is crazy to consider because we live in a world where Mickey Mouse exists. Mickey has been around since 1928 and yet Pokémon, which only came out in 1996, handily beats it.
Pokémon started out as a game for the original GameBoy handheld gaming console. There have been movies, TV series, trading cards and merchandise since then.
A few years ago when total revenues were still around $92.1 billion, this was the split:
- Merchandise – $61.1B – 66%
- Video games – $17.1B – 19%
- Trading cards – $10.3B – 11%
- Comics ($1.5B-1.6%), Movies and TV shows ($2.2B-2.4%)
Personally, I got introduced to the world of Pokémon via trading cards. I remember having a blast with those things.
2. Hello Kitty – $84.5 billion
Hello Kitty is a fictional character with its own back story. It is mostly just a merchandising company, to be honest. However, the world was first introduced to the kitty as a logo on a purse.
I grew up around boys and was not even aware of Hello Kitty until I was grown.
A few years ago when Hello Kitty was at lifetime earnings of around $80 billion, close to 100% of their revenue had come from merchandising. Of their $80 billion, $23 million came from comics and $3 million from music.
The rest of the top 5 looks like this:
- 3. Winnie the Pooh – $80.3 billion (Started out as book. Merchandising responsible for 99.3% of revenues)
- 4. Mickey Mouse – $80.3 billion (Started out as an animated short (cartoon). Merchandising responsible for 99% of revenues)
- 5. Star Wars – $68.7 billion (Started out as a movie. Merchandising responsible for 61% of revenues)
It appears for a franchise to rake in the big boy dollars, they have to succeed in merchandising their content. As we go down the list we find that the proportion of merchandising revenue to total revenues drops off.
For those that are curious, the aforementioned Marvel Cinematic Universe has pulled in $35.3 billion, good for 8th place. My fellow millennials would also like to know that Harry Potter has grossed $32.2 billion, good for 10th place.
For the full list from Statista, click here.
What of single media pieces?
Franchises are fun and all but I would also like to know what the most successful music album pulled in, for example.
Highest grossing video game – GTA V – $7.7 billion
The highest-grossing entertainment product ever is a video game – Grand Theft Auto V. That means no single movie, book, music album has ever grossed as much.
To date, about 175 million copies of GTA V have been sold. Minecraft has sold more copies (238 million) but comes nowhere close to GTA V’s revenues.
Those that are familiar with GTA will know that there is GTA Online which was spun off into its own entity. Well, the $7.7 billion in revenue does not include GTA Online which is estimated to pull in $2.5 million a day.
Highest-grossing movie – Avatar – $2.92 billion
The first Avatar movie came out in 2009 and is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Almost everyone agrees that the movie was driven by strong visuals and not really the story.
Avengers Endgame comes in a close second having grossed $2.79 billion to date.
What’s crazy is that the 3rd highest-grossing movie is Avatar 2 which has pulled in $2.33 billion whilst number four is Titanic with $2.24 billion.
The film fan will know that James Cameron directed both Avatar movies and Titanic. So this guy is responsible for 3 of the 4 highest-grossing movies of all time. Talk about knowing what you’re doing.
An old movie called Gone with the Wind is actually the highest-grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation. It has earned $4.2 billion when adjusted for inflation. Avatar falls to number 2. Find that full list here.
Highest-grossing music album – Thriller – $1.6 billion
It is really hard to determine which music album has generated the most revenue as there are different ways to measure it. However, Thriller by Michael Jackson has sold about 67 million units (some say 100 million) and is estimated to have raked in over $1.6 billion.
Highest grossing book
This one is even harder to determine. The Bible has sold over 5 billion copies, the Quran – 3 billion, the Little Red Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao – 900 million.
It looks like God is the bestseller but prices vary too much to be able to determine how much those 5 billion copies pulled in.
So, here’s the rest of the top ten in copies sold:
4. Don Quixote (500 million copies)
5. Selected Articles of Chairman Mao (450 million copies)
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (120 million copies)
7. A Tale of Two Cities (200 million copies)
8. The Lord of the Rings (150 million copies)
9. The Little Prince (142 million copies)
10. And Then There Were None (100 million copies)
Just a bit of fun
This is not going to change your world in any way unless you get the idea to build a game and go heavy on merchandising. That seems to be the winning formula. In that case, I would want 10% of the franchise you build.
I think stories like these remind us just how big video games are and how we cannot ignore them. The game-building process has been made more accessible with the likes of Fortnite’s Unreal Editor.
As you were.