The 10 Highest-Grossing Fantasy Movies of the 1990s


Magic, myth, folklore, legends, and the supernatural. Fantasy movies have the power to stretch our imaginations to the furthest lengths and create worlds of wonder to lose ourselves in. The roots of the fantasy genre can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s and the silent film era, with films like A Trip to the Moon and The Sorrows of Satan. From those earliest films to more modern-day fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, the fantasy genre is as popular and strong as ever.

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The 1990s were a particularly diverse decade for fantasy films. From ghosts and pirates to ancient evils and a galaxy far, far away, the genre reflected the era of whimsical film in the 90s. But which films had audiences flocking to theaters the most? These domestic box office numbers reflect the public’s appetite for these fantasy films in the 1990s.

10 Casper (1995) – $100 Million

Casper

Casper

Release Date
May 26, 1995

Director
Brad Silberling

Runtime
100

The character of Casper the Friendly Ghost first appeared in comics published by Harvey Comics in the late 1940s. The ghostly young man has enjoyed a long run of comics, television shows, and films throughout his 75-plus-year existence. His first journey into the realm of big-budget feature films came in 1995’s Casper, starring Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman. The film features some highly entertaining cameos from the likes of Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz from Ghostbusters fame, Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci, and even Clint Eastwood himself.

Expectations Exceeded

Casper raked in over $100 million during its theatrical run on just a modest budget of $55 million. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the movie enjoyed a lengthy run in cinemas during the summer of 1995. With cutting-edge effects (for the time, that is), Casper was a fun and fantastical journey into the paranormal and still holds up as a solid re-watch almost twenty years later.

Christina Ricci with Casper the Friendly Ghost in Casper
Universal Pictures 

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9 Hook (1991) – $120 Million

Hook

Hook

Release Date
April 10, 1991

Director
Steven Spielberg

Runtime
144

Director Steven Spielberg offered up a unique take on the classic fairy tale of Peter Pan in the 1991 fantasy film, Hook. Once considered a musical adaptation, the movie serves as a sequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic novel Peter and Wendy. The film focuses on an adult Peter Pan, now named Peter Banning, and his return to Neverland to face off with the evil Captain Hook. The late great Robin Williams plays the iconic boy who never grows up, alongside Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, and Julia Roberts as the magical Tinker Bell.

Critical Flop, Audience Approved

Hook was lambasted across the board by film critics, with many citing the out-of-touch with the general audience’s feel of the action and story, with one critic claiming the film “only appeals to the baby boomer generation.” Despite the reviews, the film still brought in over $120 million at the box office, an impressive number for the early ’90s. While the film did make a profit of over $50 million for the studio that produced it, it is still considered by many to be a financial flop.

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8 The Flintstones (1994) – $131 Million

A live-action adaptation of everyone’s favorite prehistoric family can trace its roots all the way back to the mid-1980s when producers Keith Barish and Joel Silver purchased the movie rights to the property and slated Richard Donner to direct the project. The initial idea for the film would not pan out and would sit in limbo until 1992, with the eventual release in 1994 starring John Goodman, Rick Moranis, and Rosie O’Donnell.

Modern Stone Age Family

Similar to Hook, The Flintstones would be critically panned for “wasting beloved source material.” The film would also top several “Worst of the Year” lists in 1997. The Flintstones is another example of audiences ignoring critical reviews and showing up to theaters in droves, making the film a box office success. The movie would also hold the record for the biggest May opening weekend for a full two years before being overtaken by 1996’s Twister.

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7 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – $135 Million

The turtles and Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
New Line Cinema

Based on the earliest iteration of the turtles, their comic form, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm in 1990 with the first live-action adaptation of the four brotherly mutated heroes. Products of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the turtles had a classic yet rubbery look to them that fit the ’90s aesthetic perfectly and was quite a feat for Henson at the time. The creator would note that the turtle’s costumes were the most advanced he had ever worked on to that point.

Box Office Records for the Time

At the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles held the biggest opening weekend ever, surpassing Tim Burton’s Batman a year prior. The film was a massive success at the box office during its run, bringing in over $135 million. Despite negative reviews from critics, moviegoers showed their support for the film with their wallets, and it would even be nominated for awards by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

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6 Dr. Dolittle (1998) – $144 Million

Eddie Murphy and a monkey in Dr. Doolittle (1998)
20th Century Fox

The Story of Doctor Dolittle is a fantasy children’s novel written in 1920 by author Hugh Lofting about a doctor who possesses the power to communicate directly with animals. First adapted to live action in the form of a musical in 1967, the property would sit unused until the late 1990s, when comedian Eddie Murphy would star in the titular role. In a much sillier and less musical version, the film would utilize computer-generated effects along with puppeteers to achieve the fantastical talking animals in the film.

Murphy’s (Temporary) Record

Debuting with over $29 million in its opening weekend, Dr. Dolittle would become Eddie Murphy’s biggest opener before being surpassed by Nutty Professor II: The Klumps two years later. Similar to other entries on this list, the film would perform exceptionally well at the box office despite poor reviews. When all was said and done, the movie would bring in over $144 million and go on to spawn four sequels, although Murphy would only star in one of them.

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5 The Santa Clause (1994) – $146 Million

Along with films like Home Alone, The Santa Clause is one of the quintessential 90s Christmas movies. Starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, a man who accidentally causes the death of Santa Claus and in turn becomes required to dawn the suit and take over the job of the jolly red toy giver. Before Allen took on the role of Calvin, both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were considered for the part before bowing out. The Santa Clause would go on to be a fixture in movie traditions the world over.

A Box Office Gift

The Santa Clause would be one of the highest-grossing films of 1994, second only to Interview with the Vampire. Making over $146 million during its initial box office run, the film would be re-released in 2020, making an additional $700,000 added to its total. Both the Freeform and AMC networks help to carry on the legacy of the movie by showing it as part of their Christmas movie season.

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4 The Mummy (1999) – $156 Million

The Mummy (1999)

Think back to a time when Brendan Fraser was slated to be the next big action-adventure star, akin to Harrison Ford. The Mummy is an action adventure take on the classic Universal Monster movie of the 1930s. Rachel Weisz and John Hannah star alongside Fraser in the underrated and oftentimes underappreciated film. The movie would go on to produce two sequels, a spin-off, and one of the greatest amusement park rides ever at Universal Studios Florida.

Box Office, Far from Dead

In all fairness to The Mummy, it was released in the same year as another entry on this list, The Phantom Menace, but more on that later. The release date was even moved up in the month of May to avoid direct competition with the George Lucas film. However, the film was the highest non-holiday May opening at the time. It also enjoyed a good box office run prior to the Star Wars release, and still brought in over $155 million during its theatrical run.

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Related: The Mummy: How Brendan Fraser’s Adventure Movie Almost Turned Out Very Differently

3 Ghost (1990) – $218 Million

Ghost

Ghost

Release Date
July 12, 1990

Director
Jerry Zucker

Ghost tells the supernatural love story of a spirit played by Patrick Swayze who tries to save his wife, played by Demi Moore, from the same man who murdered him. A screenplay penned by writer Bruce Joel Rubin, Ghost is truly one of the most unique romance movies of all time and would earn five Academy Award nominations, winning two of them. The reviews for the film were mostly positive, with many critics citing the unique approach and genre-bending of the story.

Unexpected Box Office Success

Aside from being one of my Mom’s favorite movies, Ghost also enjoyed a rather unexpected and successful box office run. The film would be the highest grossing movie of 1990 and one of the most profitable films of the decade, bringing in a staggering $218 million on a small budget of $23 million. Box office tracking sites, like Box Office Mojo, project that Ghost sold more than 50 million tickets in the US en route to its financial dominance in 1990.

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2 Beauty and the Beast (1991) – $219 Million

Beauty and the Beast 1991 Poster

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Release Date
November 22, 1991

Beauty and the Beast was a cornerstone of the Disney Renaissance of the late 1980s through the late ’90s. Along with other now Disney classics such as The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, the tale as old as time hooked a new generation of kids on the animated work of Disney. Along with iconic imagery and unforgettable songs, Beauty and the Beast became one of Disney’s most successful films, both critically and commercially.

Slow and Steady Wins the Box Office Race

Before the film would go on to dominate the box office, it would open at the number three spot behind The Addams Family and Cape Fear in 1991. The movie would go on to be Disney’s most successful animated film at the time, eventually earning over $219 million at the box office. Along with blockbusters like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the movie would be one of the biggest movies of 1991.

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Related: Beauty and The Beast’s Belle Originally Looked Like Angelina Jolie, But Was Called ‘Too Perfect’

1 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – $475 Million

The month was May, and the year was 1999. For the first time in more than 16 years, a brand new Star Wars film was slated for release, Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. Audiences were finally going to travel back to a galaxy far, far away and see the origin story of some of their favorite characters. What followed could only be described as a disappointment for the most hardcore fans of the franchise. Perhaps a victim of highly unrealistic expectations, it would jump-start what would be years of animosity towards the prequels.

A Cash Cow Nonetheless

Despite subpar reviews from critics and mixed to lackluster responses from some fans, The Phantom Menace was still a product of Star Wars after all and was sure to draw in box office money through the power of the force itself. Smashing box office records left and right, including the fastest film to reach both $200 and $300 million en route to a $475 million + box office run. While its records would eventually be broken by other films, including those in its own property, for a brief time in 1999, The Phantom Menace would rule the fantasy movie box office for the 1990s.

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