It might be time to update the old adage: These days a picture is worth a thousand words—and, occasionally, a billion dollars. Unadjusted for inflation, five movies directly adapted from books have cracked $1 billion in global ticket sales. Add comic books and the list grows to ten. (Most recently: Avengers: Age of Ultron, whose heroes have racked up more than $1.2 billion since early May.)
Since The Exorcist in 1973 ($441 million), book adaptations have tallied $33.6 billion in constant-dollar ticket sales and that’s just among the 200 top-grossing movies. The hottest genre by far: Young Adult (YA) fiction. Seventeen of the 25 highest-grossing book-movies started as acne-and-angst YA novels.
Make that acne, angst and alchemy: A certain young wizard’s 2001 celluloid debut, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, grossed $975 million and spawned a franchise that cast a $7.7 billion spell at the box office. (The other YA staples: The Hunger Games, Twilight and CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.)
And while literary purists might lament the dominance of all that kiddie fiction, one big box office performer has a loftier pedigree: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, published in 1936, brought in $1.6 billion in 2015 dollars (domestic only!) when it hit screens three years later in 1939—making Rhett and Scarlett the financial peers of Harry, Bilbo and Alice in Wonderland.