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.
(This story appears in the 26 June, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)