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10 Biggest Box Office Hits of the 1930s, Ranked
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10 Biggest Box Office Hits of the 1930s, Ranked

The 1930s were a tumultuous period in world history, marked by the Great Depression. However, the decade is also recalled as Hollywood’s Golden Age, where Hollywood rose to mammoth status and emerged as a dominant force in the entertainment industry. In this period, new genres were created, new stars were born, and some of the biggest box office hits of all time were produced. One of the most successful films of the 1930s is Gone with the Wind, released in 1939 and still the highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation.

The 1930s also saw the rise of stars like Clark Gable, who became a household name thanks to his roles in the iconic film It Happened One Night (1934). Generally, The 1930s left an indelible mark on the film industry, producing some of the most beloved and enduring movies ever. Here are the ten biggest box office hits of the 1930s.


10 It Happened One Night (1934)

Columbia Pictures

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy about a wealthy heiress who runs away from her family to avoid an arranged marriage and a cynical newspaper reporter who helps her on her journey. Along the way, the two fall in love and face a series of comedic obstacles. The film’s sparkling dialogue, memorable characters, and charming performances by its leads make it a must-see for fans of classic cinema.

Upon release, the movie was a critical success and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. At the 7th Academy Awards, It Happened One Night was nominated for five Oscars, and it went on to win all of them, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. It was the first film to win all five major Oscars and is a classic example of romantic comedy. The film was also a hit at the box office, grossing over 2 million dollars Worldwide.

9 Modern Times (1936)

Charlie Chaplin as a cog in the wheel of Modern Times
United Artists

Modern Times is a classic silent comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. The film is a commentary on the industrialization and modernization of society during the Great Depression. Chaplin portrays a factory worker who struggles to find his place in the rapidly changing world of technology and automation. The film’s themes of technology and alienation continue to resonate with audiences, making it a timeless classic in cinema history. Upon its release, Modern Times was a tremendous success.

The film was met with critical acclaim, with many critics praising its social commentary and Charlie Chaplin’s performance. Audiences also flocked to see the movie, making it one of the year’s highest-grossing films. The film’s success helped cement Chaplin’s reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, and it remains one of his most celebrated works.

RELATED: The Best Movies of the 1930s, Ranked

8 Top Hat (1935)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance in Top Hat

Top Hat is a classic musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, one of the era’s most iconic on-screen duos. The story revolves around mistaken identities and romantic misunderstandings, as Jerry (Fred Astaire) falls in love with Dale (Ginger Rogers) and tries to win her over while navigating various obstacles. The film is famous for its stunning dance sequences, including the iconic “Cheek to Cheek” number, showcasing Astaire and Rogers’s effortless grace and chemistry. The movie is also memorable for its witty dialogue, playful humor, and glamorous costumes that add to its charm.

Top Hat was a critical and commercial success, helping to solidify the popularity of the musical genre. It was the fourth most popular film at the British box office from 1935 to 1936, grossing over $3 million, and remains a beloved classic of the golden age of Hollywood.

7 Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty is a classic adventure based on a true story. The movie, directed by Frank Lloyd, tells the story of the HMS Bounty, a British ship that sets sail for Tahiti to gather breadfruit plants. The ship’s crew, led by Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton), faces harsh conditions and abusive treatment, leading to a mutiny led by First Mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable). The movie’s breathtaking photography assists in taking the audience to the South Pacific’s exotic locations. The performances by Laughton and Gable are especially noteworthy, with Gable radiating charisma and fire as the rebellious Christian and Laughton imparting a feeling of merciless authority to his role. Upon release, Mutiny on the Bounty was a critical and commercial success. The film grossed $4.5 million, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1935. In addition, the movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1936 Oscar Awards.

6 San Francisco (1936)

San Francisco (1936)

San Francisco is an American drama classic film set in San Francisco in the early 1900s and tells the story of Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), a saloon owner, who falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), a talented singer. The two navigate the devastation caused by the great earthquake and subsequent fire that struck San Francisco in 1906. The film is known for its impressive special effects and is considered one of early Hollywood cinema’s most realistic depictions of a natural disaster. San Francisco was a huge commercial success upon its release, grossing over $5 million, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1936. The film was also critically acclaimed and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director.

5 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
RKO Radio Pictures

The first full-length animated feature from Walt Disney Productions, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a groundbreaking achievement in animation with unforgettable characters and songs. The film is based on the classic fairy tale and tells the story of Snow White, a beautiful princess who is forced to flee from her wicked stepmother and finds refuge with seven lovable dwarfs. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated feature to be produced in color and with synchronized sound, and it set a new standard for the animation industry. During its initial release, the film became a massive commercial success grossing more than $8 million, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1938 and the highest-grossing animated film of all time when adjusted for inflation. The movie is also critically acclaimed and adored by its audience; its popularity led to the film being re-released several times theatrically until the 1990s when its home video was released.

4 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a classic political drama film that tells the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), a naive and idealistic young man appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. Smith quickly finds himself out of his depth in the corrupt world of Washington politics, but he refuses to compromise his principles and fights back against the system. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a stirring tribute to democracy and the power of individual courage, as Smith’s determination inspires others to stand up for what is right. The film is critically acclaimed, with an approval rating of 8.1/10 on IMDb and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also very successful at the box office earning theatrical rentals of $3.5 million in the United States and $9 million worldwide, making it the second-highest-earning film of 1939. It was also nominated for eleven Oscars, winning one.

3 The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is a beloved musical fantasy film released in 1939 and has captivated audiences for generations. The film tells the story of a young girl named Dorothy (Judy Garland), who is swept away from her Kansas farm by a tornado and transported to the magical Land of Oz. On her journey to find her way home, Dorothy meets a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion who become her companions. Together, they embark on an adventure to meet the mighty Wizard of Oz and ask for his help. The Wizard of Oz is beloved for its memorable characters, colorful sets, catchy musical numbers, and enduring message about the importance of home and family. Upon release, the film was a critical success and was nominated for six Academy Awards, ultimately winning two for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. The movie grossed over $34 million worldwide, making it the second-highest-grossing film of 1939.

RELATED: The 10 Biggest Box Office Successes of the ‘80s, Ranked

2 Frankenstein (1931)

boris karloff frankenstein

Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, Frankenstein is a horror film that tells the story of Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), a young scientist who creates a living creature from the body parts of the dead. The plot centers around the consequences of Frankenstein’s reckless pursuit of knowledge and the havoc the monster wreaks on the local village. The film is known for its groundbreaking use of makeup and special effects and haunting musical score. Upon its release, Frankenstein was a huge critical and commercial success, and it became one of the most influential films of all time. The movie grossed over $12 million at the box office on a $260,000 budget, making it one of the year’s most profitable films. Beyond its initial success, the film has continued to be celebrated as a landmark achievement in the horror genre.

1 Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind movie
Loew’s, Inc.

Gone with the Wind is an epic historical romance set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell and tells the narrative of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), a Southern belle determined to win back the love of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) during the American Civil War. The film boasts a stellar cast and features stunning cinematography, with memorable scenes like the burning of Atlanta. Upon release, the movie received praise from its audiences and critics, with some stating that it was the most ambitious film produced up to that point. At the 12th Academy Awards, it got thirteen nominations, winning ten, including Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also a massive commercial success grossing an astounding $198.7 million domestically and over $390 million worldwide at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film up to that point and still the highest-grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation.