Two decades later and we finally get to make a substantial highest ranking ghost movie list. It might surprise some people that supernatural films are prevalent through the years, but ones that primarily feature ghosts or the influence of ghosts aren’t historically at the top.
This list contains the highest grossing ghost movies by the year starting in 2002. It’s compiled of movies where ghosts have a prominent role or they are a large part of the plot development. For instance, Harry Potter features ghosts, but they aren’t the main focus. Plus those movies are more fantasy than horror.
Data for this list was taken from Box Office Mojo based on overall gross worldwide.
The Ring (2002)
This is the J-Horror American crossover that started it all. Based on the popular Japanese film Ringu, this cursed videotape horror movie was laughed at when news broke that it was getting an American remake. Then, when people saw it, the positive word of mouth generated enough buzz that lines formed at the box office.
Ultimately this movie ranked 18 overall in the year 2002. Worldwide gross: $249,348,933
This year wasn’t big on supernatural stuff unless you count Harry Potter in that category. If you don’t, you have to go pretty far down the list to get your ghost fix finding Gothika at number 48.
With the success of The Ring American filmmakers wanted to cash in on the supernatural mystery concept and Robert Zemeckis’ production company was the one to do it. Although not as horrific as The Ring, this one packed a powerful punch as we see Halle Barry as a psychologist who gets admitted as a patient in her own facility.
Secrets are revealed, twists are made and a perfect popcorn movie is one for the ages. Worldwide gross: $141,591,324
The Grudge (2004) American 20
Do you see a trend happening here? The Grudge was the second big-budget attempt at taking a Japanese ghost movie and turning it into an American one. This time around Sarah Michelle Geller plays the scream queen haunted by a curse. It’s another very creepy entry into the appropriated concept. People everywhere imitated Kayako’s ghostly vocal fry and hair washing was never the same.
This movie placed 20th overall in 2004 with a worldwide gross of $187,281,115
The Ring 2 (2005)
If it worked once it might work again. And it did! The Ring 2 was a surprisingly effective sequel to the American remake. Naomi Watts returns to her role as Rachel haunted by Sadako, the ghost whose curse is tied to a videotape. Although it didn’t do better than its predecessor, it’s still a tension-filled, creepy homage to J-Horror.
This one sits at number 28 for 2005 with a worldwide total of $163,995,949
Silent Hill (2006)
Some might argue that Silent Hill is not a ghost movie, but it is. In fact, it takes place in a literal ghost town. Aside from that this film is polarizing among fans, especially ones who played the video game on which it’s based. Still, it has a cult following which still holds sway today, making all other sequels forced to be compared to this one. Let’s just say they haven’t been able to surpass it.
Scary imagery, an aura of gloom and doom and really scary monsters weren’t enough to capture the interest of moviegoers. Silent Hill placed 69 overall in 2006 with a worldwide gross of $100,605,135.
In 2007, Stephen King was beginning to make a comeback cinematically. His short story 1408 was adapted into this film of the same name starring John Cusack. Cusack plays a skeptic journalist who debunks famous hauntings. He meets his match in an old hotel room where time and space are warped by the spirits who stayed there previously.
This one ranked at number 35 and brought in $132,963,417 worldwide.
The Eye (2008)
On the tail end of the American Asian horror remakes, The Eye was released. Starring Jessica Alba as a classical musician who regains her eyesight, this film delves into the spirits of body parts and what if a transplant still held trauma from its donor.
Following the formula, Alba’s character keeps seeing things that she realizes are all a part of a bigger mystery. One she is willing to investigate. This was the nail in the coffin for bigger budgeted remakes of this genre. It ranked 96 and scraped together $58,010,320 at the box office.
Paranormal Activity (2009)
As Asian horror remakes in America died, the found-footage paranormal genre was born. Director Orin Peli’s started it all, putting his brand of tech into the Blair Witch formula. This included CCTV, digital video cameras, and webcams. Like Blair Witch the public was tricked into not knowing, based on the trailer, if this movie was genuine. This movie was so independent that a campaign was started asking curious viewers to start petitions to bring it to their cities. It wasn’t long before the film became a pop culture success and opened in theaters everywhere.
This movie sits at number 30 for the year with a gross intake of $193,355,800. But get this, the film only cost Peli about $15,000 to make. You do the math.
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Repeating the success of the original perhaps out of curiosity only, Paranormal Activity 2 is more of the same but begins the world-building that will be the basis for future sequels. This one introduces a baby, a German Shepard and a poolside jumpscare.
Not as profitable as its parent movie this one grossed $177,512,032
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) 26
Back for more. The Paranormal Activity saga continues with this cash grab. Three movies in three years is a red flag. More camera footage, more night vision green, and an origin story aren’t enough to save this third film. Still, it managed to bring in $207,039,844 worldwide which is more than the second one did.
The Woman in Black (2012) 58
You would think Daniel Radcliff would have had enough of the paranormal with his Harry Potter saga. But alas no. He’s back in a large mansion in this period piece in which he investigates reports of a haunting. This film really embraces its gothic charms and moody ghost story elements.
It was mostly praised by critics for its homage to Hammer films of yore and the lead’s performance. But audiences weren’t as keen and it settles in at number 58 for 2012 with a total of $128,955,898 worldwide.
The Conjuring (2013)
With found footage horror movie trends behind us, we enter the era of James Wan. This epoch is still going strong; it all started with Insidious and The Conjuring. Pulling out all the stops, Wan introduces us to Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists who travel the world helping families suffering under the oppression of an unholy presence.
The king of jump scares, Wan uses great camera work and unnerving demons to tell his story. This would be the first of many stories in this universe which would generate a few spinoffs which we will get to later.
With an impressive $320,406,242 under its belt, The Conjuring was an incredible win for Wan.
As for those spinoffs we were talking about, Annabelle is the first in Wan’s The Conjuring universe. But, there was a snag. Fans of The Conjuring were expecting more of the same, but director John R. Leonetti went in a different direction for this origin story. Unlike the vibrant, bursting horror of Wan’s film, this one is a slow and steady burn. Leonetti pays heavy homage to the Satanic Panic films of the ’60s and ’70s, especially Rosemary’s Baby. Technically the movie is brilliant, but audiences didn’t want genre deep dives and homage — they wanted a killer doll. They got it, but it wasn’t delivered in the way they desired.
Still, the film managed to gross $257,589,721 worldwide, sitting at 37 for the year.
Insidious Chapter 3 (2015)
Wan’s other universe is that of Insidious. His first in the series actually debuted in 2010 but didn’t gain traction until this, the second sequel. And what a great movie it is. Filled with action, memorable monsters, and some great comic relief. This is also the first time we get to see Leigh Whannell behind the director’s chair and it’s a grand entrance.
This one took in $112,983,889 and landed at number 57.
The Conjuring 2 (2016) 28
James Wan returns in this second part, but an unrelated story to The Conjuring. This time Ed and Lorraine Warren head overseas to help a family under spiritual attack. Again the story is based on a real case, and again Wan is able to get under our skin.
THis entry did better than the first bringing in $321,834,351 worldwide.
Annabelle Creation (2017) 32
Since the first one fell flat, audiences were expecting Creation to follow suit. But they were pleasantly surprised to find this one was superior. Lights Out director David F. Sandberg takes control of the director’s chair and puts his atmospheric spin on the story. It proved to be a good choice because Annabelle Creation banked $306,515,884 worldwide.
The Nun (2018)
Wan gets another addition to his growing horror family with The Nun. This big-budget gothic saga is a dark period piece.
Synopsis: A priest with a haunted past and a novice on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate the death of a young nun in Romania and confront a malevolent force in the form of a demonic nun.
Final tally: $365,582,797 worldwide.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
It’s Wan’s world once again! Annabelle Comes Home isn’t a fan favorite in the franchise, but this one is entertaining enough. The Warren’s demonology museum is upset by curious teens releasing a myriad of cursed exhibits. As the kids fight back, more is revealed about the possessed doll. Gary Dauberman directs.
Final worldwide take: $231,252,591
The Invisible Man (2020) & The Grudge (2020-requel)
It would be unfair not to include The Invisible Man on this list. Although technically not a ghost movie it still has an invisible force that torments the living. Plus it’s the first movie to suffer theatrically during the pandemic. Cool tech, and kills this movie should also come with a trigger warning for domestic violence.
This comes in at $143,151,000 worldwide.
The Grudge (requel/remake) is wildly subpar from its source material. Part of that problem is because it was so confusing in its anthology design. Some of the aspects are pretty cool and scary but overall the premise is now a curse itself.
Audiences seemed to agree as they spent only $49,511,319 worldwide for this entry.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
In the age of COVID releasing a first-run movie simultaneously on a streaming service and at theaters was almost a necessity for making your money back. And for HBO Max it seemed to have worked. Thank goodness this third entry into the conjuring franchise was the movie.
Based on yet another true story, the Warrens got to court to defend a man accused of murder, testifying that an evil force possessed the murderer and made him do it. It was a different approach to the formula and for some, it was good, for others they ended their free HBO Max subscription.
The film took in $206,401,480 and had a pretty good position at 19 for the year despite the delivery medium.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2022)
As we are still in 2022 all we can do is find the ghost movie that has succeeded thus far. That movie is Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Part comedy, part supernatural thriller, and part emotional farewell to Harold Ramis, this one hit Gen X a little harder than most while introducing a new generation into the fold.
While people still wonder about returning to the theater, this one took in $197,360,575 worldwide so far.