Half a century ago fantafiction (fantasy and science fiction) was barely a blip on the account books of motion picture studios. For the last decade it has been the prime money maker.
For some details on what movies have grossed over the years a good place to go is BoxOfficeMojo.com. It lets you look at the figures several ways - including raw and inflation-adjusted, by year, and by US and foreign income.
It does not include DVD, rental, and TV income. Nor does it tell you the net income of a film, only gross. Movie studios, to hear them tell it, NEVER make a profit. And they have a trillion ways to PROVE it.
So what are the 100 top-grossing films of all time? Here they are, with figures adjusted for inflation and limited to earnings from domestic (US) exhibitors. (This limitation is to allow comparison with films made before WWII.)
Notice the genres of the films? In the top ten 2 SF, 1 fantasy, and 1 horror (or 2 if you count Jaws as horror). In the top twenty 7 SF, 2 fantasy, and 1 (or 2) horror.
In the top 100 they are 23 SF, 24 fantasy, 2 (or 3) horror.
But 11 of the fantasy are animated with animal characters. Do they count as fantasy?
And 6 of the SF are based on comics. Does a radioactive spider biting Spiderman count as scientific? Batman has lots of neat tech toys, but is that scientific? You judge.
Those are quibbles, however. The bottom line is that of the 100 top-grossing domestic films of all time HALF were SF and fantasy.
This primacy is fairly recent. Perhaps the beginning was 1968 with 2001: a Space Odyssey. Certainly Star Wars in 1977 was a watershed year. It earned a US gross of $307 million dollars (on a production budget of $11 million).
By 1989 foreign film grosses had begun to match those of the US. As you can see in the following link from then on almost every year the top earner worldwide was SF. Also the top 20 contained several F&SF films. (On the page linked to below click on each year for a list of those films.)
The year 2001 was the beginning of F&SF primacy over other kinds of films. It was also when fantasy became so important. That year the top two films were Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Lord of the Rings I. The next two were Monsters, Inc. and Shrek. Numbers 7, 8, and 9 were The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, and Planet of the Apes (2001). Numbers 15 and 16 were Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
This pattern repeats for each year afterward. Want the details? On the page linked to above click on the year.
Here is the link for 2009. The titles in gold are still in the theatres.
What does this mean for written F&SF? I'm not sure. What do you think?