I was motivated to write this article by the news that The Pokémon Company is starting to investigate possible intellectual property infringement by the developers of the Palworld game. This was to be expected, as the small Pocketpair studio challenged the largest media franchise in human history, which has earned more than $88 billion for its owners in less than 30 years. Of course, The Pokémon Company will defend its golden chicken, and we will most likely see numerous lawsuits against Palworld developers.

After understanding the scale of the Pokémon franchise, I wondered what other media franchises could compete with Nintendo/The Pokémon Company, when they were created, and how much they earned.

We will leave out the colossal, titanic religious media franchises, which are almost always based on a book-the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, etc. Similarly, we will leave out pseudo-religious media franchises, such as Nazism and communism, which are also based on books – Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler and The Communist Party Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Let’s focus on secular media franchises that started with popular literary works, movies, or video games. And we will start, of course, with Pokémon.

All revenue data below is based on official reports from franchise owners and analysts’ estimates. Of course, they are far from complete and are constantly being updated.

1. Pokémon

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country Japan
Year of creation 1996
Primary media videogames
Creator Tajiri Satoshi
Rights owner The Pokémon Company, Nintendo
Income $88 billion

Pokémon began as a mobile game for the Nintendo Game Boy platform. For almost 30 years, the Pokémon games have sold a total of 480 million copies and brought Nintendo $6.13 billion. Another $1,156 was generated from the Pokémon movies and feature-length cartoons. However, The Pokémon Company earns most of its money from licensed merchandise – clothing, items for children, collectible cards, etc. All this has brought the owners of the brand $88 billion in 28 years. The Pokémon Company also sells the rights to airplane liveries with Pokémon. Of course, this is a pittance compared to clothing, but these airplanes actually advertise Pokémon!

So you get the idea, Nintendo is well positioned, and of course can easily defeat Pocketpair with their pathetic Palworld in court. If they had the will.

2. Mickey Mouse & Friends

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 1928
Primary media cartoons
Creators Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Rights owner The Walt Disney Company
Income $52.2 billion

The Mickey Mouse universe began in 1928 with the short cartoon Steamboat Willie, the second oldest franchise on our list. The budget of $4 986.69 paid off a hundredfold, turning a funny mouse into a star and creating the second largest media franchise in history.

Actually, the Mickey Mouse & Friends franchise includes six characters, the so-called “Sensational Six”. These are Mickey and Minnie Mouse (by the way, she is Minerva Mouse), Donald and Daisy Duck (originally Donna Duck), Pluto and Goofy.

As with Pokémon, the main money for Disney came not from the cartoons themselves, but from the sale of clothing, notebooks, blankets, household items, coloring books, etc. In total, over 96 years, the company has accumulated $52.2 billion.

As you probably know, on January 1, 2024, Mickey Mouse will finally become public domain in the United States, but not the whole of it, only the image of the mouse in the very first Steamboat Willie cartoon.

3. Winnie the Pooh

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country UK / USA
Year of creation 1924
Primary media book
Creators Alan Alexander Milne and Ernest Shepherd
Rights owner The Walt Disney Company
Income $48.5 billion

The sellers of the world’s first department store Harrods in London (founded in 1849) had no idea what adventures awaited the teddy bear that Alan Alexander Milne bought for his son Christopher Robin. And these adventures began with a short poem by Teddy Bear, which was published in the book of children’s poetry When We Were Very Young in 1924. Winnie the Pooh is the oldest media franchise on our list.

Although it was created by an English writer, the rights to Winnie the Pooh belong to The Walt Disney Company. And all thanks to the 1966 animated film of the same name. And then there are short films, sequels, animated series, musicals, video games, theme parks, even a new book Return to the Hundred Acre Wood (2009), which, of course, has nothing to do with Milne.

Films, parks, and so on have brought The Walt Disney Company some income, but the lion’s share of it, as in almost all other cases, comes from merchandising. This includes clothing, school backpacks and pencil cases, diaries, coloring books, and much more.

4. Star Wars

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 1977
Primary media movies
Creator George Lucas
Rights owner Lucasfilm / The Walt Disney Company
Income $46.7 billion

And again, The Walt Disney Company, this time through the Lucasfilm it has taken over. The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 with a space western about a princess, a knight, and a smuggler and continued in books, comics, and video games.

Unlike the previous Disney franchises, the films contributed a significant share to the total revenue. The 12 feature films (in case you forgot, there was also The Clone Wars (2008)), grossed $10.3 billion in theaters, making Star Wars the third most popular movie franchise after the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Spider-Man (yes, they are counted separately). The most profitable film in the series is Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) earned almost $2.1 billion.

The franchise also made good money from home video rentals – $1.27 billion; video games – $4.01 billion; books and comics – $1.82 billion. But of course, the franchise made the most money from merchandising – $29 billion.

5. Disney Princess

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 2000
Primary media animated movies
Creator Andy Mooney
Rights owner The Walt Disney Company
Income $45.4 billion

Officially, the Disney Princess lineup includes 13 animated and live-action characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Wayana, and Raya. Previously, Tinkerbell, Esmeralda, and Jay Porter were also considered princesses, but then they were quietly removed. It was expected that the princesses would include Meg, Giselle, Sofia, and Anna and Elsa, but this did not happen.

Although animated films about Disney princesses have been released since 1937 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), the franchise was formed under this general name in its modern form only in 2000, thanks to Andy Mooney, CEO of Disney Consumer Products, so the money has been counting since then.

Since 2000, Disney Princesses have brought the company $45.4 billion, earned mostly on girls’ dresses, tiaras, dolls and other toys, school supplies, etc. Not a bad pace!

6. Anpanman

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country Japan
Year of creation 1973
Primary media picture book
Creator Takashi Yanase
Rights owner Froebel-kan / Toppan
Income $38.4 billion

But this media franchise, like its main character, is most likely unfamiliar to most of our readers, although it is more than well known in our country as Hello Kitty.

Anpanman is a comic superhero who appeared in children’s picture books by Japanese writer, poet, and illustrator Takashi Yanase. An anpan is a popular Japanese sweet pastry, usually filled with adzuki bean paste. That is, Anpanman is literally a human bun. Takashi Yanase explained this choice by the fact that he often went hungry during the war, so he dreamed of an anpan.

Anpanman’s media franchise includes books (over 80 million copies sold), manga, video games, merchandise, etc. And also an anime series, which has been running continuously since 1988 and has already had 1 640 episodes! In addition, Anpanmen has its own museum.

Since 1977, the Anpanman franchise has brought an impressive $38.4 billion to the Froebel-kan/Toppan publishing companies.

7. Wizarding World

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country UK
Year of creation 1997
Primary media book
Creator J. K. Rowling
Rights owner Warner Bros. Entertainment / J. K. Rowling
Income $34.5 billion

The story of a single mother living on welfare who created a $34.5 billion media franchise is a fairy tale in itself. Wizarding World is the brand that unites the Harry Potter story and all other related books, movies, and games. The rights to the films belong to Warner Bros. and to J.K. Rowling’s books and theatrical productions, but of course, she also has her share of the movie distribution.

The Wizarding World’s revenue sources are very diverse. 11 films in the series brought in $9.6 billion, the most profitable of which, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011), earned $1.34 billion. In fact, Wizarding World is the fourth most profitable movie franchise after the aforementioned Star Wars, Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Spider-Man.

Book sales, with a total circulation of 600 million copies, brought in $8 billion. $4 billion came from movie rentals for home viewing, plus another $1 billion from TV rentals. 3.5 billion – video games, we say hello to Hogwarts Legacy and the Lego Harry Potter series. Studio Tour is another $1 billion. And then there’s merchandising, theme parks, theater productions, etc. All in all, it has accumulated $34.5 billion.

8. Barbie

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 1959
Primary media toys
Creator Ruth Handler
Rights owner Mattel
Income $33.9 billion

Although Ruth Handler supposedly “created” Barbie, it is common knowledge that Ruth “borrowed” the idea from the German Bild Lilli doll (1955-1964), which in turn was based on the Lilli comic strip that was published in the Bild newspaper (yes, the same one) in 1952-1962. In 1958, Germany even released a full-length film about the doll Lilli – ein Mädchen aus der Großstadt, starring Danish actress Anne Smirner. Although Barbie dolls appeared in 1959 and their resemblance to Lilli was more than obvious, Mattel acquired all rights to Bild Lilli only in 1964.

What happened next is well known to everyone. Hundreds of millions of dolls sold, more than 400 books by various authors and series, 120+ comics, 42 animated films and one live-action movie that became the highest grossing movie of 2023. Dozens of video games of dubious quality. But of course, Mattel makes the most money from merchandising. We count the income from the sale of the dolls themselves separately.

9. Marvel Cinematic Universe

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 2008
Primary media movies
Creator Marvel Studios
Rights owner Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures
Income $32.3 billion

The Marvel Cinematic Universe media franchise is usually considered separately from the comic books on which it is based, otherwise you can completely get confused about where the end is and where the beginning is, especially since even the movie series has already managed to confuse the audience, which is why it is now losing popularity.

It all began with Iron Man (2008) and has led to an almost unbroken story that continues for 33 films now, with 11 more in various stages of production. Plus dozens of TV shows on Disney+. And, of course, merchandising.

The MCU films earned $29.82 billion at the box office, the most profitable of which, Avengers: Endgame (2019), alone brought in almost $2.8 billion. As of now, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing movie of all time, slightly behind Avatar.

The Marvel Studios series, which are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe starting with Phase Four, earned another $2.6 billion. And somewhere else there are clothes, collectible hero figures, etc.

10. Call of Duty

Pokémon vs Mickey Mouse: Top 10 most expensive media franchises in history

Country USA
Year of creation 2003
Primary media video games
Creator Activision Blizzard
Rights owner Microsoft Gaming
Income $31 billion

It is the only purely gaming franchise in the Top 10 that has earned almost all of its money exclusively from selling video games.

It all started in 2003 with Call of Duty for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The most recent game in the series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III for Windows PC, PlayStation 4/5, and Xbox One/Series X/S, was released in November 2023.

The main series already includes 20 major games that have sold more than 425 million copies (fourth place in the list of best-selling games after Mario, Tetris, and Pokémon). In addition, there are games for mobile phones, free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone / Warzone 2.0, which bring developers a lot of money, comics, merchandise, and rumors about a possible game movie.

Other major media franchises
11. Batman (1939) – $29.6 billion
12. Hello Kitty (1974) – $28.3 billion
13. Spider-Man (1962) – $25.4 billion
14. Transformers (1984) – $25 billion
15. Dungeon Fighter Online (2005) – 22 billion
16. Cars (2006) – $21.5 billion
17. Candy Crush (2012) – $20 billion
18. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984) – $17.4 billion
19. Looney Tunes (1930) – $15.9 billion
20. Dora the Explorer (2000) – $15.8 billion
21. Pac-Man (1980) – $15.4 billion
22. The Lion King (1994) – $15.2 billion
23. Toy Story (1995) – $14.8 billion
24. James Bond (1953) – $14.4 billion
25. Peanuts (1950) – $14.4 billion

More articles in this series:
10 [+2] largest game companies in the world
10 largest companies in the world [by capitalization]