The U.S. box office of 1978: the receipts of all the hit films, released 40 years ago

How about a walk down memory lane to take a quick look at what happened at the box office in the U.S. and Canada forty years ago? As it turned out, “Grease” topped the summer box office, making the Paramount’s hit musical the box office champion of 1978.

According to Variety, as published in their 73rd Anniversary Edition of January 3, 1979–back then along with the Hollywood Reporter the only truly valuable and reliable source for any insider who needed to check the domestic rentals–Steven Spielberg’s continued run of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (released in November 1977) came in second and with the unexpected success of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (dir. John Landis), the top three films of 1978 were all directed by filmmakers from the New Hollywood, a new generation of young filmmakers that came to prominence in the late 1960 and 1970s.

To put those bright film directors, their films and their success in the right perspective, we prefer to give you first the top ten of Variety’s all-time box office hit films, as the list looked by the end of 1978, with seven of the top ten films directed by New Hollywood filmmakers:

  1. Star Wars (1977; George Lucas)
    CAST Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness
    $ 164,765,000
  2. Jaws (1975; Steven Spielberg)
    CAST Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary
    $ 121,254,000
  3. The Godfather (1972; Francis Ford Coppola)
    CAST Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
    $ 86,275,000
  4. Grease (1978; Randal Kleiser)
    CAST John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell
    $ 83,091,000
  5. The Exorcist (1973; William Friedkin)
    CAST Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb
    $ 82,200,000
  6. The Sound of Music (1965; Robert Wise)
    CAST Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn
    $ 79,000,000
  7. The Sting (1973; George-Roy Hill)
    CAST Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning
    $ 78,889,000
  8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977; Steven Spielberg)
    CAST Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
    $ 77,000,000
  9. Gone With the Wind (1939; Victor Fleming)
    CAST Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
    $ 76,700,000
  10. Saturday Night Fever (1977; John Badham)
    CAST John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Donna Pescow
    $ 71,463,000

But going back to the 1978 box office is concerned, please note that most of the November-December openings were on the market too sketchily for significance to be included in this list. They will appear in the 1979 overview.

So, for now, why don’t we let the facts and figures speak for themselves? Here it is, 1978, when we were all forty years younger, and the saying was ‘Grease is the word’ (click here for the official 40th anniversary trailer).

  1. Grease (June; Randal Kleiser)
    CAST John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell
    $ 83,091,000
  2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (November 1977; Steven Spielberg)
    CAST Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
    $ 54,000,000
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House (June; John Landis)
    CAST John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Thomas Hulce, Donald Sutherland
  4. Jaws 2 (June; Jeannot Szwarc)
    CAST Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Mascolo
    $ 49,299,000
  5. Heaven Can Wait (June; Warren Beatty)
    CAST Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Jack Warden
    $ 42,517,000
  6. The Goodbye Girl (November 1977; Herbert Ross)
    CAST Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, Paul Benedict
    $ 41,000,000
  7. Star Wars (May 1977, reissue; George Lucas)
    CAST Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness
    $ 38,375,000
  8. Hooper (July; Hal Needham)
    CAST Burt Reynolds, Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Field, Brian Keith
    $ 31,500,000
  9. Foul Play (July; Colin Higgins)
    CAST Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Burgess Meredith, Rachel Roberts, Dudley Moore
    $ 25,065,000
  10. Revenge of the Pink Panther (June; Blake Edwards)
    CAST Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Dyan Cannon
    $ 25,000,000
  11. Up in Smoke (September; Lou Adler)
    CAST Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Strother Martin, Edie Adams
    $ 21,271,000
  12. The End (May; Burt Reynolds)
    CAST Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Dom DeLuise, Joanne Woodward
    $ 20,000,000
  13. The Cheap Detective (May; Robert Moore)
    CAST Peter Falk, Ann-Margret, Louise Fletcher, John Houseman, Marsha Mason
    $ 19,500,000
  14. The Gauntlet (December 1977; Clint Eastwood)
    CAST Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince
    $ 17,500,000
  15. High Anxiety (December 1977; Mel Brooks)
    CAST Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman
    $ 17,040,000
  16. Pete’s Dragon (December 1977; Don Chaffey)
    CAST Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters
    $ 16,100,000
  17. The Turning Point (November 1977; Herbert Ross)
    CAST Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine, Tom Skerritt, Mikhail Baryshnikov
    $ 15,045,000
  18. House Calls (March; Howard Zieff)
    CAST Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Art Carney, Richard Benjamin
    $ 14,859,000
  19. Coma (February; Michael Crichton)
    CAST Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn, Richard Widmark
    $ 14,400,000
  20. Damien: Omen II (June; Don Taylor)
    CAST William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Sylvia Sidney
    $ 12,050,000
  21. Capricorn One (June; Peter Hyams)
    CAST Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston
    $ 11,500,000
  22. Julia (October 1977; Fred Zinnemann)
    CAST Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Maximilian Schell
    $ 11,300,000
  23. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s Band (July; Michael Schultz)
    CAST Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, Steve Martin, Donald Pleasence
    $ 11,070,000
  24. An Unmarried Woman (March; Paul Mazursky)
    CAST Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy, Cliff Gorman
    $ 11,000,000
  25. The Fury (March; Brian De Palma)
    CAST Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning
    $ 10,800,000
  26. Hot Lead & Cold Feet (July; Robert Butler)
    CAST Jim Dale, Karen Valentine, Don Knotts, Jack Elam, Darren McGavin
    $ 10,000,000
  27. Midnight Express (May; Alan Parker)
    CAST Jim Dale, Karen Valentine, Don Knotts, Jack Elam, Darren McGavin
    $ 10,000,000
  28. The World’s Greatest Lover (December 1977; Gene Wilder)
    CAST Gene Wilder, Carol Kane, Dom DeLuise, Fritz Feld
    $ 9,900,000
  29. Oh, God! (October 1977; Carl Reiner)
    CAST George Burns, John Denver, Teri garr, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bellamy
    $ 9,800,000
  30. The Late Great Planet Earth (December 1977; Robert Amram, Rolf Forsberg)
    CAST Orson Welles (narration)
    $ 9,656,000
  31. F.I.S.T. (April; Norman Jewison)
    CAST Sylvester Stallone, Rod Steiger, Peter Boyle, Melinda Dillon
    $ 9,500,000
  32. Convoy (June; Sam Peckinpah)
    CAST Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young
    $ 9,000,000
  33. Which Way Is Up? (November 1977; Michael Schultz)
    CAST Richard Pryor, Lonette McKee, Margaret Avery, Morgan Woodward
    $ 8,707,000
  34. Eyes of Laura Mars (July; Irvin Kershner)
    CAST Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois
    $ 8,600,000
  35. The Cat From Outer Space (July; Norman Tokar)
    CAST Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowall
    $ 8,250,000
  36. Coming Home (February; Hal Ashby)
    CAST Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford
    $ 8,200,000
  37. Death on the Nile (September; John Guillermin)
    CAST Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, Lois Chiles, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Jack Warden
    $ 8,134,000
  38. The Betsy (February; Daniel Petrie)
    CAST Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Katharine Ross, Tommy Lee Jones
    $ 7,850,000
  39. The Boys From Brazil (October; Franklin J. Schaffner)
    CAST Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer
    $ 7,628,000
  40. The Swarm (July; Irwin Allen)
    CAST Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Lee Grant, Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda
    $ 7,600,000
  41. Thank God It’s Friday (May; Robert Klane)
    CAST Donna Summer, Valerie Landsburg, Terri Nunn, Chick Vennera
    $ 7,300,000
  42. The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (June; John Berry)
    CAST Tony Curtis, Jackie Earl Haley, Tomisaburô Wakayama
    $ 7,281,000
  43. The Greek Tycoon (May; J. Lee Thompson)
    CAST Anthony Quinn, Jacqueline Bisset, Raf Vallone, Edward Albert
    $ 7,261,000
  44. Return From Witch Mountain (April; John Hough)
    CAST Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann
    $ 7,250,000
  45. The Choirboys (December 1977; Robert Aldrich)
    CAST Charles Durning, Louis Gossett Jr., Perry King, James Woods
    $ 7,071,000
  46. Candleshoe (February; Norman Tokar)
    CAST David Niven, Helen Hayes, Jodie Foster, Leo McKern
    $ 6,925,000
  47. The Wiz (October; Sidney Lumet)
    CAST Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross
    $ 6,681,000
  48. The Other Side of the Mountain, Part II (February; Larry Peerce)
    CAST Marilyn Hassett, Timothy Bottoms, Nan Martin, Belinda Montgomery
    $ 6,468,000
  49. Corvette Summer (June; Matthew Robbins)
    CAST Mark Hamill, Annie Potts, Eugene Roche, William Bryant
    $ 6,250,000
  50. Across the Great Divide (December 1977; Stewart Raffill)
    CAST Robert Logan, Heather Rattray, Mark Edward Hall, George Flower
    $ 6,053,000
  51. The Big Fix (October; Jeremy Paul Kagan)
    CAST Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Anspach, Bonnie Bedelia, John Lithgow
    $ 5,934,000
  52. The Buddy Holly Story (May; Steve Rash)
    CAST Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Maria Richwine
    $ 5,900,000
  53. American Hot Wax (March; Floyd Mutrux)
    CAST Tim McIntire, Fran Drescher, Jay Leno, Laraine Newman
    $ 5,082,000
  54. Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (September; Ted Kotcheff)
    CAST George Segal, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Morley, Jean-Pierre Cassel
    $ 5,000,000
  55. Rabbit Test (February; Joan Rivers)
    CAST Billy Crystal, Joan Prather, Alex Rocco, Doris Roberts
    $ 4,700,000
  56. Goin’ South (October; Jack Nicholson)
    CAST Jack Nicholson, Mary Steenburgen, John Belushi, Christopher Lloyd
    $ 4,627,000
  57. Casey’s Shadow (January; Martin Ritt)
    CAST Walter Matthau, Alexis Smith, Robert Webber, Murray Hamilton
    $ 4,300,000
  58. Telefon (December 1977; Don Siegel)
    CAST Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, Tyne Daly, Donald Pleasence
    $ 4,250,000
  59. The Boys in Company C (January; Sidney J. Furie)
    CAST Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, James Canning, Craig Wasson
    $ 4,150,000
  60. Pretty Baby (April; Louis Malle)
    CAST Keith Carradine, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Diana Scarwid
    $ 4,132,000
  61. Straight Time (March; Ulu Grosbard)
    CAST Dustin Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey
    $ 4,100,000
  62. Damnation Alley (October 1977; Jack Smight)
    CAST Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Dominique Sanda, Paul Winfield
    $ 4,000,000
  63. High-Ballin’ (May; Peter Carter)
    CAST Peter Fonda, Jerry Reed, Helen Shaver, Chris Wiggins
    $ 4,000,000
  64. Interiors (August; Woody Allen)
    CAST Diane Keaton, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Sam Waterston
    $ 4,000,000
  65. A Wedding (September; Robert Altman)
    CAST Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Vittorio Gassman, Lillian Gish
    $ 3,600,000
  66. The Wild Geese (May; Andrew V. McLaglen)
    CAST Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Krüger, Stewart Granger
    $ 3,500,000
  67. Gray Lady Down (March; David Greene)
    CAST Charlton Heston, David Carradine, Stacy Keach, Ned Beatty
    $ 3,121,000
  68. Blue Collar (February; Paul Schrader)
    CAST Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Cliff DeYoung
    $ 3,030,000
  69. Bobby Deerfield (October 1977; Sydney Pollack)
    CAST Al Pacino, Marthe Keller, Anny Duperey, Walter McGinn
    $ 3,000,000
  70. Comes a Horseman (October; Alan J. Pakula)
    CAST James Caan, Jane Fonda, Jason Robards, Richard Farnsworth
    $ 3,000,000
  71. FM (May; John A. Alonzo)
    CAST Michael Brandon, Eileen Brennan, Cleavon Little, Linda Ronstadt
    $ 2,924,000
  72. If I Ever See You Again (May; Joseph Brooks)
    CAST Joseph Brooks, Shelley Hack, Jimmy Breslin, Jerry Keller
    $ 2,900,000
  73. Alice in Wonderland (September 1951, reissue; Clyde Geronimo, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske)
    CAST (animated, voice only) Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn
    $ 2,800,000
  74. Crossed Swords (June; Richard Fleischer)
    CAST Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Ernest Borgnine, George C. Scott, Rex Harrison
    $ 2,700,000
  75. Cinderella (May 1977;  Michael Pataki)
    CAST Cheryl Smith, Kirk Scott, Brett Smiley, Sy Richardson, Yana Nirvana
    $ 2,600,000
  76. Almost Summer (April; Martin Davidson)
    CAST Bruno Kirby, Lee Purcell, Didi Conn, John Friedrich
    $ 2,599,000
  77. The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (December 1975, reissue; Stewart Raffill)
    CAST Robert F. Logan, Susan Damante Shaw, Hollye Holmes, Ham Larsen
    $ 2,588,000
  78. Paradise Alley (September; Sylvester Stallone)
    CAST Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Conway, Anne Archer, Joe Spinell
    $ 2,556,000
  79. Watership Down (November; Martin Rosen)
    CAST (animated, voice only) John Hurt, Ralph Richardson
    $ 2,550,000
  80. The Last Waltz (April; Martin Scorsese)
    CAST The Band, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell
    $ 2,500,000
  81. Who’ll Stop the Rain? (August; Karl Reisz)
    CAST Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Michael Moriarty, Anthony Zerbe
    $ 2,500,000
  82. The Driver (July; Walter Hill)
    CAST Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley
    $ 2,250,000
  83. Coach (March; Bud Townsend)
    CAST Cathy Lee Crosby, Michael Biehn, Keenan Wynn, Channing Clarkson
    $ 2,200,000
  84. The Big Sleep (March; Michael Winner)
    CAST Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, James Stewart
    $ 2,100,000
  85. Blazing Saddles (February 1974, reissue; Mel Brooks)
    CAST Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston
    $ 2,000,000
  86. Good Guys Wear Black (May; Ted Post)
    CAST Chuck Norris, Anne Archer, Lloyd Haynes, Dana Andrews
    $ 2,000,000
  87. You Light Up My Life (August 1977, reissue; Joseph Brooks)
    CAST Didi Conn, Joe Silver, Michael Zaslow, Stephen Nathan
    $ 1,900,000
  88. Somebody Killed Her Husband (September; Lamont Johnson)
    CAST Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Jeff Bridges, John Wood, Tammy Grimes
    $ 1,850,000
  89. Malibu Beach (May; Robert J. Rosenthal)
    CAST Kim Lankford, James Daughton, Susan Player Jarreau
    $ 1,750,000
  90. La vie devant soi, a.k.a. Madame Rosa (April; Moshé Mizrahi)
    CAST Simone Signoret, Samy Ben Youb, Michael Bat-Adam
    $ 1,680,000
  91. Warlords of Atlantis (July, Kevin Connor)
    CAST Doug McClure, Peter Gilmore, Cyd Charisse, Daniel Massey
    $ 1,600,000
  92. It Lives Again (May; Larry Cohen)
    CAST Frederic Forrest, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, John P. Ryan
    $ 1,500,000
  93. Jason and the Argonauts (June 1963, reissue; Don Chaffey)
    CAST Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith
    $ 1,500,000
  94. The Manitou (February; William Girdler)
    CAST Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern
    $ 1,500,000
  95. The Next Man (November 1976, reissue; Richard C. Sarafian)
    CAST Sean Connery, Cornelia Sharpe, Albert Paulsen, Adolfo Celi
    $ 1,450,000
  96. Big Wednesday (May; John Milius)
    CAST Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey, Patti D’Arbanville
    $ 1,400,000
  97. The Chicken Chronicles (October 1977: Francis Simon)
    CAST Phil Silvers, Steve Guttenberg, Ed Lauter, Lisa Reeves
    $ 1,350,000
  98. Hollywood High (July; Patrick Wright)
    CAST Marcy Albrecht, Sherry Hardin, Rae Sperling, Susanne
    $ 1,251,000
  99. Goin’ Coconuts (October; Howard Morris)
    CAST Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond, Kenneth Mars, Ted Cassidy
    $ 1,234,648
  100. A Piece of the Action (October 1977; Sidney Poitier)
    CAST Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, Denise Nicholas
    $ 1,200,000
  101. The Sea Gypsies (April; Stewart Raffill)
    CAST Robert Logan, Mikki Jamison, Heather Rattray
    $ 1,200,000
  102. I Wanna Hold Your Hand (April; Robert Zemeckis)
    CAST Nancy Allen, Bobby DiCicco, Marc McClure, Susan Kendall Newman
    $ 1,170,000
  103. Ode to Billy Joe (June 1976, reissue; Max Baer)
    CAST Robby Benson, Glynnis O’Connor, Joan Hotchkins, Sandy McPeak
    $ 1,100,000
  104. Stingray (June; Richard Taylor)
    CAST Christopher Mitchum, Les Lannom, William Watson, Sherry Jackson
    $ 1,100,000
  105. Alice Sweet Alice, a.k.a. Communion (September 1977; Alfred Sole)
    CAST Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard, Brooke Shields
    $ 1,090,000
  106. Girl Friends (May; Claudia Weill)
    CAST Melanie Mayron, Eli Wallach, Adam Cohen, Anita Skinner
    $ 1,000,000
  107. Here Come the Tigers (April; Sean S. Cunningham)
    CAST Richard Lincoln, James Zvanut, Samantha Grey, Manny Lieberman
    $ 1,000,000
  108. Jennifer (February; Brice Mack)
    CAST Lisa Pelikan, Bert Convy, Nina Foch, John Gavin
    $ 1,000,000
  109. The Medusa Touch (February; Jack Gold)
    CAST Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick, Harry Andrews
    $ 1,000,000
  110. The Norseman (June; Charles B. Pierce)
    CAST Lee Majors, Cornel Wilde, Mel Ferrer, Jack Elam
    $ 1,000,000
  111. Our Winning Season (June; Joseph Ruben)
    CAST Scott Jacoby, Deborah Benson, Dennis Quaid, Robert Wahler
    $ 1,000,000
  112. The Pack (September 1977; Robert Clouse)
    CAST Joe Don Baker, Hope Alexander-Willis, Richard B. Shull
    $ 1,000,000
  113. Youngblood (February; Noel Nosseck)
    CAST Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Bryan O’Dell, Ren Woods
    $ 1,000,000