The Top 10 Best-Selling Game Franchises

Halo 3 might shatter sales records, but Master Chief has a long way to go before he topples these gaming giants.

It’s official — the fight has been finished. With Grand Theft Auto IV on the blocks until early next year, it’s a pretty safe bet that Halo 3 will be the best-selling game of 2007. On Wednesday Microsoft gleefully announced a $170 million take on opening day alone, making it the highest-grossing single day launch in entertainment history. To give you some perspective, current box-office champ Spider-Man 3 enjoyed an opening weekend total of about $150 million. Master Chief does whatever a spider can and then some.

But despite such astronomical revenue, the Halo trilogy barely cracks the worldwide best-selling franchises Top 40, currently resting at a comfy 15 million units sold. Tack on a generous 10 million more courtesy of Halo 3 (Halo 2 rests at 9 million) and it’s still light years away from competing with these formidable franchises.


10. Gran Turismo

Units sold: 47 million
Defining game: Gran Turismo (PSOne)

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For racing game fans, there was life before Gran Turismo and whatever shreds of a life they could piece together after Gran Turismo. Known for its insanely realistic graphics, bevy of licensed vehicles and intricately detailed tuning and control, the series has become widely considered the de facto leader in video game simulation racing. Though only four full games have been released thus far, each of those has been a massive worldwide seller.

Trivial Trivia: The first Gran Turismo was the best-selling game on the original Playstation.


9. Donkey Kong

Units sold: 48 million
Defining game: Donkey Kong (Arcade)

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Drawing inspiration from the classic King Kong and, presumably, a large barrel of whiskey, ace game developer Shigeru Miyamoto uncaged his bizarre, beastly creation in 1981. While the barrel-throwing has become significantly less prominent, the apish frontman certainly hasn’t, enjoying steady work through the years in a variety of well-received platformers and racers. But by introducing the world to a mustachioed plumber named Jumpman (who would later become you-know-who) , it’s DK’s first game that remains his beloved best.

Trivial Trivia: Universal Studios, owner of the King Kong trademark, unsuccessfully sued Nintendo in 1982 over the Donkey Kong name.


8. The Legend of Zelda

Units sold: 52 million
Defining game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

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While Mario might rule Nintendo’s roost, Zelda hero Link rules its heart. Few franchises have enjoyed the kind of critical and commercial success routinely heaped upon the Action/RPG mainstay, and for good reason. Each Zelda outing is a study in whimsical game design, a clever puzzle rife with secrets and oozing with fairy tale wonder. The timeline is a bit wacky, but whether you’re rebuilding the Triforce in the NES classic or saving Hyrule from perpetual darkness in Twilight Princess, you’re truly playing with power.

Trivial Trivia: The titular princess is named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda.


7. Madden NFL

Units sold: 60 million
Defining game: Oh, just pick one.

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Long live consistency – a new Madden football game has arrived on store shelves every summer for nearly twenty years in a row. The result is the best-selling sports franchise ever and easily the most famous. Though the series is almost entirely associated with consoles, it began in 1989 on the Apple II after the ex-Raider coach convinced publisher Electronic Arts that he’d only sign on if the game were an authentic 11-on-11 experience. Like a great back, it’s never stopped running.

Trivial Trivia: John Madden himself is the only voice actor who has appeared in every single version of the game.


6. Tetris

Units sold: 60 million
Defining game: Tetris (Game Boy)

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Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajintov had a thing for shapes. Little did he realize that his obsession would soon become ours when he unleashed the world’s most popular puzzler in 1989. An instant sensation, Tetris quickly became a commuting staple, a work distraction and a late-night fixation. It’s so dangerously addictive, in fact, that it created a scientific phenomenon describing the inability of players to stop thinking about shifting blocks long after playing the game, blandly dubbed the "Tetris Effect." Trademark disputes and legal wrangling resulted in it being shamelessly ported to every known platform under a ton of different names, but whatever you want to call it, this block party is an undeniable success.

Trivial Trivia: The name of the theme song you can’t get out of your head is "Korobeiniki," a traditional Russian folk tune.

5. Grand Theft Auto

Units sold: 65 million
Defining game: GTA III (PS2)

Throw your hands in the air and wave them like you’re being robbed, because Rockstar’s gangsta paradise has jacked its way onto the list. That’s quite a move for a series that didn’t see its initial blast of blockbuster success until 2001’s seminal Grand Theft Auto III. Every subsequent release has been a major, major deal, due in equal parts to continued design brilliance and buckets of unintentionally promotional backlash. But whether you hate to love it or love to hate it (or, like us, just love to love it), you can’t deny GTA’s power over the people.

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Trivial Trivia: The original Grand Theft Auto PC game takes place in three different cities: Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas.


4. Final Fantasy

Units sold: 75 million
Defining game: Final Fantasy VII (PSOne)

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In 1987, a fledgling Japanese game development studio desperate for a hit poured all its resources into their last ditch-effort, a role-playing game given the exhausted title, Final Fantasy. The studio was Square, and the series isn’t remotely close to being over. Roughly 30 games bearing the Final Fantasy moniker have been released worldwide, a feat made even more amazing considering that most are stand-alone affairs set in totally new worlds with little to no relationship with other games in the series. Despite the disconnected plots, gamers can’t get enough of the franchise’s trademark combat systems, stellar production values, mystifying melodramas and, of course, those weird, adorable Chocobos.

Trivial Trivia: Final Fantasy XI is considered to be the first console game to have received a downloadable patch.


3. The Sims

Units sold: 90 million
Defining game: The Sims (PC)

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When legendary sim game designer Will Wright first announced his digital dollhouse The Sims, we were all a bit skeptical. Who in their right mind would want to distract themselves from their daily routine by playing a game based on their daily routine? The answer is approximately all of us. The original Sims was a crossover sensation, simultaneously appealing to both seasoned gamers looking for a brand new experience and uninitiated newbies itching to play house and practice social politicking. The formula works; powered by a steady stream of expansions, The Sims franchise maintains a firm grip on monthly PC sales charts to this day.

Trivial Trivia: The original The Sims is the best-selling PC game of all time.


2. Pokemon

Units sold: 164 million
Defining game: Pokemon Red/Blue (Game Boy)

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Well, folks, you were instructed to catch ’em all, and you nearly did. Second only to big brother Mario, the Pokemon games have clawed, scratched and merchandized their way into the hearts and wallets of families all over the world. The Poke-phenomenon began in 1996 with the simultaneous release of two linkable Game Boy games, introducing hordes of impressionable young gamers to the holy handheld trinity of collecting, training and battling digital beasts. Thrilled with the overnight success of its devious concoction, Nintendo quickly opened the media floodgates by spinning it off into an anime series, a trading card game and a variety of feature films. A decade later, the games remain Pokemon’s meat and potatoes.

Trivial Trivia: In 1997, over 600 Japanese children suffered seizures while watching an episode of Pokemon called "Electric Soldier Porygon." It hasn’t aired since.


1. Mario

Units sold: 195 million
Defining game: Super Mario Bros. (NES)

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Over his illustrious 25-year career, the world’s most famous plumber has also become its most successful. Starting with 1983’s Joust knock-off Mario Bros., a Mario game has graced every Nintendo console system ever released, from the classic NES to the not-so-classic Virtual Boy. A true Renaissance man, he’s had more hits than The Beatles, spawning entire genres (Mario Kart, Super Mario 64) and reinventing old ones (Super Paper Mario). Along the way, his incessant quest for coins has been immensely profitable, grossing Nintendo in upwards of $8 billion.

Trivial Trivia: Mario was named after real-life Nintendo of America office landlord Mario Segale.

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