10 Highest-Grossing South Korean Movies of All Time
interest in South Korean cinema globally has increased in recent years. We owe our thanks to director Bong Joon-ho and Parasite for highlighting the quality and creativity of this cinema all over the world. Why the call? If they don’t deal with social issues, South Korean films grab your attention with their emotional capacity and empathy for humanity. The characters provide a depth you don’t often see in Western cinema, and their stories help you understand their actions.
Of course, South Korean cinema has always had an international audience even before the boom we experienced with Parasite. movies like Train to Busan and the with the gods franchise were major box office hits. Indeed, here is a rundown of the highest-grossing South Korean films of all time.
10/10 Assassination (2015) – $90.9 million
Co-written and directed by Choi Dong-hoon, Assassination is a period spy action movie, starring Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae in the lead roles. Set primarily in the 1930s when Korea was under Japanese occupation, the film depicts a group of resistance fighters and their attempt to assassinate a prominent Japanese official in protest. Brave Anti-Colonial Movements really get their message across thanks to the stunning performances of the cast – Jun in particular; it’s his movie. Against the backdrop of the Imperial struggle, we also have the two main protagonists falling in love, adding an extra layer of sentiment to the story. Globally, Assassination grossed $90.9 million worldwide.
9/10 Veteran (2015) — $92M
You will notice that corruption, powerful heirs and injustice are common topics in South Korean movies, and Veteran falls entirely into this category. Written and directed by Ryoo Seung-wan, Veteran is an action comedy starring Yoo Ah-in and Hwang Jung-min in the lead roles. It follows police detective Seo Do-cheol who gets his hands on a highly controversial case and tries to bring down a very powerful conglomerate, Jo Tae-oh. It mainly focuses on the power structures in South Korea and the ability of the wealthy to get away with just about anything. It eventually grossed $92 million worldwide.
8/10 With the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018) – $92.5 million
Directed by Kim Yong-hwa, With the Gods: The Last 49 Days is an action-fantasy sequel to the 2017 film With the gods: the two worlds (also on this list). It stars Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, and Kim Hyang-gi in the lead roles. The film follows three grim reapers who lead their 49th soul to the underworld. Its main focus is on how difficult the whole act of asking for forgiveness really is. Last 49 days managed to gross $92.5 million at the worldwide box office.
7/10 Masquerade (2012) – $94.3 million
Masquerade is a period drama film starring Lee Byung-hun in a dual role. Lee plays the character of the paranoid King Gwang-hae of the Joseon Dynasty, who thinks everyone wants to have him, so he finds himself a doppelganger; an acrobat who pretends to be the king when he is out of the palace. It’s a testament to an actor’s skill when playing multiple roles in the same movie, especially in the same scene, and Lee is no exception. With sales of $94.3 million worldwide, Masquerade is South Korea’s seventh highest-grossing film.
6/10 Train to Busan (2016) — $98.5 million
If we had to pick one genre that South Koreans excel in, it would be zombie movies. just look Train to Busan and you’ll see that it’s one of the most amazing movies you’ve ever seen. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, Train to Busan is an action-horror film starring Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, and Ma Dong-seok in the lead roles. Almost the entire film takes place on a bullet train from Seoul to Busan, as passengers struggle to survive while a zombie virus spreads outside. The focus is on the progression of the father-daughter relationship between Seok-woo and Su-an. It criticizes the government, portrays human selfishness and sacrifice, and emphasizes the importance of unity and family.
5/10 Ode to My Father (2014) – $99 million
Directed by Yoon Je-kyoon, Ode to my father is a drama film starring Hwang Jung-min and Yunjin Kim in the lead roles. It depicts South Korean history from the 1950s to the present through the lens of an ordinary man named Yoon Deok-soo. It mainly focuses on the Korean War, the sending of nurses and miners to West Germany in the 1960s, and the Vietnam War. Grossing over $99 million worldwide, it is the fifth highest-grossing film in South Korea’s history.
4/10 With the Gods: Both Worlds (2017) — $109.4 million
Directed by Kim Yong-hwa, With the gods: the two worlds is the first part of the fantasy action franchise. Much like its aforementioned sequel, the film stars Ha Jung-woo, Cha Tae-hyun, and Ju Ji-hoon in the lead roles. The two films were shot as one, but ultimately presented in two parts. It follows firefighter Kim Ja-hong who dies on duty and is escorted by three grim reapers, who must guide him through the underworld as he must pass seven trials in 49 days to be reincarnated. With $109.4 million worldwide, it is the fourth highest-grossing film in the history of South Korean cinema.
3/10 Extreme Work (2019) – $120 million
Directed by Lee Byeong-heon, Extreme work is an action-comedy starring Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Hanee, and Jin Seon-kyu as lead narcotics detective roles. These detectives have their last chance to save their careers by going on an undercover mission to catch a drug gang. They choose a chicken restaurant as a hideout, but after one of their meals becomes an instant hit, they decide to run the restaurant business while they’re there. It’s a hilarious action movie with lots of personality in every character. It managed to gross $120 million worldwide.
2/10 The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) – $138.3 million
Based on the historic Battle of Myeongnyang, The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an epic action war film directed and co-written by Kim Han-min. Starring Choi Min-sik as Korean naval commander Yi Sun-sin, who is forced to defend his nation with just 13 battleships against 300 enemy Japanese ships. The film swept South Korea by storm registering 10 million admissions just 12 days after its premiere, and surpassed Avatarrecord 13 million viewers in South Korea. It’s an iconic show that more people should talk about, and it made $138.3 million at the worldwide box office.
1/10 Parasite (2019) $263M
Last but not least, you guessed it: we have the academician Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho. This dark comedy thriller stars Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik and many more in leading roles. The film focuses on the poor Kim family struggling to get by when they infiltrate the wealthy Park family. What started out as a comedy goes downhill very quickly, when all of their positions are threatened. It addresses the topics of capitalism and class inequality in South Korea. With sales of over $263 million worldwide, Parasite won four Academy Awards at the 92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.