Many of the East Asian countries are known for a particular type of entertainment. In recent years, China has been known for becoming a major player in the movie industry, while Japan has had a big focus on animation for a very long time. Then, there’s Korea, which is mostly known for music, particularly in the pop genre.
However, that doesn’t mean that Korea hasn’t had its fair share of financial successes at the box office. Throughout Korean film history, there have been a handful of blockbusters that have made their way to audiences overseas, earning an amount of money that would have them fit right in with Hollywood. Let’s take a look at the highest-grossing Korean films to see how they fared worldwide.
1. Extreme Job
The action-packed comedy flick, Extreme Job, is the highest-grossing film to come from South Korea. Earning ₩148.5 billion ($120 million USD), with a budget of ₩6.5 billion ($5.8 million USD). For director Lee Byeong-heon, it was a major blockbuster undertaking, but even he couldn’t have seen the success that was coming with Extreme Job.
Released in 2019, the film follows a group of detectives that make a last-ditch effort to save their careers after failing a previous mission. When their new objective lands them at a chicken restaurant, hilarity ensues and things don’t quite go as planned.
2. The Admiral: Roaring Currents
A war film filled to the brim with action, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, is the second highest-grossing film to come from South Korea. Earning ₩171.1 billion ($138.3 million USD), with a surprisingly low budget estimated to be no more than ₩526 million ($425,000 USD).
The 2014 film is co-written and directed by Kim Han-min and is a dramatic adaptation of the Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597, where legendary Admiral Yi Sun-sin fought against the Japanese Navy near Jindo Island. The film showcases the intense bravery and turmoil that surrounds war.
3. The Roundup
The high-energy crime flick, The Roundup, is the third highest-grossing film to come from South Korea. Earning ₩125 billion ($101.1 million USD), with a budget of ₩10.5 billion ($8.4 million USD). Directed by Lee-Sang-Yong, the 2022 film is a sequel to the 2017 film The Outlaws.
In this sequel, detective Ma-Seok-do finds himself in Vietnam to extradite suspect Yoo Jong-hoon. They get more than they bargained for when they discover a murderer in their midst, Kang Hae-sang, responsible for killing Korean tourists.
4. Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds
Along With the Gods is a fantasy-filled and action-packed film that comes in fourth for highest grossing South Korean films. It earned ₩135 billion ($109.4 million USD), with a budget of ₩20 billion ($18.3 million USD). The film was directed by Kim Yong-hwa, and has an alternate name of Together with God – Sin and Punishment, depending on how the film title is translated.
The film is actually the first of a two-parter that was all shot at the same time and stars Ha Jung-woo, Chae Tae-hyun, and Ju Ji-hoon. The film follows the tale of a firefighter who was killed in action and is guided through the afterlife by guardians that help him through the many trials that he has to pass in order to be reincarnated. It’s an interesting look at the afterlife that was beloved by moviegoers and critics alike. Along With the Gods was nominated for a dozen Blue Dragon Awards, taking home five wins including Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hyang-gi.
5. Ode to My Father
Ode to My Father is an intense and emotional drama film that takes the fifth spot for the highest-grossing film to come out of South Korea. It earned ₩122 billion ($99 million USD), with a budget of ₩37 billion ($30 million USD). Released in 2014, this film directed by Yoon Je-kyoon instantly became a darling for critics around the world.
The tale begins during the Korean War during the 1950s and follows the life of a man all the way through to the present day, sharing a story that resonated with a lot of the audience. Ode to My Father was nominated for a long list of awards that included nine Blue Dragon Awards, earning three wins including a Best Supporting Actor title for Oh Dal-su.