Though Malayalam cinema is known for its quality content and at least a few memorable performances every year, it has taken a long time for the industry to set box-office records like in Hindi.
Aamir Khan-starrer Ghajini (2008) was the first Hindi film to enter the coveted ₹100 crore club, but it took another eight years for Malayalam to achieve this feat with Mohanlal-starrer Pulimurugan (2016). While other industries, mainly Bollywood, regularly rack up films every year that make ₹100 crore and ₹200 crore, irrespective of the content value, only three films in Malayalam have crossed the ₹100 crore turnover as of 2020.
Here's a list of films that were the highest grossers in the year they released.
The first film in the Sibi Malayalil-Mohanlal duo's musical trilogy was the biggest hit of 1990. Written by AK Lohithadas with music by Raveendran, High Highness Abdullah followed the story of Abdullah (Mohanlal), a Qawwali singer who is hired to assassinate the family head (Nedumudi Venu) of a royal Hindu family. The film was critically acclaimed and Nedumudi Venu was honored with the National Award for Best Supporting Actor while MG Sreekumar bagged the award for Best Male Playback Singer for 'Naadaroopini'.
This hilarious family drama was the highest-grossing film in Malayalam film history when it was released. The movie not just exploited the Mohanlal-Jagathy chemistry but every character, from Revathy and Innocent to Thilakan had roles etched with humour. Kilukkam was in the theatres for more than 365 days and won five Kerala State Film Awards, including Best Actor for Mohanlal, Second Best Actor for Jagathy Sreekumar, Best Editor for N Gopalakrishnan, Best Playback Singer (Male) for MG Sreekumar and Best Cinematographer for S Kumar.
Siddique-Lal's Godfather was the other big blockbuster of the year, completing 365 days in a few theatres.
These were the most commercially successful films of 1992. While Mohanlal's film was based on a man who sets out to vacate a colony on his company's demand, Mammooty's film explored the strained relationship between a father and his young son after the mother's death.
Undoubtedly one of the best Malayalam films ever made, this psychological thriller directed by Fazil remains unsurpassed. With dream leads and an exceptional ensemble cast, Manichitrathazhu's brilliance in screenplay, dialogues, music and cinematography continue to be lauded even today. Shobana bagged both the National and State Awards for her unmatched performance as Ganga and her alter-ego Nagavalli. A spin off to Mohanlal's Dr. Sunny, titled Geetanjali was made in 2013.
This romantic comedy starring Mohanlal and Shobana won two National and five Kerala State Film Awards. Directed by Priyadarshan, this is a love triangle between two friends and a young woman they unexpectedly befriend on a journey. The film is remembered for its hilarious scene where Manikyan (Mohanlal) is tied to a tree by a group of tribals and he helplessly cries 'lelu allu lelu allu,' seeking forgiveness.
Mohanlal and Thilakan's Spadikam was a smashing box-office hit, grossing more than over ₹5 crore, a huge feat at the time. Mohanlal won the Kerala State Best Actor Award for effortlessly playing 'Aadu Thoma,' a local goon with a broken past.
This Mammooty-starrer revolved around 'Hitler' Madhavankutty and his five sisters. It was directed by Siddique and was remade in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali.
The first of the Shaji Kailas-Mohanlal collaboration, Aaraam Thampuran was not just the highest-grossing Malayalam film of the year but also the highest-grossing Malayalam film till then. The movie also completed a theatrical run of more than 250 days.
Fazil's directorial brought together both the superstars of Malayalam cinema. Needless to say, fans of both Mammookka and Lalettan flocked to theaters, helping the makers recover their cost within two weeks of release. The detective thriller also saw Juhi Chawla make her Malayalam debut.
Pathram was a political thriller with Suresh Gopi and Manju Warrier in the lead. The film was written by Renji Panicker and was lauded for its memorable dialogues. Friends, which released in the same year, was also a huge box-office success.
Releasing on India's 50th Republic day, the second film of the Shaji Kailas – Mohanlal duo broke several box-office records and earned about ₹22 crore. Narasimham had a theatrical run of over 200 days and has had several re-releases on various occasions. Not just that, Poovalli Induchoodan's (Mohanlal) "Nee Po Mone Dinesha," remains one of Malayalam cinema's iconic dialogues.
The sequel to Mohanlal's critically acclaimed Devasuram has a cult following. Mohanlal shone in the roles of father and son, Mangalassery Neelakandan and MN Karthikeyan. Mohanlal fans also rushed to theatres to cheer for his 'Savari Giri Giri', helping it earn over ₹15 crore at the BO, making it the biggest hit in its year of release.
Revolving around a thief named Madhavan and the people in his village, Meesa Madhavan is a romedy that continues to rule Malayalee hearts. The combination of Jagathy's Bhageerathan Pillai aka Pillachan and Cochin Haneefa's Thrivikraman sends most into a laugh fest even today. The film also put Dileep in the big league and became the highest grosser of 2002.
Though Mammootty's Chronic Bachelor came a close second, Mohanlal's Balettan was the highest grossing Malayalam blockbuster of 2003. Mohanlal plays Balan, a good samaritan who, at his father's death bed, discovers that he has a stepmother and stepsister. The rest of the story follows Balan's struggles to secretly balance his life and the new family he's now responsible for.
After a gap of 14 years, Mammootty's iconic character of Sethurama Iyer made a superhit comeback with Sethurama Iyer CBI, directed by K Madhu. With a riveting plot, the movie was widely received in India and overseas. Jayaraj's musical thriller 4 the People, which released the same year, was, however, a bigger hit in terms of Return on Investment.
Mammootty's Bellary Raja continues to remain an iconic character in the actor's career graph. This action comedy had Mammooty play an illiterate billionaire who returns to his hometown after the death of his stepfather.
This romantic thriller starring Prithviraj, Kavya Madhavan, Narain and Jayasurya won the Kerala State Film Awards for Best Popular Film and Best Story. Classmates is about a group of college batchmates who reunite after several years for a reunion. The film grossed about ₹23 crore at the box-office.
Mammootty plays Mahi, a small-time criminal who is nicknamed Maayavi for his ability to beat up goons in jail without being seen. The movie follows his release from jail and the subsequent events when he sets out to help his friend's brother fund money for a life-saving operation. Mayavi also stars Salim Kumar, Manoj K Jayan and Gopika in pivotal roles.
This Dileep production is the only Malayalam film to boast of big names in its lead and character roles. The movie was a fundraiser to support struggling actors and its cast worked without payment. At over ₹32 crore, Twenty:20 remained the highest grossing Malayalam movie ever, until Drishyam broke this record in 2014.
Mammoooty's period drama based on the life of a Hindu king who fought against the British, was the most expensive film made until then. The film grossed over ₹20 crore at the worldwide BO and went out to win numerous accolades at both the National and State levels.
Director Vysakh's debut starring Mammootty and Prithviraj was a massive box-office success, grossed ₹13 crore and completed more than a 100-day theatrical run. The film had every ingredient of a masala entertainer in ample proportions. Pokkiri Raja also marked Shriya Saran's Malayalam debut.
Christian Brothers had an ensemble cast comprising Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Dileep, Sarath Kumar, Saikumar, Biju Menon, Vijayaraghavan, Raai Laxmi, Kanika, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy and Kavya Madhavan. The film helmed by hitmaker Joshiy received mixed reviews but went on to become the biggest box-office hit of 2011.
Earning above ₹20 crore, Dileep's Mayamohini was the biggest box-office hit in 2012. Dileep played Mohanakrishnan, who gets hired to play a woman named Mayamohini. Though the film received mixed reviews, the curiosity behind Dileep's feminine appearance made it a huge sell at the box-office.
Besides being remade in several Indian languages, Drishyam is also the first Indian film to be remade in Chinese. The film, helmed by Jeethu Joseph, featured Mohanlal, Meena, Siddique and Asha Sarath in pivotal roles, and went on to become the highest-grossing Malayalam film of all time, collecting over ₹75 crore worldwide.
Anjali Menon's romantic comedy narrated the story of millennial cousins and their close-knit bond, and starred Nivin Pauly, Dulquer Salmaan, Nazriya Nazim, Fahadh Faasil and Parvathy. The film was not just relatable but checked all the boxes for great story-telling. Bangalore Days earned about ₹45 crore at the box-office, made on a budget of ₹10 crore.
2015 was the year of Premam, and it is a no-brainer that this Nivin Pauly flick is the highest grosser of the year. Premam also holds the record for being the first Malayalam film to run for over 250 days in Tamil Nadu. Not just in India, Premam also did wonders at the overseas box-office, earning an estimated ₹60 crore.
Setting the box-office on fire, Pulimurugan, starring Mohanlal in the titular role, was not just the biggest hit of the year, but it also set a new Malayalam film record by completing 10,000 full-house shows in 14 days. Pulimurugan also became the first Malayalam film to enter the coveted ₹100 club. Currently, this Vysakh film remains the second biggest Malayalam grosser of all time after Lucifer.
Dileep's Ramaleela effortlessly entered the ₹50 crore club, making it the biggest hit of 2017. The movie was a political thriller and was well received by the critics and audience alike.
Nivin Pauly's period drama also starring Mohanlal in a cameo, received a positive response and grossed ₹100 crore at the worldwide box office. Kayamkulam Kochunni is the second film in the history of Malayalam cinema to achieve this feat.
Prithviraj Sukumaran's directorial debut is currently the highest-grossing Malayalam film ever. The political thriller, starring Mohanlal and an ensemble cast of big names, set the box-office on fire and became the first Malayalam film to gross ₹50 crore at the overseas box office. Lucifer remains the only Malayalam movie in the ₹200 crore club. A sequel to Lucifer, titled Empuraan, was announced by Prithviraj, Mohanlal and writer Murali Gopi at a press conference.