Avatar's Success Factoring in Ticket Price Inflation

James Cameron's Avatar is about to break the record set by James Cameron's Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time.  Many journalists and bloggers will argue that it's a case of comparing apples and oranges since ticket prices have gone up (especially if you factor in the even more expensive IMAX ticket prices.)

BoxOfficeMojo.com has a great chart that lists the top earning films of all time based on ticket prices adjusted for inflation.  The ultimate winner is still Gone With the Wind from 1939 when movie ticket prices averaged 23 cents. Using today's average ticket price of $7.35, the Victor Fleming classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh is on top, followed by Star Wars: A New Hope from 1977, The Sound of Music from 1965, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial from 1982, and The Ten Commandments from 1956.

Based on the ticket inflation formula, Titanic would come in sixth place.  Avatar still wouldn't even break the top ten.  In seventh place would be Jaws from 1975, followed by Doctor Zhivago from 1965, The Exorcist from 1973, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1937.

If the inflation numbers are valid, Avatar would not even crack the top twenty, coming in currently at number 26 on the all-time list.  It would have to more than double its box-office sales to catch up to the modern-day adjusted numbers of Gone With the Wind.

That just shows how impressive the performance of those top earning movies really were.  Film blockbusters today just can't compete with the cinematic phenomena of yesteryear.  To give Avatar some credit, there is much more competition for the public's entertainment dollars nowadays then there was in the 1930s or even the 1970s and 1980s.  Gone With the Wind didn't have to compete with television.  Star Wars and E.T. didn't have to compete with the Internet. 

So, dollarwise, Avatar is now about to be crowned Box-Office King.  Many will put an asterisk next to that achievement unless it goes on to top the inflation-adjusted numbers of its predecessors.  Nevertheless, it is still a great accomplishment.


Rich said…
You're dead on - but in Avatar's defense, prior to the advent of VCR, most movies that did well were re-released multiple times, and the box office includes these - Gone with the Wind and Star Wars both had many, many rereleases.

That just doesn't happen anymore.
Nick said…
That's a good point, Rich.

Thanks for reading.

-- Nick