With a cume of $463.35 million after 18 days, Joss Whedon's The Avengers has surpassed George Lucas' Star Wars ($460.99m) at the domestic box office, thus officially becoming the fifth biggest blockbuster in history. By next weekend, The Avengers should surpass Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($474.54m) to become the fourth biggest domestic blockbuster in history.
Impressive? Of course. Any way you look at it, The Avengers' box office performance, whether in North America or abroad, has been phenomenal. The Disney / Marvel actioner has surpassed the expectations of most – if not all – prognosticators.
Now, having said that, The Avengers is not a box office phenomenon on a par with Star Wars. Not even close.
Studio/media spin and p.r. b.s. aside, the true barometer of a movie's success is how many tickets it has sold, especially in relation to the population at the time, in case we're comparing movies released decades apart. That's it. All else is spin and obfuscation.
Starring Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, back in 1977 Star Wars took in $307.26 million – or the equivalent of approximately $1.08 billion in 2012 dollars. This, without the box-office-boosting 3D/IMAX surcharges that have greatly inflated The Avengers' box office figures.
As mentioned in my The Avengers vs. The Dark Knight post published yesterday, if 3D screens accounted for 50 percent of the Avengers' domestic box office (the percentage was 52 percent on the first weekend), then after deducting the 3D surcharges (estimated at 30 percent above the cost of a 2D movie), The Avengers' box office take would go down to approximately $405m.
Even if only one third of The Avengers' gross originated from 3D theaters, the Marvel sci-fier / actioner's gross would be approx. $424m. Once again, the "3D-deducted" figure would more closely reflect the actual number of tickets sold. In the case of The Avengers, that's about 40 percent of what Star Wars earned (adjusted for inflation) 35 years ago.
Sure, the movie world was different then. There were no DVDs, no VOD, no Internet, etc. But then again, movies didn't open at 4,500 locations. Not to mention the fact that in 1977 there were about 100 million fewer people living in the United States and Canada. Also, bear in mind that DVD, VOD, and Internet or not, in recent years moviegoing attendance has gone up in a number of countries (e.g., France).
The Avengers: The Dark Knight next in line
For the record, the other three movies that will remain ahead of The Avengers a week from now are Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale's The Dark Knight (2008), and two directed by James Cameron: Titanic (1997), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and Avatar (2009), starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.
In all likelihood, The Avengers will eventually surpass (the non-adjusted) The Dark Knight to land – and remain – in third place until the end of its run. At this stage, neither Titanic nor Avatar has their positions threatened.
The Avengers stars Captain America: The First Avenger's Chris Evans as Captain America, two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder) as Iron Man, Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) as the Incredible Hulk, Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, and Snow White and the Huntsman's Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
Also: two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) as Hawkeye, War Horse's Tom Hiddleston as Loki, The Storm Awaits' Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) as Nick Fury, Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) as Pepper Potts, and Much Ado About Nothing's Clark Gregg as agent Phil Coulson.
And finally: Stellan Skarsgård, Powers Boothe, Alexis Denisof, veteran Jenny Agutter (Walkabout / Logan's Run), and Deep End director / Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski, plus the voices of Paul Bettany and Lou Ferrigno.
The Avengers / Star Wars box office information: Box Office Mojo.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America) / The Avengers picture: Zade Rosenthal / Walt Disney Studios.