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'Avatar' Trailing 'Ben-Hur'? & James Cameron 3D Fantasy vs. 'Alice in Wonderland'

Avatar James Cameron Sam Worthington'Avatar' set with James Cameron and Sam Worthington.

Avatar inflation-adjusted domestic box office chart

James Cameron's socially conscious sci-fi/fantasy/adventure mix Avatar hasn't been the top grosser at the North American box office for nearly two months. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, Avatar was initially dethroned by the Channing Tatum / Amanda Seyfried tearjerker Dear John, followed by Garry Marshall's all-star Valentine's Day, the Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio thriller Shutter Island, and, for the last three weekends, Tim Burton's 3D extravaganza Alice in Wonderland.

Avatar is still doing okay business, but it lost quite a bit of steam globally after Alice in Wonderland took hold of hundreds of IMAX and 3D screens. Adding insult to injury, Tim Burton's fantasy adventure starring Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp broke Avatar's domestic IMAX record a mere two and a half months after the sci-fier's release.

Avatar worldwide box office

Still, Avatar remains at the top of the all-time box office charts. As of this past Sunday, March 21, Avatar had grossed $736.9 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to $1.931 billion internationally (up to March 14) for a staggering worldwide total of $2.667 billion.

On the all-time, inflation-adjusted domestic box office chart, which is supposed to more accurately reflect the number of tickets a film has sold, Box Office Mojo estimates that Avatar is no. 14. (For comparison's sake, James Cameron's own Titanic is no. 6; Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind remains a distant no. 1.) Four weeks ago, Avatar was no. 15, right behind Richard Marquand's 1983 Star Wars sequel Return of the Jedi. In other words, Avatar has gone up a single slot in a month.

The big blue Na'vi have just about had it, at least for the time being. In about a week or so, Avatar will probably be gone from North America's top-ten box office chart.

And if things continue as they've been in recent weeks, Avatar will need at least two more weeks to reach the no. 13 slot. That's currently occupied by William Wyler's multiple Oscar-winning epic Ben-Hur, which raked in the equivalent of $745.7 million (in 2010 dollars) back in 1959. Slightly ahead is another Star Wars sequel, Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back (1980), with $747.1 million.

Chances are Avatar will end its initial run at no. 12, though with some luck it may reach no. 11. That slot is currently occupied by Disney's 101 Dalmatians (which has had multiple rereleases since it first came out in 1961) with an adjusted cume of $760.3 million.

With $829.4 million at no. 10, Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (which has also had multiple rereleases since 1937) is totally unreachable.

Avatar's only chance to surpass Snow White and thus become one of the all-time top-ten movies in North America is if Fox's planned late-year rerelease becomes a monumental hit.

Now, if 3D/IMAX surcharges and currency fluctuations (for the international box office tallies) are taken into account – to reflect actual ticket sales – the overall picture would change quite dramatically. Avatar ticket costs have ranged from $9 to $16.50 or whereabouts, or between 28.5 percent and 40 percent more than ticket prices for 2D movies. [See Avatar vs. Titanic: International Box Office.]

Box-office factors

Once again, bear in mind that the figures found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners.

A thoroughly accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold and its ratio to the population size at the time of the film's release — would be based on where a movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house, in thousands of cheap small-town theaters, at children's matinees, or at 3D/IMAX theaters that charge a premium.

It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, and the growth of entertainment alternatives should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office performance of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the decades. And finally, that major international markets such as China and Russia were all but impenetrable to Hollywood movies until about a decade ago.

James Cameron / Sam Worthington / Avatar photo: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox.

Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington in James Cameron's Avatar

Avatar, currently at #14 on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart, would fall behind nearly 20 more movies if 3D/IMAX surcharges are factored into its box office grosses. As I've explained before, Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart is supposed to better reflect the number of tickets a movie has sold.

In Avatar's case, the 3D/IMAX premiums in North America can add between 25-40 percent to the sci-fier's grosses when compared to 2D movies that sold the same number of tickets. According to The Hollywood Reporter, approximately 80 percent of Avatar's domestic gross and about two-thirds of its international gross have come from 3D and 3D/IMAX screenings.

So, out of its $736.9 million earned in North America as of Sunday, March 21, $147.4 million (20 percent) came from 2D venues and $589.5 million (80 percent) from 3D/IMAX sites charging premiums. Now, deduct one third of the latter amount and you'll place Avatar on a par with 2D movies in numbers of tickets sold. Approximately $196.5 million would be taken out (of the $589.5 million figure), leaving Avatar with a 2D-equivalent total of $540.4 million.

In (approximate) number of tickets sold, James Cameron's sci-fi epic would then find itself at #32, a couple of million ahead of the 1984 supernatural comedy Ghostbusters with $538.2 million and slightly behind DreamWorks' 2004 animated feature Shrek 2 with $540.6 million.

If things continue as they are, Avatar will likely end its initial run at #30, sandwiched between two old Disney releases: The Jungle Book (1967) with $560.7 million and Sleeping Beauty (1959) with $553 million.

Once again, bear in mind that those are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners. (Box Office Mojo has come up with its own estimated average — $7.61 — for 2010.) An accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold and its ratio to the population size at the time of the movie's release — would be based on where the movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house, thousands of cheaper small-town theaters, 3D/IMAX screenings, or kiddie matinees.

Avatar's ticket prices, for instance, cost much more than the purported $7.61 “average” for 2010. In fact, most releases — whether new or old — that earn(ed) most of their revenues in major urban centers are at an advantage on those charts, whereas movies that did well in smaller towns or those made for children (lower prices for kids, matinees) are at a disadvantage.

It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, changes in movie distribution (movies didn't open at 3,000 — or even 300 — screens until the mid-70s), and the growth of entertainment alternatives (home video, cable television, pay-per-view options) should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the years.

The effect of piracy on a movie's box office performance remains highly debatable. It all depends on the type of movie (would you rather watch Avatar on your computer screen or at a 3D movie house?), the quality of the pirated material (high-def. copies vs. crummy reproductions), and where the copying is taking place (Beverly Hills or Lagos or Kinshasa, where most people who'd buy 50-cent copies of Hollywood flicks wouldn't be able to afford going to the movies, anyhow).

Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)

Avatar Pandora panoramic view'Avatar': Pandora panoramic view.

Box office: 'Avatar' vs. 'Alice in Wonderland'

Avatar vs. Gone with the Wind, Avatar vs. Titanic, or even Avatar vs. The Blind Side, another late 2009 release, are all difficult to compare. In the first two instances, James Cameron's 3D sci-fier came out in a radically different movie distribution world – not to mention the warping effect of inflationary pressures (and 3D surcharges) on ticket costs. In the last instance, the key issue is the 3D vs. 2D issue, as 3D admission prices are higher and thus help to inflate box office grosses.

Avatar vs. Alice in Wonderland, however, are easy to place side by side. Both films were released in 3D (though Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland had to be converted to the format), both are fantastical adventures, both feature relatively little-known performers in the lead (Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska), and both were released within a mere three months of each other.

So, below are a few comparisons. Bear in mind that Avatar has been out for 95 days; Alice in Wonderland for 18 days. Also, Alice in Wonderland has yet to open in several major international markets, including China, Japan, France, and Brazil.

Domestic gross (as of Monday, March 22, '10):

Avatar $737.2 million vs. Alice in Wonderland $268.1 million.

Update (2016): Avatar domestic cume: $760.5 million (including one reissue); Alice in Wonderland: $334.19 million.

International gross (as of Monday, March 22, '10):

Avatar 1.931 billion vs. Alice in Wonderland $300 million.

Update (2016): Avatar international cume: $2.027 billion; Alice in Wonderland: $691.27 million.

Worldwide gross (as of Monday, March 22, '10):

Avatar $2.668 billion vs. Alice in Wonderland $568.1 million.

Update (2016): Avatar worldwide cume: $2.787,9 billion; Alice in Wonderland: $1.025,4 billion.

Domestic vs. international box office (percentages):

Avatar (27.6 percent vs. 72.4 percent) vs. Alice in Wonderland (47.2 percent vs. 52.8 percent).

Update (2016): Avatar (27.3 percent vs. 72.7 percent) vs. Alice in Wonderland (32.6 percent vs. 67.4 percent).

Opening weekend:

Avatar $77 million vs. Alice in Wonderland $116.1 million.

Average per screen on opening weekend:

Avatar $22,313 vs. Alice in Wonderland $31,143.

Number of weekends at the top of the box office chart:

Avatar 8 vs. Alice in Wonderland 3.

Third weekend gross:

Avatar $68.4 million (New Year's) vs. Alice in Wonderland $34.1 million.

Drop-off by third weekend (in relation to debut weekend):

Avatar 11 percent vs. Alice in Wonderland 71 percent.

Alice in Wonderland castle BurtonWorld'Alice in Wonderland' castle: BurtonWorld.

'Alice in Wonderland' no. 45 on all-time domestic box office chart

Alice in Wonderland is currently at no. 45 on Box Office Mojo's all-time domestic box office chart – not adjusted for inflation/3D/IMAX surcharges. In other words, that chart doesn't indicate each film's ranking in relation to the actual number of tickets sold. Not even close.

On Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart, Alice in Wonderland is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, that particular chart stops at no. 100. The lowest grosser on there is the 1986 Tom Cruise actioner Top Gun with $362.2 million.

How much further up the (non-adjusted) chart Alice in Wonderland will go remains to be seen. Each weekend, it has been losing 45-50 percent of the previous weekend's take. The 3D fantasy will surely cross the $300 million mark, but whether it'll reach $400 million (or even $350 million) at the U.S. and Canada box office is debatable.

Feb. 11

Feb. 11

Zoe Saldana in Avatar

Avatar was dethroned this past weekend by the Channing Tatum-Amanda Seyfried tearjerker Dear John, but recovered the top spot at the domestic box office on Monday and remained there on Tuesday. After 54 days in release, James Cameron's sci-fi extravaganza has grossed $633.6 million. Officially, it's broken box office records just about everywhere, from Manhattan and Manchester all the way to Mongolia and Mars. Of course, those are box office figures – which often go up thanks to higher admission prices – not number of tickets sold. As I've mentioned before, if inflation, 3D/IMAX premium surcharges, and dollar fluctuations (for the international box office tallies) are taken into account the overall picture changes rather dramatically.

Boxofficemojo.com estimates that Avatar is now #20 on the all-time domestic box office chart adjusted for inflation, or six slots higher than it was ten days ago. It's just ahead of Disney's Fantasia (1940), which has had numerous rereleases, and about $12 million behind George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).

If things continue as they've been – a decrease in revenues of around 15 percent each weekend – Avatar will gross another $4 million by Thursday night and about $19 million over the three-day weekend for a total of $23 million. By Monday, Avatar should be either #17 or #18 on the inflation-adjusted all-time box office chart, having passed both Star Wars and Mike Nichols' The Graduate, while (figuratively speaking) running neck and neck against Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993).

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Still some ways ahead of Avatar will be Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), starring Harrison Ford (above); George Roy Hill's Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting (1973), with Paul Newman and Robert Redford; Richard Marquand's Return of the Jedi (1983), also with Harrison Ford; William Wyler's multiple Oscar winner Ben-Hur (1959), with Charlton Heston; and another Harrison Ford movie, Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Once again, bear in mind that those are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners. (Box Office Mojo came up with its own estimated average — $7.61* — for 2010.) An accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold (and its ratio to the population size at the time of the film's release) — would be based on where a movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house, in thousands of cheap small-town theaters, or at 3D/IMAX theaters that charge a premium (Avatar ticket prices range from $9 to $16.50 or whereabouts, or between 28.5 percent and 40 percent more than ticket prices for 2D movies.)

It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, and the growth of entertainment alternatives (home video, cable television, pay-per-view options) should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the decades.

The effect of piracy on a movie's box office performance remains highly debatable. It all depends on the type of movie (would you rather watch Avatar on your computer screen or at a 3D movie house?), the quality of the pirated material (high-def. copies vs. crummy reproductions), and where the copying is taking place (Beverly Hills or, say, Lagos or Kinshasa, where most people who'd buy 50-cent copies of Hollywood flicks wouldn't be able to afford going to the movies, anyhow).

* Instead of the previously reported $7.35

Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox); Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount)

If 3D/IMAX surcharges are factored in, Avatar would drop quite a bit on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart. As I've explained in the comments section of a previous Avatar post, the 3D/IMAX premiums can add somewhere between 25-30 and 40 percent to Avatar's grosses. Most other movies, including the vast majority of recent releases, don't have that sort of advantage — certainly not to Avatar's extent, as 80 percent of its domestic gross has come from 3D and/or IMAX screenings.

Even if you opt for the lower end of the scale and subtract only 25 percent from Avatar's earnings – in order to better estimate where James Cameron's sci-fi adventure would rank in number of tickets sold – the film would have earned to date (Feb. 9) $475.2 million, placing it at #51, ahead of Peter Jackson's 2003 fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and a couple of million dollars behind Leo McCarey's 1945 comedy-drama The Bells of St. Mary's, made in the days when Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman were two of Hollywood's top box office stars.

Lawrence of Arabia David Lean

If you opt for a mid-level percentage, or about 33 percent, Avatar's “2D-equivalent revenues” would be $422.4 million, which would place it at #71, slightly ahead of David Lean's 1962 political epic Lawrence of Arabia (above, and with which Avatar has thematic elements in common) and slightly behind Steven Spielberg's 1977 sci-fi drama Close Encounters of the Third Kind (including the 1980 rerelease).

Once again, bear in mind that those are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners. (Box Office Mojo came up with its own estimated average — $7.61* — for 2010.) An accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold (and its ratio to the population size at the time of the movie's release) — would be based on where the movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house or in thousands of cheaper small-town theaters.

Avatar's ticket prices, for instance, cost much more than the purported $7.61 “average” for 2010. In fact, most releases – whether new or old – that earn(ed) most of their revenues in major urban centers are at an advantage on those charts, whereas movies that did well in smaller towns or those made for children (lower prices for kids, matinees) are at a disadvantage.

It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, and the growth of entertainment alternatives (home video, cable television, pay-per-view options) should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the years.

And finally, Avatar is still bringing in lots of cash and will probably keep doing so in the next few weeks. More “inflation-adjusted” updates will be posted in the near future.

* Instead of $7.35 as previously reported.

Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox); Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia)


         
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30 Comments to 'Avatar' Trailing 'Ben-Hur'? & James Cameron 3D Fantasy vs. 'Alice in Wonderland'

  1. gerry

    Your aunt may turn-out to be your cousin and your uncle.
    forget dollar value and length of time. you forgot population. gwtw and avatar are in different categories to begin with. Avatar is a Disney movie for adults. Tree worshipping? give me a break!

  2. mh

    >>>>>>>>>>>Ya. And if my aunt had balls. she'd be my uncle.

    Actually, she might turn out to be your cousin.

    >>>>>>>>>>Avatar is just over three months old. Let's wait and see….let's give it seventy plus years, the same as Gone With the Wind.

    In other words, it's ok for “Avatar” to be on the all-time box-office chart as long as it's at the very top. If it isn't — and it's not even close when it comes to the number of tickets sold — then it's no longer ok. That makes sense.

    Minor detail: In all its releases and rereleases put together, GWTW didn't get even close to playing at as many screens as “Avatar” on its initial run. Keep that in mind as well.

    Also, “Gone with the Wind” found most of its audience on its initial run and two rereleases. “Avatar” will have its first rerelease later this year. Let's see how well it does.

    >>>>>>>>>>>I agree with the blahblahblah statement above.

    Excellent! Thank you.

  3. zoey

    Ya. And if my aunt had balls. she'd be my uncle.

    Avatar is just over three months old. Let's wait and see….let's give it seventy plus years, the same as Gone With the Wind.

    I agree with the blahblahblah statement above.

  4. mh

    Blah, blah, blah… indeed.

    This worldwide inflation-adjusted box-office chart is highly inaccurate as it doesn't take into account dollar fluctuations which can add (or subtract) tens of millions to a movie's box-office take.

    And it certainly doesn't give you an even remotely accurate picture of the # of tickets a film has sold.

  5. Stef

    Blah, blah, blah…

    Worldwide Avatar is #2 on the all-time box-office chart adjusted for inflation:
    1. $3,429,000,000 Gone With The Wind 51% domestic
    2. $2,670,000,000 Avatar 27%
    3. $2,476,600,000 Titanic 32%

  6. Dennis

    Hey! Mia is great ))) dont touch her plz)))

  7. Roeben

    Well, the story of avatar is the same as the story dancing with wolves. It's not very original. The graphics are good in Avatar, but that is all.
    If you compare avatar with Alice in Wonderland, I must say I liked Alice in Wonderland more. It's a nice sequel on the first disney animation Alice in Wonderland. Also the actors are better, and the story-line is nicely done. I vote for Alice in Wonderland.

  8. zoey

    There's really no comparison when it comes to the quality of these films.

    The overall ensemble cast was far better in Avatar, and so is it's screenplay. Quibble all you want. The story in Avatar is universal, and speaks to everyone, like it or not.

    Alice will drop off. It isnt good enough, nor are the visuals, to sustain anything near the level of Avatar, the latter which is far superior in every way.

  9. Richy

    Ironically Mia Wasikowska and Sam Worthington are both in the movie Rogue.

  10. mh

    The star, Mia Wasikowska, isn't well known.
    True, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, etc. helped. But “Avatar” has its own box-office star, too: James Cameron.

  11. DN

    ' little-known performers '? Johnney Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter little known?

  12. mh

    >>>>>>>>Another lame attempt to make Avatar look less successful than it is.

    Lame is right. But more like another lame attempt to make “Avatar” look more successful than it actually is.

    Re: rereleases. That's mentioned in the piece. If you didn't read it before commenting, that's not my responsibility.

    >>>>>>>>>>That means if your movie is re-released 5 or 10 years later, the amount of money earned per ticket is more (b/c of inflation), plus the movie gets credited additional dollars to it's total with inflation calculated on top of that.

    Yes, but you're wrong anyhow. Box Office Mojo calculates the inflation-adjusted ticket costs for the year of the rerelease. Now, *that* you omitted from your tirade.

    So, if “Snow White” made $100 million in 1970, that amount will be added to the film's inflation-adjusted total as **1970** $100 million. That should be obvious. Else, “Snow White” would have made a couple of trillion dollars on that chart.

    >>>>>>>>In fact, the only post 80's movies on that list above Avatar are 1) The Empire Strikes back … 2) ET, & 3) Titanic (will be re-released in 2012).

    That's because more people went to the movies in the past. Four billion movie tickets were sold a year in the 1940s. (http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1817&dat=19770330&id=10YgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=850EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6763,5117412) Today they're lucky if they sell 1.4 billion even though the population of the United States is more than twice what it was then.

    >>>>>>>>>So in summary, to prove that Avatar is less successful, the author has needed to…

    The author has needed to do only one thing. Come up with best possible approximation for the # of tickets the movie has sold (in current dollar terms). That's what the inflation-adjusted chart is all about. That's it.

    >>>>>3) claim that downloads which weren't available for any other film ahead of Avatar on the list had no impact which it most certainly would have, particularly for people afraid of 3D hurting their eyes,

    C'mon, you must be able to come up with better arguments than this.

    >>>>>>>>>4) the market has changed and today there are more big budget movies knocking Avatar out of cinemas such as Alice,

    Clearly, you don't understand the way the market worked 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 years ago if you believe big studio movies are something new. Take a look at the movies released in 1939 or 1940 or 1950 or 1960 or 1970 and you'll find lots and lots of big, big movies that were very successful. (And some that weren't.)

    >>>>>>>>>5) today people also have to content with television, pay TV and DVDs which is an option but I suppose the author would discount this as not applying to Avatar

    You should read the article before commenting.

  13. Jay

    Another lame attempt to make Avatar look less successful than it is. The author failed to mention that on that same Box Office Mojo page the author quote for unadjusted inflation it says:

    “Most pre-1980 pictures achieved their totals through multiple releases, especially Disney animated features which made much of their totals in the past few decades belying their original release dates in terms of adjustment. For example, Snow White has made $118,328,683 of its unadjusted $184,925,486 total since 1983.”

    That means if your movie is re-released 5 or 10 years later, the amount of money earned per ticket is more (b/c of inflation), plus the movie gets credited additional dollars to it's total with inflation calculated on top of that.

    In fact, the only post 80's movies on that list above Avatar are 1) The Empire Strikes back (which is only $10M ahead of Avatar and will be caught, plus that was re-released in the 90s with extra scenes), 2) ET, & 3) Titanic (will be re-released in 2012).

    So in summary, to prove that Avatar is less successful, the author has needed to: 1) rely on data that is adjusted for inflation in it's release year when almost all the movies ahead were re-released years later, 2) discount Avatar's 3D surcharge which is valid considering it is adding value the other movies aren't, 3) claim that downloads which weren't available for any other film ahead of Avatar on the list had no impact which it most certainly would have, particularly for people afraid of 3D hurting their eyes, 4) the market has changed and today there are more big budget movies knocking Avatar out of cinemas such as Alice, 5) today people also have to content with television, pay TV and DVDs which is an option but I suppose the author would discount this as not applying to Avatar, 6) excluded the fact that it hasn't even been released for 100 days yet so this article is a bit pre-mature, 7) exclude the fact that it has earned more than twice that of any film in history worldwide.

    In 7-10 days this article will be redundant anyway as Avatar is on track to take Ben Hur despite all the dodgy inflation accounting. Plus, like all the great movies on that list Avatar is set for re-release later this year with additional scenes. It may very well be re-released again decades later too when movie prices are $37 each and have it's total figure adjusted from amounts of $7.61. That would really stuff the argument up (when it's finally competing on the same field). What will Avatar haters use as evidence for how unsuccessful it is then?

  14. Stef

    Worldwide Avatar is #2 on the all-time box-office chart adjusted for inflation:

    1. $3,429,000,000 Gone With The Wind 51% domestic
    2. $2,670,000,000 Avatar 27%
    3. $2,476,600,000 Titanic 32%

  15. Ricky Bu

    This movie could have done even better if more theatres had invested in the 3D technology, which was the original plan. But because of the financial crists, a lot got cold feet, resulting far fewer theatres with the required equipment than Cameron had hoped for. Since about 80% of the tecket money comes from the 3D theatres, imagine what would have happened if the transition had went more smoothly.

    Anyway, because of Avatar's success, they will speed up the process. Which says something about its influence.

    The movie will probably end up as number 15 on the list. You have to go back to 1997 and Titanic to find a movie that did it better. And before that, to 1983 and The Return of the Jedi. If excluding the movies with more than one release, you even need to go back to 1975 and Jaws to find the second oldest on the list. And 1965 before that.
    So what movie is going to beat Avatar? I have no idea, but it can take a while, and it is going to be some very impressive stuff.
    Now when people have seen what performance capture, CGI and 3D can do, it will no longer be anything new, and these kind of movies will probably not grap quite as much as attention in the future as they do now. Just as color and sound no longer makes people amazed like they once did.

    The next step will probably be 3D without glasses. And after that, holographic movies, which will be the final major leap in the visual evolution of movies.
    As for sound, imagine sound canons that are able to shoot “sond rays” to the area on the screen where a sound is supposed to come from, like a character's mouth, and the sound is then reflected from the screen and carried to the audience. That way, the direction of the movies would be far more realistic.

  16. Tony Robertson

    I have seen several articles about the whole inflation thing but see how ify it gets when you have to guess length of release, cable and dvd eating into time at the box office. Growth of population. It just really becomes a guessing game with all the what ifs. I just don't see how you can compare movies from 40's years ago and further back. Really if you think about it when the talk about the top pop songs they really don't go back further than the rock era and a lot of times not back further than 1970. There is that obvious break at 1955 when the rock era began.

    Reason, people just are not interested in something that far back for the most part. Even if you put say Gone With the Wind at the top what would that accomplish. Probably not much. Would people start demanding a return to that style of movie, I doubt it. Even the sequel to it Scarlett did only so so. You didn't see a mad rush of people to see it like when more recent sequels were made like Phantom Menace. I just don't see the advantage to dig up old movies. Those who do care know which ones they are, all the rest of the population will continue to ignore them.

  17. Orangino

    Fact: I would pay 17.50$ to go see Avatar many times over.
    Fact: I would NEVER pay that much to watch Gone With The Wind.
    Fact: Avatar is the highest grossing movie of ALL time.

    Leave it at that, money matters more than numbers of butts in a seat.

  18. peanuts

    Avatar's worldwide box office gross has been due to a “perfect storm” of events; a weak dollar, inflated ticket prices and lack of competition. If it had opened last summer, it would have had to contend with a new big release weekend after weekend. Also Avatar has only sold two thirds of the tickets that Titanic sold. Fewer people (relatively speaking) are paying more to see it. In other words, Avatar's box office is giving the misleading impression that it is the most popular film of all time, when the reality is quite different.

  19. mh

    “Avatar's” worldwide performance in truly impressive. But it's good to remember a few things:

    About 60% of the film's take overseas came from 3D/IMAX theaters that charge extra. That can really “inflate” a film's revenues (in relation to the # of tickets sold).

    The US dollar has been in the dumps for some time. For example, back in 1998, when “Titanic” came out, the US dollar was very strong. That makes a *huge* difference when foreign currencies are converted into dollars.

    Top markets Russia and especially China were mostly unavailable to Hollywood movies until a few years ago.

    Worldwide box-office figures for older movies is either unavailable or - often - come from unreliable sources.

    Many (perhaps most) countries report # of tickets sold. That's the best way to estimate a film's success. Someone has posted a comment — some other AVATAR post in this blog — which included such a list for Australia. There were movies such as “The Sound of Music” and “Gone with the Wind” on the list — movies that you won't find anywhere near the top on Box Office Mojo's worldwide charts.

  20. Len S.

    Taking inflation into account would certainly explain the fact that according to the charts 9 out of the top 10 worldwide money making films date from the year 2000 or later. Out of the top 10, only Titanic from 1997 (#2) on the list was made earlier than the year 2000. However, that being said, with the exception of Titanic, Avatar has taken in more than double the amount of any of the other films on the top 10 worldwide list. Therefore even taking into account “inflated” prices, Avatar's box office performance has been remarkable. Avatar even has a chance to earn more internationally than the #2 (Titanic) and #3 (Lord of The Rings ROTK) films combined. Most impressive !

  21. Federico

    I think it would be worth noticing that ALL the existing charts are DOMESTIC (i.e. north american), while Avatar is primarly an INTERNATIONAL success, over 70% of its gross comes from foreign contruies.

    Although it is difficoult to make comparison adjusted by inflaction based on worlwide sellings, if you simply compare the percentage of domestic/worldwide sellings of all the movies in the 20 top seller adjusted by inflaction chart, you will find that Avatar has rougly tied Star Wars and that the only movies still haed of it are Titanic and GwtW.

    To tie these two Avatar will need to make rougly 3 bilions $, which is not at all impossible IMHO

  22. mh

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Your numbers are off. Box office mojo calculated out the 3d/IMAX ticket prices about a week ago and estimated up to that point it had sold about 60 million tickets. Using the $7.35 average, Avatar would have made atleast $440 million if everyone did not pay the extra charge for 3d/IMAX tickets.

    No, the numbers aren't “off.” At least no more “off” than anyone else's. Try handing out $10 at the box office in just about every theater in any major urban center and see if you'll be able to buy a ticket for “Avatar.”

    Box Office Mojo's Brandon Grey used a $10 average for the 3D screenings. He does explain that's just an approximation based on his observations of ticket prices nationwide. I'd have used something closer to $12 based on my own observations, especially considering that the “average” ticket price — as published by the National Association of Theater Owners — is way too low to being with. “Avatar's” 2D screenings don't cost $7.61 on average, you can bet on that. But as Grey explains in his piece, it's better to have an approximation than no idea whatsoever of how many tickets a movie has sold.

    Here's the Box Office Mojo piece:
    http://boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=2667

  23. mh

    >>>>>>>>>If you really want to do a fair comparison, you need to account for the decrease in popularity of movies overall. For example, calculate Avatar ticket sales as a percentage of total ticket sales for the year and do the same for other movies you want to compare.

    I'd disagree that movies are less popular than they used to be. Moviegoing may be less popular, but that's different. People still watch lots of movies at home. And I *do* mention that in my article.

    As for the “percentage of ticket sales” comparison, that's an interesting idea though I'm afraid it would probably be “misleading” as well. Studios released many more “big” movies in the past than they do today.

    As a result, ticket-sale percentages of major movies released in 1930 or 1940 or 1950 or even 1960 would probably be smaller than today. Release patterns were also different. Movies didn't open in 500 theaters — let alone 3,500. So, the time period (for tallying tickets sold) would have to be different as films opened very slowly. But that's something worth looking into.

  24. Dennis

    Money is money - no matter when collected! The success of Avatar is amazing $2.3 Billion and counting in 57 days! This record will not be broken anytime soon.

  25. TM

    “Though imperfect, inflation-adjusted charts are the best way to calculate how many tickets a movie has sold. *That* is the only true measure of a film's popularity **at the box office**.”

    You probably don't realize, but what you are doing is just as misleading as comparing unadjusted box office in that you assuming one ticket sold today is just as meaningful as one ticket sold 10, 20, 30 years ago. A ticket sold today is actually much more meaningful simply because there are so many other entertainment options out there. It is *harder* to get that sale today than it was in the past.

    If you really want to do a fair comparison, you need to account for the decrease in popularity of movies overall. For example, calculate Avatar ticket sales as a percentage of total ticket sales for the year and do the same for other movies you want to compare.

  26. Rich

    Your numbers are off. Box office mojo calculated out the 3d/IMAX ticket prices about a week ago and estimated up to that point it had sold about 60 million tickets. Using the $7.35 average, Avatar would have made atleast $440 million if everyone did not pay the extra charge for 3d/IMAX tickets.

  27. mh

    Armand,
    What you say is absolutely true, and it's mentioned in my article.

  28. armand

    Well, sure the number of tickets sold show how many people go to see the movie. But… times have changed. Nowadays there are a lot more home entertainment options and people generally do not go to the cinema that often as back in the day…

  29. mh

    No, I've nothing against “Avatar.” I'm just trying to put things in perspective. Those who prefer the studio hype or inflated box-office charts are free *not* to read those “inflation adjusted” posts. (I'll be posting another one soon.)

    So, perhaps GWTW would have flopped today. Perhaps not. Only someone who has never watched GWTW, one of the prototypes of the Hollywood blockbuster, would find it “arthouse.” But who knows, perhaps “Avatar” would have been a monumental flop back in 1939. Either way, that's not what these posts are about.

    Though imperfect, inflation-adjusted charts are the best way to calculate how many tickets a movie has sold. *That* is the only true measure of a film's popularity **at the box office**. And I can't understand why some refuse to acknowledge such an obvious fact.

  30. JonDoe

    I think its quite obvious by now that this website has some sort of bone to pick with Avatar. Why is Alt Film Guide so obsessed with the incredibly inane adjusted box office numbers? Avatar is surviving and making money in its own time, just as Titanic and Star Wars did. Who knows if they would've made as much money today as they did back then…certainly Gone With the Wind would flop, as it would be considered “boring” and “art house”.