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Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + The 'Avatar' Billion & 'Harry Potter' No. 1 Worldwide

Avatar with Zoe Saldana: Box office records shattered thanks to 3D Na'Vi blue digital make-upAvatar: Zoe Saldana wears Na'vi blue digital make-up in global blockbuster that has passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide. James Cameron's mix of fantasy, adventure, and environmental conscience has already shattered several box office records – among them “fastest to $1 billion worldwide” – with more sure to come. Besides Zoe Saldana, Avatar also features Sam Worthington and three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver.

Box office records broken as 'Avatar' passes $1 billion milestone worldwide

Jan. 4 update: Avatar – James Cameron's 3D mix of fantasy, science-fiction, action/adventure, and social/environmental concerns – shattered box office records as it passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide on the first weekend of 2010 (Jan. 1–3).

After only 17 days, Avatar's domestic box office stands at $352.1 million; its international total has reached an estimated $670.2 million. Worldwide total: $1.022 billion.

Avatar's current worldwide gross, not adjusted for inflation or currency fluctuations, is behind those of only three movies:

  • James Cameron's own multiple Academy Award-winning romantic period drama Titanic (1997), with $1.84 billion. In the cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Gloria Stuart.
  • Peter Jackson's multiple Academy Award-winning adventure fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), with $1.11 billion. In the cast: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, and Ian McKellen.
  • Gore Verbinski's adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, with $1.06 billion. In the cast: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom.

As found at boxofficemojo.com, in the U.S. and Canada Avatar pulled in an estimated $68.3 million over the weekend – 75 percent of which at higher-priced 3D theaters – scoring a remarkable $19,724 average at 3,461 venues. Overseas, Avatar added an estimated $133 million.

James Cameron's inner box office records battle: 'Avatar' vs. 'Titanic'

Eventually, Avatar should overtake Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight to become the second biggest domestic grosser ever, but it'll still trail Titanic.

According to Box Office Mojo, in its first 17 days in the U.S. and Canada Titanic earned $241 million adjusted for inflation – but without box-office-inflating 3D surcharges.

Bear in mind that this (very) late 1997 release was initially screened in fewer theaters than Avatar – 2,727 on weekend no. 3 vs. Avatar's 3,461 locations – and kept picking up steam as the weeks went by.

Na'vi leading dinosaurs, following 'Christ'

Jan. 5 update: Avatar, which earlier today received a Producers Guild Award nomination, continued to keep the domestic box office afire on Monday, Jan. 4, even if overall figures have dropped dramatically now that the year-end holiday season is over.

On Monday, Avatar earned an estimated $8.1 million; partly thanks to inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges, with $360.2 million it is now “officially” the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time in the U.S. and Canada, ahead of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park ($357.1 million, 1993) while edging closer and closer to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ ($370.8 million, 2004).

'Avatar' budget: Wild speculation

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Avatar is “reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of at least $300 million.”

In case the Reporter is accurate, that “minimal” budget is about $80 million above what 20th Century Fox claims the Pandora-set fantasy cost to produce.

Reported production costs for Avatar have ranged from $200–$220 million (as per 20th Century Fox) to more than $500 million. That's not including addition to prints, advertising, and distribution expenses, which initially added another $100–150 million to the film's final cost.

'Avatar' cast

James Cameron's first narrative feature since Titanic, Avatar includes the following in its cast:

Sam Worthington. Zoe Saldana. Stephen Lang. Giovanni Ribisi. CCH Pounder. Wes Studi. Dileep Rao.

Three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver (as Best Actress for Aliens, 1986, and Gorillas in the Mist, 1988; as Best Supporting Actress for Working Girl, 1988).

Joel David Moore. Matt Gerald. Laz Alonso. Michelle Rodriguez. Sean Patrick Murphy. Sean Anthony Moran.

'Sherlock Holmes' weaker than the Na'vi, (barely) stronger than 'Chipmunks'

Trailing Avatar at a distant – albeit strong – second, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes brought in an estimated $38.3 million this past weekend, reaching a domestic cume of $140.6 million after ten days out.

Toplining Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the old Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce roles, with Rachel McAdams as its nominal leading lady, Sherlock Holmes – bombastically made to please 12-year-olds everywhere – managed a solid $10,586 average at 3,626 sites.

Gnawing at Sherlock Holmes' heels was Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which collected $36.6 million, bringing its domestic total to $157.3 million after 12 days.

For comparison's sake, the first Chipmunks movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), finished its North American run with $217.3 million. The sequel should be able to squeak by its predecessor (bad pun intended).

It's Complicated with Meryl Streep Steve Martin Hunter Parrish: 1 of her biggest hits ever?It's Complicated with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, and Caitlin FitzGerald. Nancy Meyers' adult-oriented ensemble comedy likely to hit the $100 million mark in the domestic market. No box office records will be broken when that happens, but Meryl Streep will have one of her biggest hits ever.

'It's Complicated' to become one of Meryl Streep's biggest hits ever?

At no. 4, Nancy Meyers' – rarity of rarities – adult-oriented ensemble comedy It's Complicated took in $18.7 million. Total to date: $59.1 million. In the cast:

Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (as Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; as Best Actress for Sophie's Choice, 1982).

Best Supporting Actor nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler, 2003).

Steve Martin. Lake Bell. Mary Kay Place. John Krasinski. Hunter Parrish. Rita Wilson. Alexandra Wentworth.

Zoe Kazan. Caitlin FitzGerald. Nora Dunn. James Patrick Stewart. Emjay Anthony. Ramin Djawadi. Heitor Pereira.

Cameos: Alan Cumming. Oprah Winfrey.

Even though it won't be breaking any box office records, It's Complicated will most likely pass the $100 million mark on the domestic chart. Nancy Meyers' comedy will thus become one of Meryl Streep's top three star vehicles ever – well, if one doesn't take inflation into account – behind only Phyllida Lloyd's Mamma Mia! ($144.13 million, 2008) and David Frankel's The Devil Wears Prada ($124.74 million, 2006).

When adjusting for inflation, which is the accurate and honest way of comparing box office grosses from different years/decades, Streep's most popular star vehicle in the domestic market easily remains Sydney Pollack's 1985 Best Picture Oscar winner Out of Africa ($87 million at the time; approximately $176 million today), co-starring Robert Redford.

Along the same inflation-adjusted lines, the most (domestically) popular film in which Meryl Streep has been featured would then be Robert Benton's 1979 Best Picture Oscar winner Kramer vs. Kramer, a Dustin Hoffman star vehicle that took in $106.26 million at the time, or the equivalent of $322 million today.

The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock Tim McGraw: Personal box office records about to be borkenThe Blind Side with Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. John Lee Hancock's sentimental socially conscious drama also featuring Quinton Aaron has crossed the $200 million mark in the U.S. and Canada after seven weeks, which makes The Blind Side not only the box office sleeper of the year, but also, breaking “personal” box office records, Sandra Bullock's biggest domestic hit to date (not adjusted for inflation).

Sandra Bullock reaches $200 million: 'The Blind Side' breaking 'personal' box office records

Trailing It's Complicated this past weekend was another movie revolving around a female character. Starring Sandra Bullock, John Lee Hancock's sleeper blockbuster The Blind Side added $12.6 million, reaching $209 million – and thus passing the $200 million mark after 43 days (on Friday, Jan. 1, it reached $201.1 million).

The Blind Side has yet to open internationally, but on the domestic front it has already broken box office records as far as Sandra Bullock is concerned: not adjusting for inflation, the “inspirational” family drama – a major draw in American small towns and in “conservative” suburban areas – has become Bullock's biggest box office hit ever.

Adjusted for inflation, Jan de Bont's 1994 action thriller Speed, in which Bullock got paired up with Keanu Reeves, remains her biggest domestic blockbuster: $121.24 million at the time of its release, or approx. $217 million today.

Keep your eyes open, as the fast-moving The Blind Side will surely be surpassing the inflation-adjusted Speed within the next few days.

Besides Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side features the following:

Tim McGraw. Quinton Aaron. Jae Head. Lily Collins. Ray McKinnon. Kim Dickens.

Best Actress Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990).

George Clooney & Hugh Grant leaping around 'Frog'

Starring 2009 U.S. critics' fave George Clooney, Up in the Air was the no. 6 movie on the box office chart this past weekend, raking in $11.3 million from 1,895 locations. Domestic cume: $45 million. Jason Reitman's socially conscious drama also features Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.

The Walt Disney Studios' animated feature The Princess and the Frog pulled in $10 million at no. 7, lifting its total take to $86 million.

Further down the line, the widely derided comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? brought in $5.2 million. Total: $25.6 million. In the cast: Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant.

Nine with Daniel Day-Lewis Marion Cotillard: No box office records to be broken by awards season disappointmentNine with Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard. The costly Weinstein Company release won't be breaking any box office records.

At no. 9 this past weekend, 'Nine' not breaking any box office records

One of the great awards season – dashed – hopes, Rob Marshall's star-studded musical Nine won't be shattering any box office records. After earning only $4.3 million in, whether ironically or cosmically, ninth place this past weekend, its cume to date is a paltry $14 million.

Less-than-enthusiastic reviews certainly haven't helped this $80 million film adaptation of Mario Fratti, Mary Weston, and Arthur Kopit's Broadway musical, itself a musicalized adaptation of Federico Fellini's 1963 classic , with Daniel Day-Lewis in the old Marcello Mastroianni role (Antonio Banderas on stage).

In case Nine manages to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical (not all that likely), or if it receives multiple Oscar nominations (a possibility), box office returns may get a – however moderate – boost in early 2010.

In the prestigious Nine cast:

Two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007).

Best Actress Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008).

Best Actress Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, 2007).

Best Actress Oscar winner Sophia Loren (Two Women / La Ciociara, 1961).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, 2000).

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy nominee Fergie (“Big Girls Don't Cry,” 2008).

Berlin Film Festival Best Director Silver Bear winner Ricky Tognazzi (Ultrà, 1991; tied with Jonathan Demme for The Silence of the Lambs).

Best Actor David di Donatello winner Elio Germano (My Brother Is an Only Child / Mio fratello è figlio unico, 2007).

'Invictus' a box office loser while 'New Moon' dimmer at no. 11

Starring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood's commercial disappointment rugby movie Invictus scored only $4.1 million at no. 10. Total to date: an unimpressive $30.7 million.

And finally gone from the Top Ten is Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Even so, the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner vampire-human-werewolf triangle pulled in another $3.6 million at no. 11, reaching a fantastic $287.7 million domestic total. Yet the $300 million milestone does seem to be out of reach.

New Moon was followed by Jim Sheridan's Brothers, revolving around another triangle – Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire – at no. 12. The Hollywood remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish drama collected $1.6 million. Total to date: $27.5 million.

The original film starred 2004 San Sebastian Film Festival winners Connie Nielsen and Ulrich Thomsen, in addition to Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

Avatar with Zoe Saldana Sam Worthington: Literally going Na'Vi native in ayram alusing-filled PandoraAvatar with Zoe Saldana as a Na'vi native and Sam Worthington as an earthling who – quite literally – goes native in the 3D-enhanced world of Pandora, filled with huge blue humanoid creatures, exotic beasts (e.g., Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and fellow aliens), and Ayram Alusing (a.k.a. Hallelujah Mountains a.k.a. Floating Mountains). Meanwhile, more box office records are being broken on Planet Earth.

More box office records broken as 'Avatar' beats 'Spider-Man'

Jan. 3 update: According to figures found in The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron's Avatar has earned $68.3 million on its third weekend (or rather, is earning – the weekend isn't over), breaking another record (not accounting for inflation and higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices).

The previous record holder for weekend no. 3 was the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire superhero flick Spider-Man, which collected $45 million in 2002 (approx. $52 million in 2009–2010).

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Avatar's opening weekend surpassed that of the Will Smith adventure I Am Legend, “thus officially earning the title of top December domestic debut ever.” That is incorrect. Having the top December opening ever is not one of Avatar's box office records for this reason: Avatar took in $77.02 million while I Am Legend took in $77.21 million.

'Titanic' vs. 'Avatar': Comparing icebergs and ayram alusing

Inevitably, many have been comparing Avatar's box office grosses to those of James Cameron's previous worldwide blockbuster, the late December 1997 release Titanic. For the most part, such comparisons are – at best – misguided.

To begin with, ticket prices are on average much higher today – $7.46 in 2009 vs. $4.59 in 1998. In addition, most of Avatar's money has been generated at 3D/IMAX houses that charge premiums; for instance, $17.50 is the cost for one adult to check out Avatar at a 3D/IMAX AMC theater in Los Angeles.

There's more: back in 1998 Titanic was screened at fewer theaters than Avatar – 2,727 on its third weekend vs. Avatar's 3,461 venues – and its running time is more than half an hour longer.

All these things should be taken into account when comparing Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's 2D romance to Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana's 3D Na'vi revolt.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Daniel Radcliffe: No 1 worldwide box office hitHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Daniel Radcliffe hanging on to the title of Worldwide Box Office Leader.

Hooray for Hollywood: Box office records broken internationally

Jan. 2 update: A total of $10.7 billion. That's the 2009 international box office gross of Hollywood's six major studios according to early estimates published in The Hollywood Reporter. That's also an all-time record and an increase of 7 percent from 2008.

Tellingly, only three of 2009's Top Ten domestic grossers – The Hangover, Star Trek, and Monsters vs. Aliens – earned more money in the U.S. and Canada than internationally.

Worldwide, the biggest box office hit of 2009 was Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which took in $929.4 million. More than two-thirds of that amount ($627.4 million) came from outside the U.S. and Canada. Directed by David Yates, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince toplines Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.

In second place was 20th Century Fox's animated Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, with $887.6 million. Of this total, $691 million (77.9 percent) – more than any other 2009 release – came courtesy of the international market.

In third, Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen raked in $835 million; $432.9 million (51.8 percent) internationally. In the cast: Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf, and Josh Duhamel.

James Cameron's Avatar – which opened near the end of the year – came in fourth, with $760 million (not including the last few days in December); $476.2 million (62.7 percent) internationally.

China's biggest box office hit ever

Roland Emmerich's 2012 was no. 5 with $734 million – $572.8 million, or 78 percent, internationally, where the disaster flick became China's biggest box office hit ever. In the cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton.

Rounding out 2009's Top Ten Worldwide:

  • Pete Docter's Up with $683 million ($390 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally). The voice cast includes Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer.
  • The (non-major) Summit Entertainment release The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $665.4 million ($381.5 million, or 57.3 percent, internationally).
  • The Ron Howard-Tom Hanks collaboration Angels & Demons, with $485.9 million ($352.6 million, or 72.6 percent, internationally).
  • Todd Phillips' The Hangover with $459.4 million ($182.1 million, or 39.6 percent, internationally). In the cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha.
  • The Ben Stiller flick Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, with $412.7 million ($235.4 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally).

Hollywood majors boosted by foreign markets

Looking at these numbers, it's obvious that the major U.S. studios currently earn most of their money overseas – at least at the box office.

Among the Top Ten worldwide 2009 releases, the only one that made more money domestically than abroad was Todd Phillips' comedy The Hangover. Even then, nearly 40 percent of its grosses originated outside the U.S. and Canada.

That's why one shouldn't underestimate the importance of the international market when it comes to what movies get produced and/or distributed by U.S. studios.

For instance, with the exception of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, in which Kristen Stewart plays the central role, and perhaps Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (no actual humans), last year's biggest worldwide blockbusters were all focused on male characters (whether live or animated). And as to be expected, action and special effects were most everywhere on screen.

Now, no matter how remarkable these record-breaking figures, they should be placed in context. For starters, the U.S. dollar has lost quite a bit of its value in a number of key movie markets, which means larger dollar amounts after the conversion of local currencies.

Also, the Hollywood studios won't see all those billions pouring into their coffers, as local distributors, exhibitors, and governments will grab a sizable chunk of the grosses.

Cinema life elsewhere: Local box office hits

If you live in the U.S. and/or read only American publications, it'll be hard to believe that there are lots of people making movies outside of both Hollywood and the United States. Even so, these movies do get made and some of them are very successful.

Via Box Office Mojo, here is a list of a few key box office countries and their biggest local hits of the past year:

  • Brazil: If I Were You 2, $32 million.
  • China: The Founding of a Republic, $60.7 million.
  • France*: Le Petit Nicolas, $48.3 million.
  • Germany: Vicky the Viking, $13.55 million.
  • India: Love Aaj Kal, $16.19 million.
  • Italy: Christmas in Beverly Hills, $29.91 million.
  • Japan: Rookies: Sotsugyô, $87.99 million.
  • Mexico: Another Chicken Movie, $8.58 million.
  • Russia/CIS: Dark Planet, $21.83 million.
  • South Korea: Tidal Wave, $67.98 million.
  • Spain: Agora, $30.2 million.
  • Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, $16.37 million domestically; approx. $95 million worldwide.
  • United Kingdom (not including Warner Bros.' British-based Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince): Slumdog Millionaire, $52.21 million.

* Includes former colonies Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, in addition to tiny Monaco.

Australia wasn't included on the list above because its 2009 box office chart was wholly dominated by U.S. products.

Avatar trailer features one single “name” star: James Cameron (and his movies). Actors – including three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver – are seen and heard, but their names go unmentioned. On-screen stars or no, Avatar has bounced back to the top of the chart this Christmas weekend, as more box office records have been broken.

'Avatar' bounces back to the top as Christmas weekend breaks box office records

Dec. 28 update: After falling behind Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day (and after falling behind Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel on Wednesday), Avatar ended up victorious at the Christmas weekend box office as per figures found at Box Office Mojo.

Avatar earned pretty much exactly what had been expected: $75.6 million. Its total domestic take currently stand at $212.7 million.

Chiefly thanks to Avatar, Sherlock Holmes' $65.4 million and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel's $50.2 million – and let's not ignore Meryl Streep's It's Complicated with $22.5 million in fourth place – the 2009 Christmas weekend reached nearly $260 million at the domestic box office. An official record.

According to Box Office Mojo's chart, the previous record-holder was the July 18–20 '08 weekend – with $253.5 million – when The Dark Knight led the pack with $158.4 million.

In third place is the The Twilight Saga: New Moon opening weekend (Nov. 20–22 '09), when the second Twilight installment brought in $142.8 million, helping the weekend total reach $250 million.

The runners-up were the weekends topped by two Johnny Depp star vehicles: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in, respectively, July 2006 and May 2007.

More box office records – but 'Avatar' not involved

Dec. 27 update: James Cameron's Avatar was the no. 2 movie at the domestic box office on Christmas Day, trailing Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Christmas figures were highly impressive: Sherlock Holmes took in $24.8 million, while Avatar (with higher ticket prices, but fewer venues) grossed $23.5 million.

Sherlock Holmes has thus shattered Christmas Day box office records. The previous record-holder was the Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson sentimental crowd-pleaser Marley & Me, which raked in $14.5 million last year.

The fact that this year's Christmas fell on a Friday, a typical movie-going day, seems to have given a boost to the box office.

When box office records aren't really record-setting

Dec. 26: Earlier this week, it was announced with much fanfare that despite these painful economic times the movie business is having a record year, with more than $10.6 billion earned at the domestic box office in 2009.

Outside the U.S. and Canada, the box office gross reached $15 billion, up about 5 percent from 2008, though that figure can be partly explained by the U.S. dollar's dramatic tumble in a number of major film markets.

As found in the New York Times, domestic attendance figures for 2009 are the highest in five years, with 1.42 billion tickets sold in the United States and Canada at an average price of $7.46.

Now, although the $10 billion earned domestically would be an impressive figure for a number of U.S. industries (definitely not for military contractors), it's an official box office record only because ticket prices have been going up nearly every year.

In fact, Hollywood could go on breaking box office records annually if ticket prices were hiked up a certain percentage each calendar year so as to offset any expected drop (or lack of increase) in ticket sales.

The inflation factor & ticket sales

At the domestic box office, Hollywood.com estimates that in 2009 ticket sales are up 5 percent in relation to 2008. Yet, as made clear in the New York Times, “when adjusted for inflation, 2002 had sales of $11.21 billion, while the totals for 2001, 2003 and 2004 also exceed this year's tally.”

Putting things in perspective: as found at Box Office Mojo, 1.403 billion tickets have been sold in 2009, while in 2002 that figure reached 1.575 billion.

And that's how this year's widely heralded domestic box office record-breaking feat is made to look considerably less smashing.

Welcome Stranger with Bing Crosby Joan Caulfield: 1947 was banner year at US box officeWelcome Stranger with Bing Crosby, Joan Caulfield, and Robert Shayne. Not long after the end of World War II, 1947 turned out to be a banner year for the Hollywood studios, as more than 3.5 billion movie tickets were sold in the United States alone. Elliott Nugent's Paramount comedy Welcome Stranger, which brought back together Going My Way stars Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald – and Blue Skies stars Crosby and Joan Caulfield – was one of the year's top box office releases, perhaps the top one, depending on the source. (Official figures from that period are hard to come by.) Either way, when discussing box office records, 1946 was indisputably the best year ever, with 4.067 billion tickets sold in the U.S.

Banner year: 1947

Putting things in even better perspective: As per the National Association of Theater Owners, an estimated 70 million people went to the movies every week in the United States (population: 144 million) in 1947.*

That means approximately 3.664 billion tickets† were sold even without state-of-the-art special effects, multiplexes, and megabudget sequels.

The top movies of 1947?

Nearly all were big-studio star vehicles. Few of these movies boasted special effects (Green Dolphin Street has a major earthquake), offering instead – in middle-to-lowbrow, highly commercial fashion – a mix of romance, adventure, drama, music, and comedy.

It was a vastly different type of audience then – hardly more sophisticated, but certainly older. Besides, television was just starting out, and there was no digital cable, DVD, pay-per-view options, all-sports channels, or online porn flicks and sex chat rooms to keep people away from movie houses.

Top 20 films of 1947

Below is the list of the Top 20 films of 1947, via boxofficereport.com. Their source is unclear – quite possibly Variety, which used to publish annual box office lists.

In any case, take this particular list as an “approximation.”

Bear in mind that late 1946 releases – such as David O. Selznick's King Vidor-(co-)directed blockbuster Duel in the Sun – aren't included on the list above. For the record, the color Western starred Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, and Joseph Cotten.

* Figures vary depending on the source. The Wall Street Journal estimated that 78.2 million Americans went to the movies every week in 1947.

† U.S. box office records were truly shattered in 1946, when 4.067 billion tickets were sold.

See also: Another domestic record broken?


Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana Avatar images: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

Image of Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, and Caitlin FitzGerald in It's Complicated: Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal Pictures.

Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock The Blind Side image: Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard Nine image: The Weinstein Company.

Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince image: Warner Bros.

Avatar trailer: 20th Century Fox.

Robert Shayne, Bing Crosby, and Joan Caulfield Welcome Stranger image: Paramount Pictures.

Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + The 'Avatar' Billion & 'Harry Potter' No. 1 Worldwide © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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18 Comments to Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + The 'Avatar' Billion & 'Harry Potter' No. 1 Worldwide

  1. Manila

    I have seen the movie trailer of the Avatar movie itself but I have not really been able to go watch it in the theaters. I will definitely have to see the movie for myself. Thank you for sharing such an interesting and informative article. - Manila :)

  2. suri

    its raelly 8th wonder of world. james creat a new world. pandora………………………………………………………………!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    every one can see at least one time avatar movie. definetly u can feel live in a different
    and humanbeings very selfish to live in earth
    sooooooooooooooooooooooooo james really proud to be holllywooddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd…

  3. sai krishna

    excellent movie of 2009-10

  4. jc

    I am pretty sure Avatar has to beat Titanic and Return of the King to become the highest grossing December movie.

  5. tavar

    I wanna see AVATAR again.

  6. tavar

    i forgot i wanna see sherlock homes too

  7. Tech

    Avatar is a far better movie than Sherlock Holmes.

  8. bisle

    Sorry but Up in the air is not a disappointment at all. The film was only on 1850 screens for the first time this weekend. And has already gained more than what it costed. The film will be there for a very long time and is already a success. You should also look at its average by screen before making such a false statement.

  9. mh

    Even taking into account that “Up in the Air” had been around for a couple of weeks in very limited release, this weekend's figures were hardly great.

    “Up in the Air” isn't a flop, of course, but a $6,203 average per theater on a film's first weekend in wide release (1,895 screens) isn't great. It's just okay, especially when you think of all the positive buzz the film has gotten and that George Clooney is the star. Also, generally speaking, the fewer the # of screens, the higher the per-screen average should be.

    Meryl Streep's “It's Complicated,” playing in nearly 1,000 more screens (2,887) had a noticeably better average ($7,660) despite lukewarm to negative reviews. That's a solid opening for a “non-event” movie.

    And finally, “Up in the Air” is quite some ways from paying for itself. Even if it did cost $24m like the studio claims, this movie would have to earn about twice as much to fully cover its production costs as exhibitors and others keep about 50% of a movie's domestic take at the box office. Not counting what Paramount has spent on distribution, advertising, Oscar campaigns, etc., which will add millions to the film's total cost.

    Will “Up in the Air” make a profit? If it really cost $24m, sure it will. But not necessarily because of its take at the domestic box office. Unless the Clooney film has very long legs, profits will likely come after ancillary revenues (DVDs, foreign markets, etc) start coming in.

  10. Ker

    Glad nine bombed. It sucked.

  11. Doc Rock

    Apparently 'Box Office Mojo” is an inept organization, as of Sunday the headlines are all reading “Avatar easily beats Holmes at the Box Office”

    NEVER trust ANYTHING you read on the Internet before checking it out.

  12. mh

    @Doc Rock

    Thanks for the advice, though I've always been fully aware of the unreliability of news sources on the Internet — and elsewhere, for that matter.

    Having said that, I must add that Box Office Mojo is as reliable as news sources get. My article, if you read it, covers earnings at the domestic box office on Christmas Day, not over the Christmas Weekend.

    'Avatar' was #2 on Christmas Day. It was #1 for the weekend (Fri.Sun).

  13. joe_6285

    Let's see if this becomes true or not I want Avatar to win the weekend.

  14. joe_6285

    I just found out that Avatar is going to win this weekend let's hope that happens as it turns out that way only.THIS XMAS WEEKEND BIGGEST EVER! 'Avatar' Back On Top For #1 Saturday By Beating 'Sherlock Holmes'; 'Squeakquel' #3.

  15. Alex

    I left Piracy at the back for a reason, it is huge but not as game-changing as people make it out. The other factors are a lot more important and you have to agree with me on that one. People still watch movies as much as they did, it's just that they have more ways of doing that now.

    And about your piracy questions. Those numbers are very exact since a tracker (sort of a bridge between servers and people downloading a and uploading stuff like movies, music or games) keeps track of the exact number of people that have downloaded a certain file. When it comes to the quality of the movie they vary depending on how soon they are released. They range from cams to Blue-Ray rips in full 1080p glory. And I'm pretty sure it's impossible to keep track of every single tracker that is offering this stuff so 11 million could very well be 20 million since that site that reported 11 can only keep track of so many torrent trackers.

    So piracy is not something to ignore mate.

  16. mh


    The lack of other venues for film-watching is mentioned in the article.

    TorrentFreak is the source for the 11 million pirated “Star Trek” downloads. Even if their figures are accurate (they're based on BitTorrent data and I don't know how that data is compiled), one can download “Star Trek” and still watch it on the big screen. Unless, perhaps, you're in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. How good was the pirated version? High-def? Or a crappy recording some idiot did at a movie theater?

    Also, those 11 million downloads weren't all done in the US, and their impact at the US box office is highly debatable regardless of what the MPAA says.

    Here's an interesting article on piracy claims:

  17. Domo

    But piracy is on the rise too

  18. Alex

    I'm so but this article is very much flawed by comparing a year like 1947 when to only option to see a movie or anything for that matter was going to a theater.

    Now we have every single movie that comes out in theaters at home in 6 months or less, either on DVD/Blue-Ray, pay per view or stuff like HBO. And did I mention piracy? Star Trek alone is said to have been downloaded from the internet more then 11 million times. That's almost 100 million in ticket sells right there, not to mention that a movie that you download can be seen by 2,3,4 or 10 people. So while the movie was downloaded 11 million times, more then 100 million people might have seen it, all of that without paying anything else but their Internet connection.

    People like and watch movies just as much (if not more) then they did 62 years ago, it's just that today we have a lot more ways to do it.