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Box Office: 'The Avengers' Surpasses 'Star Wars'?

The Avengers Chris Hemsworth Thor Chris Evans Captain America
The Avengers: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America

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 $405 million.

Even if only one third of The Avengers' gross originated from 3D theaters, the Marvel sci-fier / actioner's gross would be approx. $424 million. 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.

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2 Comments to Box Office: 'The Avengers' Surpasses 'Star Wars'?

  1. zac gille


    This writer didn't forget about the “100 other factors.” Maybe you forgot to read the article in full? It's mentioned there. Never mind the fact that film attendance has risen in recent years in a number of countries despite DVDs, VOD, Internet, and all those 100 other factors.

    Actually, a movie could theoretically earn $1 billion in North America in 2012. Why not?

    If “Star Wars” could've earned $307.26m in 1977 when average ticket prices were $2.23 and there were 100 million fewer people in the US and Canada, surely a movie with as wide an appeal would be able to earn $1 billion today. That's a key point in this article: “Star Wars” earned the equivalent of more than $1b in 2012 dollars. (The $1b would be even easier to be reached by a 3D movie, which has the advantage of costlier ticket prices. “Star Wars” had no such luck.)

    Now, nowhere do I compare “Star Wars” in 1977 with “Star Wars” in 2012. I'm comparing “Star Wars” in 1977 with “The Avengers” in 2012. I thought that was clear.

    And really, you think “Star Wars” was ahead of its time?? You've never heard of the “Flash Gordon” serials of the 1930s?

    Trust me — or don't and do a little research on your own: works of art that are ahead of their time are NOT successful when they come out. They become appreciated years, decades, or even centuries later.

  2. rachit

    so are you saying that Star Wars would have made 1.08 billion if it was released today … while it is good to compare inflation adjusted numbers, what you and most other writers forget is that ticket price and population rise aside, there are 100 others factors which have changed in the past 30 years … so keep those intangible factors in mind before comparing inflation adjusted BO ….. i dont think a movie can make 1 billion in US … assuming 10$ per ticket (taking an average for 2D, 3D and IMAX), a movie needs to be watched by close to 20% of the population to reach that level … somehow that does not make sense … also, do you really want to compare Star Wars released in 1977 with Star Wars released in 2012 .. Star Wars was ahead of its time then, which is 1 big factor in its monumental success … that factor wont work now …