Alt Film Guide
Classic movies. Gay movies. International cinema. Socially conscious & political cinema.
Home Movie NewsBox Office Avatar Box Office: Where Exactly on the All-Time Chart?

Avatar Box Office: Where Exactly on the All-Time Chart?

Avatar Sam Worthington Na'viAvatar with Sam Worthington as a Na’vi. Curiously, all three titles at the top of the all-time domestic box office chart are 20th Century Fox productions: Avatar, Titanic (a Fox-Paramount co-venture), and Star Wars.
  • Avatar is on its way to surpassing Titanic at the domestic box office – as long as inflation is set aside.
  • Initially heralded as one of the year’s biggest international blockbusters, James Cameron’s environmentally conscious futuristic adventure has recently passed another worldwide box office milestone.
  • But what is truly the most successful movie ever made?

Avatar box office: About to surpass Titanic in the domestic market – but not in ticket sales

Feb. 1 update: According to studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com, this past weekend, Jan. 29–31, the domestic gross of James Cameron’s Avatar – a box office record-setter in several “categories” – was at the higher end of expectations: $31.3 million from 3,074 locations, which represents a small 14 percent drop from a week ago.

Average per theater after seven consecutive weekends at the top of the U.S. and Canada box office chart: $9,759, or about what most well-performing releases average on their first weekend out.

After 45 days, the domestic total of this mega-budget ($220 million or whereabouts) 20th Century Fox release stands at $595.8 million. If one doesn’t account for inflation (see further below), that means in the next couple of days Cameron’s futuristic fantasy adventure will surpass the domestic box office success of his romantic melodrama/disaster movie Titanic.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and veteran Gloria Stuart (The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man), Titanic – the no. 1 domestic box office leader for 15 straight weekends back in late 1997/early 1998 – earned $600.8 million.

$2 billion milestone worldwide

Also this past weekend, Avatar passed the $2 billion mark at the global box office; its worldwide cume currently stands at $2.039 billion, of which more than 70 percent came from overseas.

Avatar’s top international markets are the following (updated final figures for the original release): China ($202.6 million), France* ($174.4 million), Japan ($170.6 million), Germany ($156.6 million), the United Kingdom/Ireland ($147.6 million), Russia/CIS ($116.1 million), South Korea ($108.3 million), Spain ($107.3 million), Australia ($103.9 million), Italy ($93.7 million), Brazil ($57.8 million), Mexico ($43.8 million), Poland ($30.9 million), India ($28 million), Taiwan ($27.6 million), The Netherlands ($26.9 million), and Denmark ($25 million).[1]

Bear in mind that China and Russia became more open to American movies only in the past few years (i.e., post-Titanic). Also worth noting, about 80 percent of Avatar’s domestic take and more than two-thirds of its international revenues (up to early February 2010) were generated at 3D/IMAX screenings, which charge premium ticket prices.

And let’s not forget that the U.S. dollar’s current weakness helps to “inflate” earnings coming from abroad. (The dollar situation was the very opposite when Titanic scored $1.84 billion worldwide.)

So, be careful when making Avatar vs. Titanic comparisons.

* Includes Monaco, and, weirdly, the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Avatar box office update

Update: In the U.S. and Canada, Avatar surpassed Titanic on Tuesday, Feb. 2, when its box office cume reached $601.1 million.

Avatar ultimately ended its initial domestic run with $749.8 million, in addition to $1.993 billion internationally, for a worldwide grand total of nearly $2.744 billion.

Following both domestic and international rereleases (including a dismal domestic relaunch in late summer 2010), Avatar has reached $760.5 million domestically and $2.087 billion internationally, for a worldwide grand total of $2.847 billion.

Gone with the Wind remains the top movie on the inflation-adjusted domestic box office chart.

Awards + cast

Despite accusations of racism and paganism, anti-Americanism, and pro-smokingism, Avatar has received nominations from the French Academy, the British Academy, the American Cinema Editors, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Writers Guild, the Art Directors Guild, and the Costume Designers Guild.

About a week ago, Avatar lost the Producers Guild Award to Kathryn Bigelow’s low-budget Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker. And this past weekend, Cameron lost the Directors Guild Award to former wife Bigelow, the first woman to ever win the DGA prize for a narrative feature.

Written and directed by Cameron, the Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director Golden Globe winner stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Dileep Rao, Joel David Moore, Matt Gerald, and three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver.

Avatar Sam Worthington Stephen LangAvatar with Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang. On Jan. 16, Avatar surpassed George Lucas’ 1977 sci-fi adventure Star Wars at the domestic box office: $478.1 million vs. $460.9 million.

Avatar & the inflation factor

Jan. 29 update: As I’ve said before, the picture – or rather, the All Time Domestic Box Office Chart – looks quite different when inflation is taken into consideration, even while still ignoring 3D/IMAX surcharges for a movie like Avatar.

On the regular all-time domestic chart, Avatar is, for the time being, trailing a single title: Titanic. But on its inflation-adjusted all-time chart, Box Office Mojo estimates that Avatar is now at no. 26 (eight slots higher than it was ten days ago). James Cameron’s fantasy adventure is a notch above the 1965 James Bond flick Thunderball, starring Sean Connery, and below the 1978 John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John musical Grease.

Avatar is expected to gross somewhere between $25–$30 million this weekend. If so, that means it’ll be no. 21 on Monday, ahead of Grease, Disney’s The Lion King, Disney and Julie AndrewsMary Poppins, Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks’ Disneyesque Forrest Gump, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, which has nothing to do with Walt Disney in any way whatsoever.

The 3D/IMAX premium factor

Now, if 3D/IMAX premium surcharges were factored in, Avatar would be way further down the inflation-adjusted domestic chart – which is supposed to better reflect the number of tickets each movie has sold. After all, 3D/IMAX surcharges represent a significant chunk of Avatar’s domestic gross: Somewhere between 23–33 percent.

Some quick math: Tickets for Avatar have ranged from $9–$17 or whereabouts, or between 30–40 percent above those for 2D movies. Add to the equation the fact that 80 percent of Avatar’s domestic gross has come from 3D and/or IMAX screenings and we get the 23–33 percent range mentioned in the previous paragraph.

So, even if you choose the lower end of the scale and deduct 25 percent from Avatar’s total earnings, James Cameron’s box office sensation would have taken in around $423 million domestically (representing the actual number of tickets sold when compared to 2D movies), placing it at …

… no. 65, ahead of Disney’s 2003 animated Finding Nemo and behind Burt Reynolds’ 1978 action-flick-for-hicks Smokey and the Bandit.

If you choose the topmost end of the scale, or 33 percent, Avatar’s 2D-equivalent revenues would have been around $376 million, which would place it at …

… no. 92, ironically, right behind another 3D movie, Vincent Price’s House of Wax (1953), and right ahead of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Rear Window, which starred James Stewart and Grace Kelly back in 1954.

Annual ‘average’ ticket prices’ pitfalls

As always, bear in mind that these are approximations based on “average” ticket prices (recently inflated by an increase in 3D/IMAX screenings) provided by the National Association of Theater Owners.

A truly accurate calculation of a film’s popularity at the box office – as in, its number of tickets sold – would be based on where a movie made most of its money, e.g., at top-dollar New York houses, at thousands of cheap small-town theaters, or at premium-charging 3D/IMAX theaters.

It’s also worth remembering that population increases, changes in audience demographics, changes in film production (studios cranked out far more product – hence, more competition – before the advent of television), changes in film distribution (movies didn’t open at 300 – let alone 3,000 – locations until the mid-1970s), 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 some 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 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-definition copies vs. crummy reproductions), and where the copying is taking place (Beverly Hills and Tokyo or Lagos and Karachi, where most people who would buy 50-cent copies of Hollywood flicks wouldn’t be able to afford going to the movies, anyhow).

Avatar James Cameron Sigourney WeaverAvatar: Screenwriter-director James Cameron with actress Sigourney Weaver.

Avatar ahead of The Dark Knight – or is it?

Jan. 25: On Saturday, Jan. 23, James Cameron’s Avatar overtook Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight at the domestic box office: $542.5 million vs. $533.7 million.

Impressive?

Sure. Even so, Avatar still has quite some ways to go before it matches the number of tickets The Dark Knight sold in the U.S. and Canada last year.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, at least 65 percent of Avatar’s overseas box office and almost 80 percent of its domestic take have been generated at pricier 3D venues – some even pricier in the IMAX format. For comparison’s sake: The 2D The Dark Knight earned a mere 6.5 percent of its worldwide revenues from IMAX screenings.

That’s why when it comes to the actual number of tickets sold, Avatar still lags behind a whole bunch of other movies both domestically and internationally.

Gone with the Wind still no. 1

The Reporter adds that Avatar is now the highest-grossing film (if you ignore inflation) of all time in Chile, China, Spain, Russia, and Hong Kong (actually part of China, but never mind). It’s also the biggest Hollywood hit ever in India.

And yet the Reporter asserts that the actual no. 1 box office hit the world over remains a 70-year-old movie, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/David O. Selznick’s (mostly) Victor Fleming-directed Gone with the Wind, which, following its late 1939 debut (no mega-wide releases in those days), is supposed to have grossed $400 million worldwide, the equivalent of $6 billion today.

Now, although there’s no doubt that the multiple Oscar-winning Civil War romantic drama was a much bigger sensation upon its release than Avatar is or ever will be, the Reporter’s Gone with the Wind figures – if accurate – surely include latter-day rereleases as well.

Unsurprisingly, Gone with the Wind also tops the inflation-adjusted all-time domestic box office chart: $1.485 billion (including rereleases). In the extensive cast: Best Actress Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Best Supporting Actress Hattie McDaniel, Thomas Mitchell, Ona Munson, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, and Butterfly McQueen.

Six more top titles

The other top six films on the inflation-adjusted domestic box office chart are:


Avatar Box Office: All-Time Chart” notes

Updated country figures (including rereleases)

[1] Including rereleases, Avatar’s country figures change some:

China ($261.8 million), France ($175.6 million), Japan ($172 million), Germany ($162.3 million), the United Kingdom/Ireland ($150.9 million), Russia/CIS ($117.2 million), Spain ($110 million), South Korea ($109.9 million), Australia ($104.6 million), Italy ($93.7 million), Brazil ($58.3 million), Mexico ($44.7 million), Poland ($31.5 million), India ($30.9 million), Taiwan ($27.9 million), The Netherlands ($26.9 million), and Denmark ($25.3 million).


Avatar Box Office” endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, “Avatar Box Office: Where Exactly on the All-Time Chart?” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources.

Comments about Avatar and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).

Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, international pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for). Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take; however, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.

Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office take at top-priced venues.

Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron, and Sam Worthington Avatar images: Mark Fellman | Weta | 20th Century Fox.

Avatar Box Office: Where Exactly on the All-Time Chart?” last updated in August 2022.

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us and write your own movie commentaries, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.

56 comments

Joe_6285 -

It’s an great achievement for James Cameron as he is made his mark that he is still king of the world even after 12 years after his return.Thanks for the update let’s see how much it make by the end of it’s run

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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!

Reply
mfan -

I’ve wondered about Box Office Mojo’s “average” movie ticket price, and decided it must include second run theaters. Perhaps it even reflect the estimated number of tickets sold at matinees. No need to get snarky.

Reply
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?

Reply
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. (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 number 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.

Reply
Jim D -

James Cameron has another blockbuster on his hands and still the Oscars rufuses to give him any credit. He has proven he can make movies that the public loves. His peers should give him the credit he deserves.

Reply
Captain Rick -

I still love that adjusted for inflation “Gone With The Wind” totally blows all the other films out of the water.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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 !

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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:
boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=2667

Reply
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…

Reply
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”.

Reply
Nelson James -

Perspective is a good thing. You have to take it into account to get as close to accurate a picture as possible. For instance the cost of production of a film has to come into play when one discusses profitability. $100 mil sounds like a lot of moola, but RoI will certainly have to be adjusted if the film cost $70 mill to make as opposed to say $300,000.

All in all there seems to be a lot of people that really want this movie to break all records. Why I don’t know, it’s just another movie, although a very glitzy one I must admit. When it comes to the subjective, it makes no sense to debate quality or anything else. Just nod, or shake your head and kick the dust off your sandals.

Reply
JonDoe -

This website is obsessed with the incredibly useless “adjusted for inflation” box office numbers. Fox doesn’t care, because they’re not getting paid in 1939 or 1998 dollars anyways. Here’s something that every writer seems to ignore when it comes to this story:

Higher prices=lower demand

…and yet, Avatar continues to soar in a recession. Even when you factor in that there are so many entertainment options in this decade, as well as being the most pirated film ever.

Reply
Tony -

“higher prices=lower demand”

So why is it that out of the top 25 highest grossing movies off all time (domestic), 18 of them came from the last decade (2000s)? In fact, FIVE of them are from the past 2 years.

Reply
TOM -

No matter what you say Avatar will be regarded as the greatest movie of our time, GWTW was seen only in America no body else would have even cared about seeing it, AVATAR has no barriers as to language, religion, Age or country ie is why it is the greatest movie ever made.

Reply
Keith -

It is going to be interesting to see how Avatar is going to do in the next few weeks. Titanic actually picked up some steam between weeks 6 and 9.

I finally got around to seeing Avatar on Thursday and while I was expecting to be blown away—it was well beyond that. I’m stunned at how good this movie is. Some are complaining about the hype but I think it should be hyped way more than it is. Everyone in the world should see it at least once

Reply
james -

lets see how much avatar ends up getting…

Reply
joe -

Well I agree that you can and perhaps should compare older boxoffice totals with today’s films, I disagree about using things like ticket sales and 3D pricing to take a kick at the current films.

We have know way of ever knowing how much of a difference the 3D is making in ticket sales. If the film had been released as only 2D then maybe it would have been just as popular. We can’t know for sure. Also, the statement that 3D tickets “which can double (or more) the cost of an “average” movie ticket price” is total crap. I can’t believe that any theater is charging double for a ticket to Avatar in 3D. Here in Canada, at least, it only costs $3.00 more for seeing the film in Imax 3D then a regular ticket.

So if you want to get technical you would have to figure out how many tickets were sold in 3D screenings and then take $3.00 off the boxoffice total for each ticket sold and use that number. But even then that is faulty statistics.

It’s just easier to say Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, and the naysayers will just have to live with it.

Reply
mh -

>>>>>>>“which can double (or more) the cost of an “average” movie ticket price” is total crap.

Joe, nope. That’s not “total crap.” Average ticket prices for 2010 (estimates) are $7.35. For example, if you try to go see Avatar in 3D in Los Angeles, chances are you’ll have to pay $15 or $17 to get in.

That is more than double the “average” ticket price used to calculate tickets sold in any given year.

>>>>>>>(BTW – Most studios care a lot more about dollars earned than tickets sold. If they could make a movie that people would pay $100 a ticket for they would be glad to sell a few less tickets in return. It’s actually more financially profitable to make more money with fewer screenings.)

If they could make a movie that ONE person would go see and pay $2 billion for the ticket, they would do it. Who could blame them?

But that would be ONE ticket sold. A record-breaking box-office hit. ONE ticket sold.

Reply
joe -

>>>>>>Joe, nope. That’s not “total crap.” Average ticket prices for 2010 (estimates) are $7.35. For example, if you try to go see “Avatar” in 3D in Los Angeles, chances are you’ll have to pay $15 or $17 to get in.

That is more than double the “average” ticket price used to calculate tickets sold in any given year.<<<< You are comparing apples and oranges. Sure $7.35 might be the average movie cost in Lyons, Kansas but what does Avatar cost to see there? $15 or $17 might be the cost to see it in 3D in LA but what is a normal movie ticket at that same theater? You are comparing the nation wide average (including all the small towns and small theaters that charge a lot less for shows) to the 3D price in a major city. That's not very accurate. A quick look at the AMC theater guide for LA tells us that a regular film (Book of Eli) costs $10.00, Avatar in 3D costs $14.00 that's a lot different then your $7.35 to $15.00 or $17.00 "average". In fact, just to keep this going… I just did a check in Leawood, Kansas. Regular ticket prices are $7.00, what does Avatar in 3D at the same theater? $9.00.

Reply
mh -

>>>>>>A quick look at the AMC theater guide for LA tells us that a regular film (Book of Eli) costs $10.00, Avatar in 3D costs $14.00 that’s a lot different then your $7.35 to $15.00 or $17.00 “average”.

The $7.35 figure is not **my** average.

That’s the estimated (for early 2010) nationwide average provided by Box Office Mojo, based on what’s provided by film exhibitors all over the US. That’s what is normally used to calculate the number of tickets a movie has sold.

And you can be sure that most of Avatar’s money isn’t coming from small-town Kansas or Idaho but from major centers like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, etc., where ticket prices, whether $14 or $15.50 at the Landmark Westwood or $16.50 at the IMAX AMC Century City, are more than double the nationwide “average.”

As for the $10/$14 discrepancy you mention – well, it’s only $4. No! That’s a *huge* 40 percent price increase.

As for $7 to $9 in small-town Kansas, that’s a hefty 28.5 percent increase. Not much when we’re discussing dollars and cents. A whole lot when we’re discussing hundreds of millions of dollars.

For every $100 million a movie makes at regular screenings, you’ll have to add anywhere between $28.5–$40 million to get the equivalent box office receipts of a movie screened on 3D/IMAX.

Reply
Melissa -

Intriguing! I often wondered if they adjusted for the extra cost of “gold class” tickets; same screen, but with larger and comfier seats, and a menu to order from (at extra cost, again). Apparently not.

An Australian Cardinal was worried that Avatar being so greatly-watched meant a return to paganism. It prompted the following observation in an article (although they include reshowings):

The films that made the most money in Australia:
1 Avatar (2009) $69 million
2 Titanic (1997) $58m
3 Shrek 2 (2004) $50.5m
4 The Return of the King (2003) $49.5m
5 Crocodile Dundee (1986) $48m
6 Fellowship of the Ring (2001) $47.5m
7 The Dark Knight (2008) $46m
8 The Two Towers (2002) $46m.

The films that sold the most tickets in Australia:
1 The Sound of Music (1965 and later reshowings)
2 Crocodile Dundee (1986)
3 Star Wars (1977 and 97)
4 Gone With The Wind (1939 and reshowings)
5 Titanic (1997)
6 E.T (1982)
7 Dr Zhivago (1966)
8 Grease (1978 and reshowings).

(Full article: blogs.sunherald.com.au/whoweare/archives/2010/01/the_tribal_mind_49.html)

Reply
buy r4i -

Avatar wasn’t the only film to ring in the new year with serious box-office bounty, either. Sherlock Holmes sleuthed out an elementary $38.4 million for second place, a 41 percent drop for $140 million total.

Reply
Kimberly -

I think we shouldn’t forget that while, yes, the tickets cost more (especially 3D and IMAX), people are more than willing to pay for them.

Reply
Dennis -

What difference does it make? Avatar is the top grossing movie of all time now and still counting after only 37 days of release! It took Titanic it’s entire run to reach 1.82 Billion. It’s not fair to try and take the celebration of out Avatar’s success! Make no mistake when the dust settles this movie could make 2.5 Billion plus! Those other movies were great for their time and enjoyed their highest grossing box office title - now let Avatar wear the crown! After all the odds are that someday Avatar will fall to the number 2 spot! OBTW money is money no matter what decade it’s acquired!!!

Reply
Bobby West -

I wish I could read one article where the Avatar gross is mentioned without it being compared to some inflated gross. Gone with the Wind made 198 million US in 1939. Would that be more money today? Yes it would. That does not change the fact that it still only made 198 million dollars. You could argue more ticket sales, but honestly back in 1939 there were no such things as DVDs or television reruns. If you did not witness the movie while it was in theaters, you would have never seen it again. EVER. I am certain that in today’s times, had we no technology to steal movies or wait a few months and rent them on DVD, that movie ticket sales would be MUCH higher than they are today.

Avatar has made 1.843 billion dollars in today’s times. That is still 1.843 billion dollars no matter which way you look at it. 100 years from now when ticket prices are $500 a ticket and movies are making 10 billion dollars on average, people are still going to say “Well you know, if you count for inflation, the 1939 Gone with the Wind would have made 3 Trillion dollars.”

Point being-none of this really matters. I don’t think James Cameron is kicking himself for not having released this film in 2030 and making some 2 or 3 billion more than in 2010.

Were similar tactics to inflation used in comparing olympic athletes from now to those of 50 years ago it looks even more ridiculous. It is similar to saying, “if this swimmer from 50 years ago had used the same stream-lined suits that the swimmers of today wear, his time would have been 20 seconds faster than the fastest swimmer today.” You just cannot compare some things.

Reply
Jacen -

GWTW did not make $198 mil in 1939; that sum represents the total grossed from many re-releases over the subsequent decades. One figure I’ve seen shows GWTW grossing only $32 mil during its first year of release (which is still a staggering amount when you consider how cheap movie prices were back then and that the Great Depression was not quite over yet). What I wish is that someone would research and tally the number of tickets sold for each of all the major films for the past several decades; that would give us a much more accurate portrait of what the biggest films have been (always acknowledging, of course, that older films will have their numbers inflated due to the benefit of multiple reissues; but at least the fluctuation and inflation of prices would no longer be a distraction).

Reply
TL -

Gone With the Wind did NOT make 198,000,000 in 1939. That would have collapsed the economy. If it has truly made that much over its run it has been the accumulation of many rereleases. Most at much higher prices than it cost in 1939. (BTW - GWTW also charged a premium during its initial release due to the cost and spectacle and anticipation involved. I don’t see anyone trying to discount the movie’s boxoffice success because of that.)

So 70 years of release compared to 38 days for Avatar. They’re not pulling Avatar from the theaters yet. If it runs long enough maybe this little movie can finally impress some of the naysayers who keep trying to find ways to crunch numbers to diminish the movie’s success.

(BTW - Most studios care a lot more about dollars earned than tickets sold. If they could make a movie that people would pay $100 a ticket for they would be glad to sell a few less tickets in return. It’s actually more financially profitable to make more money with fewer screenings.)

There’s a reason all the studios are scrambling to find ways to cash in on the 3D/IMAX bandwagon now that Avatar has proven the outrageous possibilities. They get the numbers game. Now let’s see if they can duplicate the content quality. My guess is that Avatar will sit comfortably at the top of the charts - at least until Cameron comes up with something new to unseat it.

Then all these folks being paid to write articles that try to spin negative angles about the relative success of the movie will probably be getting paid to kiss Avatar’s butt in print. I bet they will gladly oblige.

Reply
sungyubun -

I don’t know what’s the fuss? AVATAR is the top grossing film since the dawn of human history - period.

Who cares about adjustments for inflation, extra $$$ for 3D ticket sales etc. etc.

AVATAR is the film for the 21st Century, I don’t care about “Gone With The Winds”, I wasn’t even born yet..

We must give credit when and where credit is due. As far as i am concerned, James Cameron pulled it off! AVATAR is the new champion!

3 cheers to James Cameron!!!

Reply
Maxwell -

once you make a film that grosses over a billion dolloars, and then i’ll listen to your opinion.

Inflation or no inflation, a billion dollars is still more money than I could ever have.

Reply
eric -

well actually box office mojo also has the chart for adjusted for inflation.. there you can see the chart by number of tickets sold.. it said something like dark knight (74 million) and avatar (72 million) as of saturday.. so this weekend it will pass dark night in tickets sold..

Reply
Nick -

If Gone With The Wind were released today instead of 1939, it wouldn’t be the top box office of all time. Big, but not that big. Released in a day with no TV -not to mention no DVD, TiVo, Cable, on demand, etc.- it continued to be rereleased every few years - 1942, 1949 and so on. Actually was released last year in Poland. Today’s movies have a quick run and then they are moved to DVD. It is harder to get people to go see a movie again in a few years when they have it sitting on the shelf in their den, on their ipod, on their phone, and anywhere elese you can think of. The only movie in modern times that has drawn that kind of repeat business over years is Star Wars and it wasn’t really the same movie. The rerelease was a major budget, major differences, new version. It should count as two movies.

Reply
mh -

>>>>>If Gone With The Wind were released today instead of 1939, it wouldn’t be the top box office of all time. Big, but not that big. … it continued to be rereleased every few years – 1942, 1949 and so on. Actually was released last year in Poland. Today’s movies have a quick run and then they are moved to DVD.

True, today’s movies generally have a quick run. GWTW was around for a long time. In fact, I don’t believe it was rereleased in 1942. It was probably still playing back then.

One thing, however, that is *very* important to remember is that movies didn’t open in 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 screens (to reach the widest possible audience *right away*) in those days.

A movie like GWTW opened in one or two theaters. And stayed at those two theaters — earning million$$ — for months, sometimes a year. Or longer. Slowly it’d open in other major theaters across the country. And only later would it reach small-town theaters.

Had GWTW opened in 3,000 theaters back in 1939, it’d probably have made a billion or more then and there.

Reply
George -

It would be nice to see comparisons of both tickets sold in addition to box office takes, when news outlets report on the success (or failure) of a film in these kinds of terms. I think that would put the numbers into a better perspective.

That being said, I don’t view the extra costs associated with 3D/IMAX showings as an unfair advantage for any films that are available in this format. I think the fact that movie-goers are willing to pay extra for 3D/IMAX says something about the public’s perceived quality of a film. I don’t look at it any differently than a higher-end consumer product “outselling” a lower-end one. A lower quality, less expensive product can sell more units than a higher quality, more expensive unit, yet the more expensive unit could still have higher sales. At the end of the day, if I were in the business of selling products, I’d opt for the latter.

Reply
bigfatshady -

I am surprised you forgot the obligatory, “Yeah, But adjusted for inflation it is only 34th of all time” in regards to Avatar’s awesome box office results!

Reply
Movie Fan -

One other factor that makes much older movie attendance difficult to compare is that in the olden days movies had longer runs, in part because there were fewer releases and because they could not be seen cheaply and in high quality in the home in short order. Perhaps this means that rentals/DVD purchases should count (and each rental/purchase should likely count as multiple views.)

Reply
mh -

>>>>>>One other factor that makes much older movie attendance difficult to compare is that in the olden days movies had longer runs, in part because there were fewer releases

I’m not sure which “olden days” you’re referring to, but before TV there were many, but many many many more film releases then there are today.

>>>>>>>>>>>Perhaps this means that rentals/DVD purchases should count (and each rental/purchase should likely count as multiple views.)

If so, so should television viewings — which might make Gone with the Wind the most-watched film ever.

Its first television showing, for example, was a major event watched by tens of millions of people. I doubt it that Avatar’s initial TV showing will attract that much attention, as long before Avatar shows up on TV, it’ll have been made available on DVD, pay-per-view, etc. etc.

Reply
staash -

You can’t realistically compare a film on an inflation adjusted basis alone. There are too many other factors involved. For instance there were few or any pirated films back then. Also, back in the old days there were not as many other entertainment vehicles like gaming, broadcast sports, and the internet.

Reply
bigfatshady -

34th of all time isnt to bad for only being in release for 33 days! This represents basically how may tickets have been sold..I wonder where Star Wars would be on the All Time Inflation Adjusted chart after only its 33 rd day of release..Oh but wait! Star Wars not only was in the theaters for over a year but its has been re-released 4 or 5 times over the last 30 years!! Lets wait and see where Avatar ends up on the Inflation chart(tickets sold) when the movie finally ends in run in the movie houses..probally 6 or 7 months from now…not unheard of remember Batman Begins? It was out for over 7 months at the theaters..and that was just last year.

Reply
Timothy Stinson -

Can anyone on this blog please explain the importance of using the term “Inflation-Adjusted” when discussing the box office figures for this movie?

Second, how often has this metric been applied to measure the success of other movies?

My personal observation is that those who insist that the term “Inflation-Adjusted” is used when discussing box office figures for this movie, tend to be those who predicted that it would be a collasal failure prior to its release.

Reply
avatarized -

many factor that determine the succeed of a film..ticket price is just one of them..remember that older film were playing in theater for months even years, so they could sell much more tickets than avatar (one month releases)..plus the quality of the visual effects n camera 3D who deserves the higher ticket price than film from 1980’s and 1990’s..so it’d be a weak reason to say that avatar is ‘only” place the 34th ranking.

if the older film (that sell much more tickets than avatar) is remaking now, even with 3D, i’m sure they won’t make it like avatar..

Reply
Michael Sellers -

Hi Michelle,
Me again. I notice that every time you report on Avatar’s Box Office, you caveat it by saying “not adjusted for inflation or higher 3D ticket prices”. I have a thought about the 3D ticket prices and I ask you to consider it. You are treating it as if Cameron’s decision to “go for it” with 3D was a “done deal” — that he would automatically get benefit from it. I disagree. It was a gamble. He was rolling the dice and saying he would do it in 3D, and then he would deliver an experience that would JUSTIFY the higher price. Audiences could have said — no way — there’s a recession — I won’t pay the extra $3 for 3D — and Cameron could have had the disaster many were predicting. But he delivered an experience that the audience has judged worthy of the 3D surcharge. I do not think you can discount his accomplishment for the 3D surcharge. For the general increase in ticket prices since Titanic — yes. It should be adjusted for that. But not for 3D ticket prices. That could have been his Waterloo had he not delivered an extraordinary experience.

Reply
mh -

@ Michael,

It’s our editorial policy to add “not accounting for inflation” or some such whenever making box office comparisons among films released many years or decades apart, or whenever saying that “such and such movie broke box-office records.”

AVATAR is different in that it’s also making most of its money at 3D/IMAX venues that charge premiums. So, it’s also the Alt Film Guide’s editorial policy that we should tell our readers about that fact to keep things in context.

We’ve “chatted” before, but many people are newcomers. This post may be their first Alt Film Guide visit. That’s why I’m supposed to repeat “3D/IMAX/inflation” each time I post about AVATAR’s all-time box office records.

Reply
Jay -

Amazing this movie is BAD ok the special effects are great but come on! The story sucks the problem is the movies they make these days focus too much on special effects not enough on making a good movie. One of the greatest movies I saw was The usual suspects I could name a lot of better movies Think of Mad Max, Blade Runner they dont make them like they used to!

Reply
Michael Sellers -

Avatar has also passed Pirates: Dead Man’s Chest, moving into the number 3 all time slot globally at 1.1B behing Titanic and Return of the King. It’s only trailing Return of the King by $22m so that will fall shortly, and it will be Titanic and Avatar 1-2. But Titanic will have a big lead — close to 700M.

Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Read More