Frankly my dear, Gone with the Wind is the real box office champion.
It’s Economics 101 that when a business sells a product, it measures in actual units sold. For example, when you look at the weekly Billboard charts, it lists how many CDs were sold (or downloaded). Adele has sold the most albums in 2016 by moving over 1 million copies of 25 so far – one of two albums to do so, along with Drake’s Views. Billboard doesn’t say that Adele has so many millions of dollars of CDs in 2016. We know how many books were sold of a New York Times bestseller. We know how many DVDs were sold of a certain movie. Pretty much every industry adheres to the business model of announcing units sold, except one: the movie industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, but I never understood why the movie industry announces its weekly box office champion by listing how much a movie has made instead of listing how many tickets were bought to see that movie. I was recently reading an article that was sort of lamenting the fact that 2016 hasn’t had any blockbuster hit along the lines of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. In 2016, the highest grossing movie so far is Finding Dory. While we know that it has made over $450 million in the United States, we have no idea how many tickets were sold. Due to inflation, recently released movies will always make more money than movies released back in the 1930s. It’s common sense that if you pay 25 cents to see a movie, then it will make a lot less money than a movie that costs $25 a ticket (which is not an exaggeration for a 3-D movie at IMAX in a large market like Los Angeles).
It seems like every month, or at least every year, some sort of box office record is being broken. Well, of course it is when ticket prices go up each year – not to mention that our population isn’t exactly shrinking. This seems sort of disingenuous to me. Because of inflation, EVERYTHING makes more money than it used to. But just because Finding Dory recently had the highest opening weekend ever for an animated film doesn’t mean it’s the most popular animated movie ever. Let’s look at it this way. According to boxofficemojo.com, the Top 10 highest grossing movies in the United States are:
1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
2) Avatar (2009)
3) Titanic (1997)
4) Jurassic World (2015)
5) Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
6) The Dark Knight (2008)
7) Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
8) Star Wars (1977)
9) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
10) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
172) Gone With the Wind (1939)
Sure some of them are really good, enduring classics. But some of them, like Phantom Menace, for example, would barely be remembered if it wasn’t part of the Star Wars universe. To illustrate my point, the average year of release of these films is 2006. Now let’s look at another list. According to boxofficemojo.com, the Top 10 highest grossing movies in the U.S. when adjusted for inflation are (or taking into account actual ticket sales):
1) Gone With the Wind (1939)
2) Star Wars (1977)
3) The Sound of Music (1965)
4) E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
5) The Ten Commandments (1956)
6) Titanic (1997)
7) Jaws (1975)
8) Doctor Zhivago (1965)
9) The Jungle Book (1967)
10) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)
11) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The average year of release of this list of films is a much earlier 1966. As you noticed, I listed Gone With the Wind and Star Wars: The Force Awakens on both lists to show you where the two champions end up on each list. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an event movie that everyone wanted to see, so even though it was recently released, it’s not sitting too far out of the Top 10. (It might make the Top 10 very soon if there’s a re-release.) On the flip side, in actual dollars grossed, Gone With the Wind sits at 172nd place, in between Spectre (2015) and Pearl Harbor (2001). Can you honestly tell yourself that Spectre and Pearl Harbor are as enduring as Gone With the Wind? Of course not. They just had the good luck of being released 70 years or so later.
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