Dec 30, 2008

Let's cut the crap.

Titanic isn't the biggest movie of all-time. Gone with the Wind is. Titanic isn't even in the Top 5. But more on that in a moment.

Since when is a film judged by how much it grosses? Without any adjustment for inflation? That just doesn't make any sense to me at all. You have to adjust for inflation, or even better just count the number of tickets sold. Of course, the statistics for tickets sold back in the pre-WWII days aren't the most reliable. They powers that be always looked at box office gross, even back then. But with a little math and a little common sense, one can estimate the number of tickets sold during a film's release fairly accurately.

According to, the top ten films of all-time based on estimated domestic ticket sales are as follows:

  1. Gone with the Wind* - 202,044,600
  2. Star Wars* - 178,119,600
  3. The Sound of Music - 142,415,400
  4. E.T.: The Extraterrestrial* - 141,854,300
  5. The Ten Commandments - 131,000,000
  6. Titanic - 128,345,900
  7. Jaws - 128,078,800
  8. Dr. Zhivago - 124,135,400
  9. The Exorcist* - 110,568,700
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs* - 109,000,000

*Film was theatrically released more than one time.

Notice any film missing from that list? I would have sworn that The Dark Knight would have easily have been in the Top 10. Certainly it sold more than films like Dr. Zhivago or The Exorcist. Right?

Nope. The Dark Knight has sold a little less than 75 million tickets domestically since it's release. That puts it at 26th all-time, sandwiched in between Grease and Thunderball. Thunderball? Really?

In my 42 years, I have witnessed what I thought were 5 box office phenomena. Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Titanic and The Dark Knight. There were others that sold a lot of tickets, like the rest of the Star Wars films and the Indiana Jones films. Those were huge. But they didn't have the cultural impact of the Big 5. Those were media mega-giants that seemed to just last forever in the theaters. Selling tremendous amounts of tickets. Or so I thought.

Now I know that some of the films on the list were released more than once. But of the nearly $180 million tickets that Star Wars sold, how many do you think were from the initial release? And how many were sold during it's lame re-release? I'm thinking at least 75% of the total tickets sold were during the initial release. Just a guess, but it played in the theaters for many months back in 1977 and so many people saw it more than once. Some saw it dozens of times. It was a true phenomenon.

I thought The Dark Knight was the same kind of phenomenon. But it wasn't. While it is listed as second all-time for domestic grosses, it falls far behind Titanic in estimated ticket sales. Far behind.

So let's cut the crap, shall we. Let's stop looking at unadjusted gross for how well a movie performs. The Top 100 would be littered with films from the past decade or so. The Dark Knight may have seemed like a juggernaut, but back in 1965 Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music kicked it's fucking ass!


Note: Remember to play the Bug-Eyed Trivia Challenge every day. All the box office winners are doing it.


Anonymous said...

Why So Serious Earl? With stats like these, it makes me think that you are a joker the likes of which Heath Ledger would die for.

Too soon?

Verdant Earl said...

WLC - never too soon. The Joker would love a joke like that. Me too!

Mrs. Hall said...

huh. well. um. nothing to report here about movie grosses or whatnot.

But, I must say, my favorite movie in all of this is the sound of music. My favorite scene is the puppet scene. All that clean fun. All that yodeling. We just watched a bit of that movie last night. It's a fantastic film!

We've been running around singing do re me and yodeling. heck, we even polka some nights. I have a table top mirror ball and everything to make it all disco like. hee-hoo!

Yeah, you may have an exciting life with your valiant bar fights... but mine is crazy. Good crazy.


Mrs. Hall

Avitable said...

The problem being that movies used to stay in theaters for months at a time. Now that there are more movies being made each year and so much money being made on that first opening weekend, phenomena like The Dark Knight and Titanic are much fewer between. And both of them were juggernauts, but Titanic was just much bigger than TDK.

The cost of a movie ticket has also gone up slower than almost any other product, which means that trying to calculate the value of a ticket now vs. then would be difficult.

Heff said...

Another factor to be taken into consideration would be population at the time of the movie release wouldn't it ?

I've always applied that thought when looking at music album sales as well.

New York City's Watchdog said...

Because of inflation it does makes sense to count tickets instead of dollars. The truth is though that the movie studios have been increasingly relying on DVD sales for a profit.

If we had no DVDs, movies would stay in theaters longer (meaning the actual theaters may actually MAKE money on showing a film instead of relying on concessions) and re-releases would happen more often.

To be honest, I'm surprised Titanic made the list at all considering when it was released.

hello haha narf said...

you have the hots for julie andrews, don't you?

Verdant Earl said...

Holly - it is a great film, isn't it?

Avitable - yeah, I considered some of that. Still, with the population levels of the country at the time GWTW was released, I'm amazed at how much business it did.

Heff - yeah, music sales go on units. Right?

Dawg - and considering how long it took for that fucking boat to sink!

Becky - finally somebody got the point of the post. ;)

Bruce Johnson said...

I do find "The Sound of Music" and "Snow White" to be interesting inclusions in the list. The rest don't surprise me.

I think that what you might be seeing here is the recidivism of the female viewer. While some die hard fans will see the Dark Knight more than once, woman and children will pay to see something like, over and over and over, ad infinitium. That is probably where the true money powerhouse of a film lays. Many of these top grossing films are 'love' stories, not action pictures.

Verdant Earl said...

Bruce - The Exorcist is my favorite love story of all time. ;)

New York City's Watchdog said...

You know what really killed me about Titanic?

It's not like it was a mystery ending... you knew the boat was going to sink.

Verdant Earl said...

Dawg - When I saw it in the theaters, I almost screamed out "SINK ALREADY!!!". I freakin' hated it. Then I saw it again on DVD and kinda liked it. I'm still a bit torn.

Dr Zibbs said...

What about "Hamburger the movie"?

And on this subject, don't see Valkerie.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Gone with the all time favorite. An unparalelled epic film.
Thanks for the interesting stats! Happy New Year!

Verdant Earl said...

Zibbs - I prefer "Beer, the movie", and no way I am seeing that nutjob's movie.

Candy - I thought The Wizard of Oz got robbed that year at the Oscars. :)

Anonymous said...

The hubby and I have had this discussion several times. I think it is why you see a lot of movies now dubbed as the "Top Grossing" Film(s) of the "Year" or "Decade" now.

pure evyl said...

I half expected to see Spiderman on the list.

Paticus said...

I have nothing to add other than i utterly hated Titanic-think it's a pile o'shit.

marty mankins said...

Wow.... I'd never looked at from the point of actual number of tickets sold. You make a very valid point about that being a better gauge for most popular movie. After all, it's the number of people that went to see it, not how much they paid.