Yes, it's got the biggest worldwide gross of all time. But it's still no "Gone With The Wind.
James Cameron broke his own record Tuesday. With a $1.86 billion haul, "Avatar" beat "Titanic" to become the highest grossing movie of all time at the worldwide box office.
It's a remarkable achievement. But before every Hollywood studio exec decides that all future movies must be in 3-D and feature blue aliens, it's worth getting a little perspective on the film.
"Avatar" has the advantage of showing in 3-D (which usually commands an average $3 extra per ticket) and coming out at a time when even 2-D movie tickets are more expensive than ever. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, the average ticket price in 2008 was $7.18, up 56% from prices in 1997 when "Titanic" was in theaters.
A look at domestic grosses adjusted for inflation shows a more realistic view of "Avatar"'s performance.
In the U.S., "Avatar" has grossed $555 million making it the second highest grossing domestic (as opposed to worldwide) film of all time. Titanic is temporarily still in the lead here with $600.8 million.
But adjusting for ticket price for inflation, Avatar ranks as the 26th highest grossing film in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. Number one? "Gone With The Wind" with $1.5 billion adjusted gross in the U.S. "Star Wars" ranks second with $1.3 billion.
Cameron's "Titanic" ranks sixth (just behind "The Ten Commandments") with an adjusted $943 million take in the U.S.
Movies are released very differently today then they were in 1939 when "Gone With the Wind" premiered. The film showed originally in 156 theaters in the U.S. "Avatar" premiered on 3,452 screens. "Gone With the Wind" was re-released in 1947, 1954 and 1961. In 1967 it was shown in 70 mm. With as many as 600 films being released per year, these days few films get a second shot in theaters.
Of course movie now can sometimes double their box office with DVD and television sales. Here we're only looking at box office.
Even some modern films beat "Avatar" when looked at through a price-adjusted prism. "Forrest Gump" (1994) ranks 22nd with an adjusted $623 million box office. "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace," which was released in 1999, ranks 19th with an adjusted $623 million domestic gross.
But most of the films at the top are from at least 30 years ago. "The Sound of Music" ranks third with an adjusted $1.05 billion take. "E.T." is just behind with $1.04 billion.
With no film on the near horizon poised to challenge "Avatar"'s dominance, the film is sure to continue to mint money. But it's got a way's to go to catch up with a classic like "Gone With The Wind."
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