So now it’s finally official that Star Wars: A Horse is Shaken has surpassed Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time… right? Well, sure, if you hate math and common sense and ponytails on blue cat men. In reality, ranking movies based on an all-time monetary grossing chart is pretty ridiculous. It’s like buying a Hyundai for $24,000 in 2016 or a Cadillac for $1,400 in 1946. Yes, The Force Awakens has grossed the highest amount of money a movie has ever grossed with (as of today) more than $760,000,000. However, tickets to see it can cost up to $18 for IMAX 3D. The average ticket price currently is $8.61. Meanwhile, the average ticket price when Star Wars: A Nude Hope premiered in in 1977 was $2.23. It’s like when they say “Aaron Rodgers is now the highest paid quarterback in NFL HISTORY!!” Well no shit, you’re telling me he’s making more in 2016 than Kenny “The Snake” Stabler made in 1976??! WOW. So going by the unadjusted chart is really just asinine and meaningless.
Adjusting for inflation is not a precise science, but as of this writing, The Force Awakens is actually the #20 money-maker of all time, just behind The Sting ($767,520,000 adjusted) and The Lion King ($767,550,700 adjusted). The Force Awakens will no doubt overtake those two in the next day or so, and then the next movie it has to beat is… Star Wars Episode I: The Handsome Menace ($777,587,000 adjusted)! Besting that Ghost of Lucas Past will definitely be a milestone to crow about, but The Force Awakens still has a long way to go to be the true all time king of the movie mountain.
No, Carrie, not that kind of mountain…
From there TFA (as we film insiders call it) has the difficult but not impossible task of passing a few more heavy hitters like Jurassic Park ($791,448,000 adjusted) and Return of Jed’s Eye ($809,851,500 adjusted) to finally climb to 15th place all time, putting it behind… let’s see… Avatar ($837,367,900 adjusted).
So where will TFA end up in the end? The important thing to remember is the breakneck pace at which it has made $760 million, and it’s now only in its third week of release. Going by Avatar’s history, it scraped up an additional $300 million after its third week, so it made almost half its money with longevity. Now, TFA is a movie that’s actually good, unlike Avatar, so it’s probably safe to say that it will make another $400+ million by the time it ends its theatrical run, especially considering the lack of any real blockbuster competition in the “Fuck You, It’s January” season, putting it roughly in the $1.2 billion range. That would slot it comfortably into… 5th place all time? That would put it between Titanic ($1,166,435,200 adjusted) and E.T.: Eddie Torres: The Extra Testicle ($1,221,365,800 adjusted). Not a bad place to be at all, but certainly not the box office champ of all time. That honor probably will forever go to Gone with the Wind ($1,739,604,200 adjusted). That seems virtually insurmountable because today we have things like piracy, home video, and other things to do.
Pictured above: All of the other entertainment options of the 1930s.
HOWEVER, we also have to keep in mind that these final, adjusted-for-inflation totals also take into account reissues and not just original runs. For example, the #2 box office champ, A New Hope, was re-released twice, once in 1982, when it made an additional $15.5 million, and again in 1997, when George Lucas wisely corrected its glaring lack of ’90s CGI effects, to the delight of everyone, and it made another $138 million. Same with E.T., which was re-released in 1985 and 2002 and earned another $76 million, and Titanic, which made another $58 million in its 2012 re-release. The only unsullied film in the top 5 is The Sound of Music ($1,226,196,400 adjusted). It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for TFA to surpass E.T. and The Sound of Music to become #3 all time adjusted. And taking into account A New Hope’s re-release numbers (themselves having to be adjusted for inflation), it’s not inconceivable that TFA can surpass it as well, settling in as the true #2 highest-grossing film of all time.
Anyway, here is a list of the top 25 movies of all time by number of tickets sold, which is how these things should be tallied, without getting into financial inflation (but still including re-releases):
1. Gone with the Wind – 202,044,600
2. Star Wars (A New Hope) – 178,119,600
3. The Sound of Music – 142,415,400
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – 141,854,300
5. Titanic – 135,474,500
6. The Ten Commandments – 131,000,000 (probably not exact)
7. Jaws – 128,078,800
8. Doctor Zhivago – 124,135,500
9. The Exorcist – 110,599,200
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – 109,000,000 (probably not exact)
11. 101 Dalmatians – 99,917,300
12. The Empire Strikes Back – 98,180,600
13. Ben-Hur – 98,000,000 (probably not exact)
14. Avatar – 97,255,300
15. Return of the Jedi – 94,059,400
16. Jurassic Park – 91,922,000
17. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – 90,312,100
18. The Lion King – 89,146,400
19. The Sting – 89,142,900
20. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 88,526,800
21. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 88,060,200
22. The Graduate – 85,576,700
23. Fantasia – 83,043,500
24. Jurassic World – 79,051,900
25. The Godfather – 78,922,600