January 27th, 2010
07:18 PM ET

Putting 'Avatar' in per$pective

As we all know, "Avatar" is making ridiculous amounts of money: it just became the all-time worldwide box office champ, and appears poised to pass "Titanic" for the domestic crown within a couple of weeks.  But what does that mean?  I've given it some thought, and consulted boxofficemojo.com and other resources, and here's some perspective.  (Keep in mind that this would be a lot simpler if theaters and studios released data on tickets sold, but then we wouldn't have as many of these lovely debates.)

Certainly, when you adjust for inflation, "Avatar" is knocked down a few pegs: it's "only" 26th all-time in domestic ticket sales.  "Gone With The Wind" leads that chart, with "Titanic" in sixth place.  "Avatar" would have to boost its current $558 million in grosses to $957 million to top "Titanic" on that chart... and to surpass "GWTW," a mind-numbing $1.5 billion.

Beyond inflation, "Avatar" has benefitted from ticket price increases due to IMAX and 3D.  Still, moviegoers are choosing to pay those premiums, just as they choose to pay higher ticket prices overall as the years pass.

Some more relevant numbers: in 1939, when "GWTW" was released, the U.S. population was only about 131 million – a pool of potential moviegoers that had swelled to 267 million by the time "Titanic" hit that iceberg in 1997, and an estimated 315 million today.  And obviously, there are many more movie theaters showing "Avatar" and other contemporary films than there were 70 years ago.

"GWTW" looks better and better – will any movie ever come close?  Probably not, but consider this: if people wanted to see "GWTW" back then, they knew a trip to the movie theater was their only opportunity – no VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, internet downloads, Netflix, or endless showings on cable.  It's also benefited from re-releases, a maneuver which has also boosted the total grosses of the "Star Wars" films.

Comparing James Cameron's two epics, "Avatar" has been the box office champ an impressive six weekends running, and its grosses aren't falling off much from week to week.  But "Titanic" led the weekend box office continuously for more than three months, thanks in part to all of those teenage girls who famously returned 10, 12, 15 times to swoon over Kate and Leo.  With high IMAX/3D ticket prices, will "Avatar" fans come back for enough repeat showings to keep the film atop the chart into March?  Time will tell: last weekend, its sixth in theaters, it made twice as much as the second-place film, and the first few months of the year usually aren't rife with blockbusters.

It's a topic with a lot of angles – you could say, a veritable "Pandora"'s box.


soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. freeking NAG

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  6. Jaesun

    Would you believe John Garfield is my vftoriae American actor? It's a shame he's nearly forgotten, at least in the popular memory. Admittedly some of that has to do with the quality of his films; Warner Bros never did right by him. You've probably seen Force of Evil (made after his contract ended and he struck out on his own) as it's been championed by Scorsese. If not, I highly recommend it as an excellent film noir. Nobody Lives Forcver is one of his best films and boasts very atmospheric noirish direction by Jean Negulesco. I wouldn't say I have a vftoriae Scorsese film as he isn't a director whose work I return to and re-watch (although I tremendously admire many of his films!). I really enjoyed Goodfellas and Bringing Out the Dead. I've seen BOtD in the theater and on DVD and thought it was great both times, but also that it seemed like a very different movie the second time. Watching it on a small screen- and with non-immersive sound- it seemed much more (blackly) comic and far less intensely dramatic than in the theater.

    March 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lorena

    The test is great. Not only well-written but also etndacioual and inspirational.

    February 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Drip Tray :

    home theater systems made by Bose are the best sounding stuffs that i ever tried~.:

    October 28, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. Tarquin

    I saw Avatar in IMAX 3D at my local AMC Theater. I don't know what IMAX means to others, but it's always meant huge, four-story screen to me for the past 30 years or so. To my dismay it was a conventional theater with a typical one-story screen with no discernible enhancements to the movie-going experience. It's a beautiful movie and the 3D is great. But this "small-screen IMAX" business is a real rip-off.

    February 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. josh

    its funny that people argue about it being the best movie of all time. i believe the debate was best grossing movie of all time. making money and being the best movie of all time are two different things. i saw it once and will probably have to wait till it comes out on dvd to see again. either way it was a movie i enjoyed and will enjoy again.

    February 1, 2010 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Shane McGuire

    I am glad that Mr. Cameron is making good on this film. It was really a good film. But its going to loose its charm when hits the DVD/BLU-RAY market.

    There are a few other films that are like this too. They loose their glory when they hit your home TV Center.

    As for the story line?

    Well I know a War Bashing Film, Environmental Protectionist film when I see one. That was what this was all wrapped into an Alien vs. Human film. Personally, it was the Bunny Hugging version of Starship Troopers.

    James, with all due respect, I really think that if you are going to make a war film, you can take some tips from Tom Hanks and Jerry Bruckheimmer.

    What???

    Well my point is Saving Private Ryan, then the HBO Series: Band of Brothers was a pretty vivid picture of what war really is.

    Yeah but you also mentioned Jerry Bruckheimmer!

    Yep!

    Black Hawk Down!

    My point here?

    I think folks are more aware of our Global problems with the environment and the political issues from the war(s) and the bad economy. I am just not sure that we need to have Hollywood constantly reminding us of these problems.

    Personally, when I go to the films, I am there for the special effects and the roller coaster ride. Not a morale lesson on the rules of war, or the cost of it.

    Was this a great film?

    You bet! Great job.

    But really, lets keep the action movies, action movies!

    Case and Point?

    Batman: The Dark Knight!

    January 31, 2010 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. ARK

    This movie tanked. The only good part was the SFX. James cameron is a bad director. The only good movie he made was T2.

    January 31, 2010 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. Erald,Alabania

    I think that it's the best of films here in Albania.

    January 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dwight Huth

    Avatar is much more meaningful than the money it makes. The correlation between a people being dislocated is seen in the movie which relates to when European's (RDA) came to America and took everything they wanted from the Natives (Na'Vi). The Europeans trashed the land as can be seen in the movie when the Hell Trucks smashed through the forest not caring about the damage. This is directly related to when the Europeans pushed across America building the railroad's and hunted the Buffalo (mining for unobtanium) just for their hides and left the carcasses littered across the plains. This hunting upset the balance between the Indians and nature because the Indians used every piece of the animal hunted for tools, clothing, food ect. This eventually led to the war between the American Indians and the European settlers. If it would not had been for the settlers using firearms the Indians most likely would have beaten them and driven them from America. Alot of environmental issues were raised by the movie and if you didn't catch them then go back and see it again. If you still didn't catch them buy the Blue Ray or DVD.
    One of the main storylines is that if you abuse your home (Earth) or another people long enough without thinking of the outcome than eventual war will ensue with thousands or millions being killed as well as vast areas of land being destroyed for years or permanently.

    I hope this movie surpasses Gone with the Wind as GWTW is based in an old world setting of predominatorily white rule over those deemed to be of lesser intelligence because of their skin color or belief. This was shown in the movie when Quatrich likened the Na'Vi to savages because of how their lived which was the same stereotype given to the American Indian's, African's and other non-white cultures and beliefs that were around during GWTW's hey day.

    One way to get rid of the racial tension in the world and starting with America is to replace the number movie of all times with a movie that does not have all white actors acting out an all white performance to cater to one group of slowing dieing demographics in this country and the rest of the world.

    So if you are a international type of person who is against racism then go see Avatar as many times as you can so it can replace GWTW.

    January 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chris

    At the time Gone With the Wind was released in Los Angeles, there were over 150 other movies that you could see in local theatres. Much like now.

    January 29, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  16. dwa

    In response to James Cameron is the Best, 1939 is considered the height of the Golden Age
    of Hollywood. It's when movies were at their peak and studios were still cranking out them
    out once a week. Today's film market eclispes the amount of movies seen in 1939. Today, we might see 50
    films in mainstream theaters. 1939, 250+ before the end of the year. Your logic is inconclusive.

    January 29, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  17. gadflie

    To those that think that Gone with the Wind didn't have much competition. Have you ever heard of The Wizard of Oz? Mr. Smith goes to Washington? Goodbye, Mr. Chips? Of Mice and Men? Wuthering Heights?
    1939 is widely regarded as "the greatest year in film history". There were 476 movies released in 1939, vs 610 in 200 (the latest year I can find). Compare this to the population of the U.S. in 1939 (131 million) vs today (over 300 million) and it becomes pretty obvious that there was a LOT more competition in 1939 than today.

    January 29, 2010 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  18. avatarnick

    In 1939, people thought that "Gone With The Wind" record can not be broken.
    In 1997, people also thought that "Titanic" record can not be broken.
    And now, "Avatar" is making ridiculous amounts of money, a record.
    I like all of them. And there are also many successful film, but not a record film.
    Time is an answer.
    However, although "Avatar" is not a perfect film, it has successful IMAX/3D technology and sucessful way in getting money (which is suitable at this time of economics crisis).

    January 29, 2010 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  19. Steve

    Avatar entertained me. I go to the movies for that. I cannot listen the the critics anymore. They should be all put into different categories since there are so many. You listen to a bad review and have a good time an vice versa. Game-Over, Critics are not required anymore. Regular people report movies on there blogs.

    January 29, 2010 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
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  20. Gbs

    The comparision is the inthing; but understand that in 1940; the only entertainment avaliable to people were theatre. Even though the American population has swelled; so have entertainment streams. Hence comparion is like comparing apples and oranges.

    January 29, 2010 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  21. James L

    Are IMAX tickets that much more than regular tickets? In Virignia where I saw the film... I paid $10 for my IMAX 3D ticket opening night... a normal movie at the usual Regal theater I go to is like $9.50... it's not like we're talking Regular movies being $6 and IMAX being $20.

    January 29, 2010 at 4:14 am | Report abuse |
  22. Novusod

    Avatar has actually surpassed GWTW even adjusted for inflation when you factor in the world wide box office. It is not just about American domestic sales anymore. There are 150 other countries out there all watching James Cameron's Avatar. How many Chinese watched GWTW in 1939? Like zero or close to it. Japan? India? The EU? In 2010 China is the second largest economy that can't be ignored. Avatar topped $100 million out of China and another $100 million from Japan and over a billion from all the rest. In all Avatar is a $2 billion movie in the making. GWTW may have made $1.5 billion in today's dollars. Impressive yes but still not in the league of Avatar which is the biggest movie the world has ever seen.

    January 29, 2010 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
  23. Robear in Ojai

    Mmmm... seems like there's a lot of "Avatards" posting on here...

    January 29, 2010 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  24. Cambob

    What is the point of comparing apples and oranges? It's like comparing a Model T to a Cadillac. They are both cars, but really there's not much else that is comparable. How many people alive today have seen GWTW in a theater? Honestly, if GWTW was a brand new movie, released against Avatar, GWTW would be a catastrophic bomb.

    January 29, 2010 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  25. Blip

    Dan, and all the rest of you who know nothing about film from Hollywood's Golden Age: Back then, moviemakers were in the business of making movies, not "events," and they were out to tell stories. And they made HUNDREDS of films, not the measly dozens we see now. In the Thirties, "Avatar"'s hackneyed, cliched script likely wouldn't have made it past the first-draft stage. If it had made it to theatres, under the production supervision of, say, MGM genius Irving Thalberg, it would have been a far more nuanced and interesting story. And then it REALLY would have made money. That said, Cameron's work, like most of the films that manage to force their way into theatres these days, is a big, blunt, bullying chunk of ego. This is really why we can't compare "Avatar" and GWTW: One is an event, the other is a story. As for the "genius" of Cameron's achievement: I hope I live long enough to see 3-D and motion-capture CGI pitched into the same graveyard of trends that entombs Cinemascope, Cinerama, and Sensurround.

    January 29, 2010 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  26. lighthouseboy

    I think the past weekend take of Avatar was more than the combined total of my two fav films of 2009: (500) days of summer and The Hurt Locker.

    January 29, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  27. katiekahne

    Avatar is just a re-make of Ferngully minus Batty or whatever his name was.

    January 29, 2010 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  28. shpaget

    The thing to keep in mind is today there is much less incentive to go to a theatre today than any time before.

    With Blu-Rays, and inexpensive big screen TV's, you can get a pretty good theatre experience in your home...and all you have to do is wait 6 months after the film's initial theatrical run.

    Or download some bootleg copy, if you are so inclined.

    There is also more choice...Avatar isn't the only thing showing at the cinema....most places you have upwards of a dozen other movies you can see in the exact same building at the exact same time.

    I grew up in a town of 100000 people, with 5 movie screens (and two were drive-ins). That same town of roughly the same size now has no less than 18 screens.

    Until the 50's, the only place you were going to see a film was at a theatre. Until the 80's, if you didn't see it in the theatre you had to hope it was broadcast on television...and you had to watch it exactly when it was broadcast.

    Until the late 90's, you didn't have DVD quality.

    So, Avatar's run, in that perspective, is impressive – that that many people are still willing to pay to see it in the theatre.

    Also know this – in its first six weeks, Avatar has sold more tickets than Titanic sold in its first six weeks.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Ted

    GWTW earned over $189 million during its initial run domestically and ticket prices were 23 cents (according to boxofficemojo). This means that 821 million tickets were sold at a time when the population was 130 million. Therefore, if these figures are accurate, the average American saw GWTW over 6 times, which is an amazing number.

    However, though ticket prices went up 3000% between 1939 and today, boxofficemojo only adjusts the gross about 650%, which suggests that the 1939 run figure actually includes later runs that had higher ticket prices or that GWTW ticket prices were more then average movies in 1939. This suggests that the average ticket price of GWTW was about a buck and that 190 million Americans saw GWTW. This is about 1.5 viewings per person based on the 1939 population (though the actual number has to be less if later runs were included).

    In comparison, Avatar has made over $560 million domestically at a time when ticket prices are almost $7.50 (not taking into account the higher 3D ticket prices). Avatar therefore has sold no more then 75 million tickets. There are 315 million Americans. The average American has seen Avatar less than 1/4th of a time.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Thomas

    Avatar is NOT the best movie I've ever seen. It is the BEST movie experience I've ever had. It is also the most expensive movie ticket I've ever bought. It reminds me of a 3d ride at Disney world without the moving seats and puffs of air directed your way. Thanks for entertaining us so thoroughly Mr Cameron. Thats the WHOLE point of movies to begin with.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Derek

    A "Pandora's Box" joke? seriously?

    January 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  32. NS

    GWTW is horrible. I would rather poke my eyes out than ever watch that film again. AVATAR RULES!!!

    January 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Rasha

    Listen, I dont know where you are all from but here in Dubai people are going crazy over this movie – everyone is watching it more than once...in 3d!!xx

    January 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Bob

    Sorry, James Cameron is the best, you're a little off the mark with your analysis. There were actually far more films released in the days of Gone with the Wind than there are these days. In fact, the number of films that make it to the big screen are diminishing year each and every year. Just think of how few Independent films make it to your typical movie theater–maybe 2 or 3 a year. Just 20 years ago the number was probably 5 times that amount. In the days of Gone with the Wind there were hundreds of films that came out a year, but despite that, Gone with the Wind earned 2 times as much as its closest competitor from that time–Snow White.

    The best argument against Gone with the Wind is not really that people didn't have VCR's. It's that virtually no one even had a TV back then. Movies had no competition.

    That argument doesn't apply to Star Wars, and while people didn't have VCR's, they knew that sooner or later, Star Wars would be shown on TV. They still kept going again and again. I remember Star Wars-mania. It was insane. Avatar is a big deal, but it doesn't come close to that. I don't even think it compares with Titanic-mania.

    The re-release issue is also exaggerated for Star Wars. Inflation adjusted, the re-release revenue only accounted for $258 million out of its $1.3+ billion total. Star Wars earned $1+ billion its initial release. Avatar won't top 700 million and that includes higher ticket prices for Imax and 3-D and a larger US population.

    Where Avatar is really impressive is its international returns. It's much harder to adjust for inflation for international box office returns, but I'm sure it's right up there with Titanic, Gone with the Wind, and Star Wars in that category.

    January 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Steve

    Actually, 1939 was the best year Hollywood ever had. Check out these hits released in 1939:
    1. Ninotchka – Greta Garbo
    2. Jesse James – Tyrone Power & Henry Fonda
    3. Mr Smith Goes To Washington – Jimmy Stewart
    4. Hunchback Of Notre Dame – Charles Laughton
    5. The Old Maid – Bette Davis
    6. The Women – Norma Scherer and Joan Crawford
    7. Story of Vernon & Irene Castle – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
    8. Goodbye, Mr. Chips – Robert Donat & Greer Garson
    9. Another Thin Man – William Powell & Myrna Loy
    10. The Little Princess – Shirley Temple
    11. Stagecoach – John Wayne
    12. Sherlock Holmes – Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce

    Those, and many others made it a superstar year. Then you add a little film called, The Wizard Of Oz.. So you see, GWTW had pretty good competition for movie-goers dollars..

    January 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Will Robison

    KJ mentioned Wizard of Oz as movie competition with GWTW. But Wizard of Oz was not really all that successful during its initial run. In fact, it wasn't really until the 1950's and the annual TV screenings that Wizard of Oz became a "classic" film. But that's the point, isn't it? Wizard of Oz is a classic film not because of how much money it made, but because it told a wonderful story that still captivates audiences today.

    Sorry, Avatar, but I'm afraid 20 years from now, most people won't even remember you. Visual effects may make you money, but its a good story that keeps people coming back.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Dan R

    This angle is more important: If you released Avatar at the same time as GWTW back in 1939, not only would it have eclipsed GWTW, but the world would have changed forever!

    January 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  38. AL

    Quote: (Kiran Fan)
    To be a legendary movie, you have to have the total package. Once Avatar leaves theatres and people are stuck with the 2D version, it will lose its flavor.

    Movie will be out on Blu-ray 3D.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  39. Jon

    There wasn't even a VCR/VHS when Gone With The Wind came out (1939). The only place to watch it was at a theater. So that was 30-35 years of ticket sales.

    Online piracy/P2P didn't exist in 1998 when Titanic came out.

    This is a very bad article to put ANYTHING in perspective. In today's age, Avatar has been an astounding success of disturbing proportions.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Kiran Fan

    The majority of nitpicking and minute stats stems from the fact that "Avatar" doesn't deserve the title of highest grossing film.

    It's 3D eye candy with a $300 million budget, of which, only $24.99 was spent on the story, characters, and dialogue.

    To be a legendary movie, you have to have the total package. Once Avatar leaves theatres and people are stuck with the 2D version, it will lose its flavor.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Mike

    Like mentioned multiple times, the two aren't comparable. There were few other choices other than GWTW. It was basically a captive audience if one went to the movies. Imagine if Avatar was one of two or three movies playing nationally? It would have made over a billion by now.

    Initially I thought it was all manufactured hype. I resisted seeing it until multiple of my friends said how good it was. It was nothing short of amazing. Sure it was formulaic and occasionally a bit cheesy but it it worked. It was one of the best movie experiences I've ever been to and was the best movie of the year and possibly decade.

    It's going to continue to steamroll at the box office due to word of mouth and not hype.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Marjory

    Im stil depressed from seeing the movie.. I want my own avatar

    January 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  43. karen

    Joe made a comment that some people have seen Avatar 8 times so that makes it a better movie. Sort of falls in there with Titanic, and teenage girls seeing it several times over. It doesn't necessarily make it a better movie, it could be that they are just dumb. Or what is that new mental disease -"the Avatar blues"?

    Number of viewings or money made doesn't mean its a good movie. It just means there are a lot of followers for some reason.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  44. AL

    Define me best and then I will tell you if this movie is the best of all times.

    Saw it once, will see it again at least once.

    It is pointless to argue that this movie is not ground breaking. Simply because you need to define what "ground breaking" really is.

    As a regular movie goer, was I impressed? ....very much so.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Utah

    I got dooped and saw this debalce of a movie.

    Avatar is a blatant rip-off of Ferngully and Dances With Wolves. It also is an insult to the Native American population.

    I wish all of you would realize this.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  46. geeksalad

    for as groundbreaking as Avatar is, don't forget that The Jazz Singer was also considered a groundbreaking film...and NOBODY considers that to be a great movie!

    A great story and acting will beat out special effects every single time!

    January 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  47. Wade Steele

    Why don't they take inflation out of the picture and just compare movies success why the number of tickets sold, and not the dollars generated? It's all about the bums, not the bucks.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  48. JK

    What is this constant comparison of dollars and ticket sales and 'its not the best movie ever made'?? First of all, no one, including 20th Century Fox or James Cameron has said its the 'best movie ever'. It is now simply the 'highest grossing film ever'. Regardless of its ticket prices, it did this in 38 days, and that is beyond impressive, such so that it has never happened before. Will it again? Probably, why wouldn't it. Something will come along the strikes a chord with everyone. Avatar is an experience, not just a movie. Cameron does that extremely well and he's done it again. In 1939, or 1954, or 1997, there were far less options for people to entertain themselves, so the fact that a science fiction film has done so well is something to be applauded. Whether you like the film or not, its message is very clear and its success is not disputable.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  49. PW

    It seems pretty straightforward that if ticket prices have gone up, then the dollar amount in sales are increased. This does not mean the movie is the gigantic blockbuster it is touted to be.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Max

    DEK said: "I think it also needs to be put into perspective in the time GWTW was released. There was no blockbuster competition that Avatar faces, nor was there nearly the choice of movies in that era also."

    GWTW was released in 1939. Look it up, it's the greatest year that movies ever had. No other blockbusters that year? Ha ha ha ha!!!!

    And again, the choice in movies in that era was FAR FAR greater than today when only two or three new movies open per weekend.

    Lastly, Avatar has only sold 1/3 the number of tickets that Titanic did. Granted Avatar's run is still going, but there's no way it'll do any more than half of what Titanic did.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Andrew W

    Am I the only person here that was really not impressed with this film? I found the suspension of disbelief far too unviable, and the CGI was really, well, not that impressive. I felt like I was watching a cutscene from a video game, or an alien Pixar-Lion King hybrid. I was really looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about, but I was pretty much just let down. There is nothing really new about Avatar, except perhaps the 3D technology, which seemed more like an expensive gimmick than anything else (no, I really didn't find it "immersive").

    January 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  52. theddb

    why would gross matter in the realm of film appreciation anyway? in most magazines and film organizations neither gone with the wind nor titanic are considered the greatest films of all times. most of the time the godfather wins that honor, or citizen kane. perspective on economic and social circumstance may do well for an argument on which is truly the highest grossing film of the two, but which is the better film is a content debate not measured in dollars and cents.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  53. KJ

    For all those people who suggest that there were no other movies released in 1939 to compete with GWTW, HELLO???? The Wizard of Oz!!!!
    There were more movie studios, each releasing more movies, with more competition during the Great Depression.... Remember 1939? 20% unemployment? Leading cause of death was malnutrition a.k.a. starvation.
    Perhaps a better way to compare movies is to simply count the number of tickets sold. If someone is feeling frisky, you could compare that on a per capita basis to correct for the extra 200 million people living here today. Maybe you could even adjust for income differences since wages pre-WW2 would barely top $10,000 today even after adjusting for inflation. These were poorer, more unemployed, with more movie options, fewer transportation options to take them to fewer movie screens with fewer showings.
    OMG this sounds like the start of a disseration for a PhD in Economics.
    How about we say this? Both films have found enough people that like them that they were successes for the industry. Maybe we can get around to having a news source that reports news that is relevant to the lives of Americans rather than the egos of film makers.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Jeffrey

    It's a waste of time... Don't watch it!!

    January 28, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Cameron bleh

    I really don't see how this is doing as well as it is. It was a cool enough movie, but no mind numbingly so. It is setting records that will easily be broken in the coming years as the population increases and inflation eats into the value of the numbers it is generating. **Shrug**

    January 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Melissa

    I love this movie, I really do. And the uses of CGI and 3d are incredible. But it is NOT the best movie of all time.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Robear in Ojai

    As much as Avatar is a good, entertaining romp, a feel-good movie as the forces of good ultimately triumph over the forces of evil, and is visually stunning, I very much doubt that it will hold for 70+ years as a true classic. GWTW didn't rely on special effetcs and 3-D technology to bring in viewers, just good old solid acting, star appeal and story-telling.

    Give it 20 years and the cutting-edge visuals of Avatar are going to be just as embarrassingly corny as any of the old Gozilla stop-action movies (has anybody watched their old VHS tapes of the original Star Wars without cringing lately?). In the meantime, Avatar is capturing the imagination of the movie-going masses. I saw it once in 3-D over the holidays, and plan to see it again before it ends its theatrical run.

    Is it the best movie I've ever seen? Definitely not. Does it transport me into another world and momentarily makes me forget that this country and the world are going down the toilet? Definitely yes.

    THAT is the nature of entertainment.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  58. wayne (72 going on 18)

    This is the 21st century..... this author has a brain deficiency and a serious problem with moving on. Why don't we compare the record sales of Bing Crosby with Elvis and the Beatles, and then delve into all the subtleties of who is the greatest singer (or group) of all time using your pointy-headed statistics that don't mean squat?? Why don't we compare the IBM 360 computer with what today is commonplace in technology?? NO? well, guess what? do we have apples and oranges here??

    Everything stands on it's own in it's own time, including movies and music, and indeed culture and the whole of life's experiences.... There ARE NO comparisons ! All the flicks you mentioned are (were) great epics of entertainment, and trend setters, and they all stand on their own, with their own value for what it is. In some respects they are ALL number ONE, so stand down, please and give us a debate that is meaningful.....

    Get out of your cave, Mr Daniel, and join the world. Or better yet, take a hike on up to the planet of Pandora and get out of my space with your trivialities.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  59. Raul

    I think this movie is pretty interesting because everyone is talking about how good it is. I have not heard one bad thing about. I might even go see it now that I've heard so many good things!

    January 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  60. Carolyn

    Good grief, the Avatar fans are rabid.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  61. SR

    I am wondering if you anybody is aware of the fact that the word avatar came from the eastern religion – HInduism. The concept he used is the same which is reincarnation or taking another form. The names he used like "neytiri" are Hindu mythological names. The blue-colored aliens are taken from Hindu mythology. The nature worship is taken from Hinduism (Hindus are always ridiculed for considering rivers, trees etc as holy). The marks on the foreaheads are same as marks on characters from Hindu Mythology. Overall, James Cameron was really smart in bringing something from so far away and making a movie. Nobody here knows and in fact I came across a lot of people that think the word "Avatar" is a newly coined English word (they think William Gibson coined it for online use) or it is a japanese word. He is one smart guy.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  62. mike

    also your competing with bit torrent

    January 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  63. DEK

    I keep seeing comments about the box office gross for Gone with the Wind. I think it also needs to be put into perspective in the time GWTW was released. There was no blockbuster competition that Avatar faces, nor was there nearly the choice of movies in that era also. If you are going to adjust for inflation that's fine but let's also adjust for perspective and understand it's not quite as simple as looking at the numbers since the cinema then was no where near what it is today.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  64. Mark P

    Gone With the Wind had an interesting run at Theaters. Every once in a while, they would dust it off and show it again in a theater. It's an excellent theater experience with that movie. What makes all these movies special is that they can only be truly appreciated in a theater.
    In the 1980s, there was specualtion that theaters would die off due to video. The movie Flashdance was the experiment and still made the theaters money.
    But what does make Avatar remarkable is the fact that you can see it in a variety of ways. In 2D, 3D regular screen, and 3D IMAX. I spent my $8.00 to see it in 3D on the regular screen.
    It would be interesting to see the Star Wars movies or Close Encounters redone in 3D and hit the IMAX. They'd still make a ton of money for those studios.
    So enjoy the adventure of the theater.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Michael

    I've seen "Avatar" 4 times and expect to see it at least twice more before it leaves the theaters. The Blu-Ray release will finally force me to buy a Blu-Ray player. While some have complained of how light the story was or that Cameron lifted "Pocohantas" (sp?) or "Dances with Wolves" it rings true for anyone familiar with the shafting the American Indian received at the hands of the invading Europeans; a technological society abusing and grabbing land and resources from a society much closer to "Mother Earth". The simple fact I've paid $8 a pop is that I am still STUNNED by what I saw on the screen; the 3D experience was totally satisfying and impressive. IMHO, "Avatar" may very well end up with the highest number of first run repeat viewers of any movie in the past 40 years. It is an enjoyable experience for all that I've spoken with, many of whom vow to see it again. Maybe this topic is really moot ... comparing apples to oranges ... but the bottom line is the raw enjoyment of the experience.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  66. Raymond

    Why would people who are "smart" make these dumb comparisons. EVERYTHING costs more than it did before prices went up. Gas costs more than it did. Food costs more than it did. Houses costs more now than they did. It's ridiculous to make these type of comparisons. The money that any one makes now could have purchased a whole lot more then than it can now. The bottom line is the money that is being made TODAY can be spent TODAY. Please STOP making these ridiculous comparisons. NO ONE CARES.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Indy

    I think some of these points are true. But I don't like how people are using the 3-D ticket prices as an excuse for the feat "Avatar" has achieved. In 1997 sure there was piracy but not easily accesibly internet piracy. Cable internet had yet to really hit it's stride. Those people who would see Titanic 10-12 times today, would only see it 3 times in theaters and the rest online.

    My friends who for the most part are computer illiterate can just google free movies and its name and find a place to stream them. Gone with the Wind certainly didn't have that problem.

    As for me. I saw Avatar 4 times in theatres but I admit I even caught some online as well. That's the times we live in. If 3D is used more as an incentive to go to theaters instead of pirating than so be it. Also like another poster commented. There is a significant amount of movies that come out nowadays than back in the day. Competitive markets should have drawn Avatar down but it didn't

    January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Tim

    It's not fair to compare Avatar with any of those 'good ole' fashioned movie.

    What makes Avatar's accomplishment great is that people have more entertainment options now then ever before. It has a competition pool much larger than Star Wars, ET, GWTW, etc.

    For example, when GWTW came out, you had bowling, skating and movies. NOW, you have games, internet, home theater systems, cable, etc. Naturally more people went to the movies "back in the day" because there were far fewer entertainment options.

    Let's all just appreciate that we're witnessing history here.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Jim

    I think there is a factors not really hi-lighted in this article. The first is that the ranking is on domestic gross only. Today films make far more internationally than they do domestically. So is a film that does well in the domestic market more significant than one that does well internationally? Think of The Dark Knight .. #3 domestically but #5 worldwide. Where does GWTW fit in here? Don't know. We only know that GWTW is #1 domestically.
    Of course the author does mention DVD's etc. If we were to try and determine the % of the population that has seen Titanic, including watching it on TV or a DVD, would that be higher than GWTW? I'd be willing to say yes it would as GWTW was primarily seen on the screen. It's DVD sales and rental are small. All just illustrating that the entertainment world is much different now.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  70. Robert Smith

    Wes Q:

    Please, guy. At least spell the name of the movie right. Especially if you start out calling something "genius". Its "Avatar".

    January 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  71. TMan 127

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. So what % of American view public has seen Avatar compared to GWTW? As the article points, still that's not a fair comparison b/c a lot of us are holding out for the Netflix, DVD purchase, streaming, etc.

    2. It doesn't nothing from taking away the return on investment that the study is getting. How do those compare?

    January 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  72. Robert Smith

    LOOK !!!

    I loved Avatar, so did my wife. We saw it 3 times. Oh, my gosh, we better control for that: people who saw it multiple times. Oh, and what time of day did most of Avatar fans view the movie. You know back in the "old days" they only showed movies once a day. But, what about all the drive-ins that were available back in GWTW days, that's a big advantage. Hardly any drive-ins today.

    Get real people ! Nobody cares about your satistics. It is a wonderful movie, as was GWTW, so get over it. Time marches on, things change. Let it be.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  73. jamie

    ok as far as ticket sales go, avatar still should be near the top,

    Starwars, GWTW, Sound of music, most of the movies above avatar have been rereleased into theaters, some 4 more cycles.

    Show me a list of first time releases for a months time, and i bet avatar tops it

    January 28, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  74. KJ

    ticket sales breakdown-

    matinee seats vs. week nights vs. weekends
    standard vs. 3D vs IMAX
    do they track budget theaters in the after market?

    January 28, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  75. Wes Q.

    This article is genius and brings up a lot of points I haven't considered before, such as the country's population growth over time. I think that Avator may be the biggest movie right now, but it is not the biggest of all time. And even as well as Titanic did in its run, it is not #2 of all time. But the real bottomline is who cares about how much money a film grosses? If you really like a film, then that joy is priceless.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  76. Alex

    It's not always about the money, Fran.

    Movies are an art form. Remember that.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  77. Max

    One commenter said "How many movies were release in all of 1939 and 1940? A few dozen? Gone with the Wind didnt have much competition."

    Um, no. Studios used to release FAR more films per year back then. Maybe at least five times more (and probably more like 10 times more).

    January 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  78. Jeremy

    Kepp in mind that GWtW was released in the US in 1939, and was re-released in the USA twice in '42 and '47, and during that time ticket prices had doubled, and those are included in the domestic totals. No movie could do that today. Once VCRs became common, first release was your only theater run. It's hard to factor in everything that affects ticket sales for an apples to apples comparison.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  79. TV/Movie Fan

    Gone with the Wind's numbers are even more impressive when the only other film from the 1930's that comes anywhere near it, is 1937's Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs which is at number 10 on the adjusted-for- inflation list. If it was that easy for a movie from the 1930's to be the biggest money-maker of all time, there should be a lot more 1930's films near the top, which is not the case. Also, there is almost no film from the 1940's anywhere near the top of the list.

    Avatar number's Are impressive, but, inflation and 3D/IMAX ticket prices helped a lot. If a person sees Avatar at a 2D typical movie theater, then they are not getting the full special effects that J. Cameron put into the movie and which are considered essential to watching the film.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  80. Joe

    Another aspect is the number of different entertainment options. Today you have video games, computers, more sports, more tv, more everything. Compare that to the limited entertainment options during GWTW. An unmeasureable that would be good to use is the number of repeat viewings. I did not meet one person who watched Titanic more than once. Avatar I know people who have seen it 5 times. I would say a person willing to pay out $8 multiple times to see the same movie makes it a better movie.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  81. JC

    Well then...I guess Cameron's next big project should be Gone With the Wind in 3D?

    January 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  82. JohnBoy

    This article is on a rather trivial topic but teaches us something important and universally useful about "statistics." Statistics are like atoms: You can build anything you want out of them.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  83. Michael

    Does it really matter about inflation or how many people watch it? I don't think so. It is still the highest grossing movie of all time and still making bundles of cash.

    Inflation is like death and taxes...don't need to compare from then to now. This movie is printing money....crazy!!

    January 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  84. UFOclub1977

    films101.com/y1940r.htm is just the best regarded films released in America in 1940... there might have even been more films being pumped out then for theatrical release back than now.

    If you adjust for a head count of viewers, Gone With the Wind is going to rise even higher.

    But why get upset if Avatar's publicity is a bit misleading? It's a fun movie, but not groundbreaking at all despite its publicity claims. Benjamin Button beat it in developing completely realistic facial expression through CG. And on a human in the real world to boot! It even won an oscar for it's breakthrough. And the story is a skillful compilation of very stereotypical movie elements (Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai) within a sort of world environment that was presented in the new Star Wars movies (that did not have such skillful mainstream human writing but did have neon glowing plantlife on alien planets) and countless written scifi.

    I think of James Cameron as a very skilled artisan (like someone making miniature ships and putting them in bottles), a technician, a craftsman. But he has not been groundbreaking yet in his subject matter or style! He's more like the best rewriter of existing ideas, and genius story editor of previously written stories.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  85. Fran

    There are many factors, however given that most all of these top films are not Rated R and that the language or situations used are for a more broader audience, it's a wonder why movie company would reduce their audience automatically with bad language or nudity when it is really not necessary at all.

    What would happen if a take-out restaurant (or eat-in for that matter), refused to allow it's customers to have ketchup with their fries... wouldn't that cut down your clientele at some point?

    Movie companies, here this mom of 7 children, my family would go to a LOT MORE movies if you didn't polute them with bad language, excessive violence and nudity. 99% percent of the movies with this items in these would have made a lot more money if they would have been more family oriented as there overall story line or effects were interesting enough to make any family consider seeing them.

    January 28, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  86. Chris

    Finally, a thought-provoking comparison that takes into account many different factors, not just one or two. I think no matter which way you look at it (let's leave out the "who is number 1 of all time?" debate), Avatar's run is certainly impressive. There are indeed so many ways to look at this, that coming up with an accurate comparison or way to figure out what movie should be at the top of the all time charts, is not very likely. In their different respects, each movie had a tremendous impact at the box office.

    One aspect I keep coming back to, is the higher ticket prices and people's willingness to pay them to see Avatar in 3D or IMAX. Compare with home sales.. If one realty agent sells 4,800 houses priced at $125,000 a piece, they would have sold $600,000,000 in total sales. Another realty agent sells 2,000 houses at $300,000 a piece, also totaling $600,000,000. Which realty agent is the most successful? The one who sold more houses or the one who sold the more expensive houses? Was the housing market the same when each realty agent sold their houses?

    There are a lot of different ways to look at it and I'm not going to say which I think is the "correct" way, as I think each side has very compelling arguments. But I really appreciate this side, that tries to take as much into consideration rather than just looking at one statistic.

    January 28, 2010 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  87. The Living Tribunal

    I hate this movie so much I'm actually going to watch it in theatres.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  88. workingsushi

    number of ticket sales.... but the population is three times larger now. there is no way to decide which film made more. But you know why compare. both are great films. why does it have to be such a competition. (especially a competition driven by money) Furthermore who decided that success was measured by ticket sales? what about value of the story?

    Ticket sales are a good indication of how many people saw a film, which usually correlates to how good it is, but take face off, a film few people would call good which has made a whopping 242 million dollars.

    lets put it in perspective and move on from this endless prattle about how much its making and start talking about how this film is changing our cultural conceptions of our own place in nature.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  89. James Cameron is the Best

    It is a topic with many angles...How many movies were release in all of 1939 and 1940? A few dozen? Gone with the Wind didnt have much competition. Avatar competes with 24×7 entertainment everything, yet still pull in a global audience week by week by week. Avatar also competes witha never ending stream of new blockbusters....and GWTW also didnt have to deal with internet pirates posting screeners online.

    Dollars adjusted for inflation is a fair, but limited comparison. Another maybe better comparision would be number of ticket sales, not dollars?

    January 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |

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