86 Movies Have Sold More Tickets Than ‘Avatar’

While scrolling through my RSS feeds over the last few days I’ve noticed that it seems every other article is some journalist raving about the record-setting Box Office of Avatar. James Cameron’s epic has earned its way into the number two spot in the all-time worldwide box office, behind his other blockbuster Titanic. People’s minds are blown as Avatar seems to be on pace to be the highest grossing film of all-time. That’s a big deal, right?

I love the site Box Office Mojo because it has an All-Time Box Office Adjusted for Inflation page. It takes the Box Office totals from every film ever released and adjusts their prices based on inflation for a given year. Essentially it tabulates Box Office totals based on number of tickets sold rather than total money earned. It only makes sense to tabulate totals this way – can a film that cost a quarter per ticket in the 1940s ever compete with a 3-D film that costs $15.00 per ticket?

According to these estimates, Avatar is currently the 87th film overall in terms of number of tickets sold domestically. Gone with the Wind is the number one film of all-time with a staggering $1.485 billion dollar total. The rest of the top 5 includes Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T., and The Ten Commandments. Titanic misses out on the top 5 and comes in at number 6. Many of the films had the advantage of several releases (for instance many of the Disney movies), but most of the films enjoyed solid first releases.

It’s interesting looking at the films that have sold more tickets than Avatar. Most are certified classic films and Disney releases that have built in audiences. However, there are a few that may surprise you. The following are 10 interesting films that have sold more tickets than Avatar:

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Adjusted Gross: $395.5 million | Actual Gross: $40.36 million

Men in Black (1997)
Adjusted Gross: $401.43 million | Actual Gross: $250.69 million

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Adjusted Gross: $410.96 million | Actual Gross: $317.56 million

My Fair Lady (1964)
Adjusted Gross: $441 million | Actual Gross: $72 million

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
Adjusted Gross: $461.17 million | Actual Gross: $21.33 million

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Adjusted Gross: $493.56 million | Actual Gross: $234.76 million

Home Alone (1990)
Adjusted Gross: $497.85 million | Actual Gross: $285.76 million

The Dark Knight (2008)
Adjusted Gross: $545.97 million | Actual Gross: $533.35 million

Grease (1978)
Adjusted Gross: $565.37 million | Actual Gross: $188.39 million

101 Dalmatians (1961)
Adjusted Gross: $734.4 million | Actual Gross: $144.88 million

Check out Box Office Mojo for the full list. Avatar will likely continue to creep its way up to the list, but it’d be a shock if it cracked the top 20. Even if it made it into the top 40. So calm down with the Avatar rules all discussion.

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  • rl-2005

    one problem with that list is that they are estimating $380 million and 52 million tickets sold. This comes out to a ticket price of $7.30. this is about half of what most people are paying to see this movie. so either their ticket number is off, or the ticket price is off, but either way im guessing it has sold closer to 38 million tickets with an average ticket price of around $10. but that is just a guess

  • Brian

    Bad guess. People who live in large metro areas are biased on the price we country yokels pay for a ticket (around $7-8) The 3D glasses do not count in ticket sales as they are sold by the specific theatre.
    Also, the global sales are currently around $1.14 billion as of Jan. 8. The domestic $380 million is only around a third of the total.

  • Flemming Kristensen

    Gone With the Wind had prices between $0.70 and $2.20 in 1940. In a year with personal income average about $1000 yearly, compared to more than $30.000 in 2009. Try to calculate ticket price for GWTW in 2010, comparing price and income.

    GWTW is not the king, it is the God of movies in the history if cinema.

  • Ambuj Arind

    I personally don’t like the way the adjusted gross works..coz it doesn’t take into acct the fact that people have so many different media and far more choices than in 1940 when gone with the wind came out..not to say it was not good…it cud be the best ever but that wudn’t undermine the achievement of avatar..to me titanic is the king of movies becoz of its appeal and how it took hollywood to the world…literally..(i mean in a way it probably would never have done..it was number one almost everywhere it was released..)

  • Issac

    @Ambuj Arind
    I agree gwtw competed with like 2 other movies where going to the movies was the only thing to do. Avatar competes with so much more, plus domestic sales isnt the only sales what about international theatres. All said Avatar is still doing pretty darn good.

  • deucedaprodeuca

    Flemming Kristensen :
    Gone With the Wind had prices between $0.70 and $2.20 in 1940. In a year with personal income average about $1000 yearly, compared to more than $30.000 in 2009. Try to calculate ticket price for GWTW in 2010, comparing price and income.
    GWTW is not the king, it is the God of movies in the history if cinema.

    This is a false statement. No disrespect intended, but I’m a realist and unbiased toward ANY movie or genre. If you take EVERYTHING into account, you can use todays gross sales as a determining factor for top box office hits. Here’s why: 1) in 1939, there were no alternate choices for seeing GWTW. It was theater or nothing. Even for Star Wars, only the privelaged had VCR’s and tv viewing would be years later. Today, most people would rather see movies on blu-ray, dvd, or tv, especially in the recession we are climbing out of. For $15, the entire family can see the movie. There are so many choices for viewing, the number of people willing to see movies in theaters today are small in comparison to 1939/40. 2) look at the number of re-releases pre 1980 movies enjoy. In 70 years, I’m sure Avatar would have enjoyed another 2 or 3 releases. And yes, todays movies are seen abroad faster than they were 70 years ago, but although it may have taken a couple of months, GWTW was seen world wide. So you see, currently, Titanic IS #1, TDK (although I think people only flocked to see this crappy movie because the best actor/character died before its release) is on its way to #3 by the time you read this, and Avatar will be #2, and likely take the #1 spot in less than a month. In short, there’s a lot more choices for viewing movies today, and only 1 choice in 1939/40.

  • Reality Check

    @Flemming Kristensen
    Based on your minimal calculations; if today’s movie-going public is making 30X what those in 1940 were making than people today should be paying 30X the 1940 addmission price of $0.70. ($0.70 X 30 = $21.00 or $2.20 X 30 = $66.00).
    This would mean that GWTW was overly inflated in it’s ticket pricing and that Avatar is handicapped by charging movie-goers so little (comparitively).

  • Tony Robertson

    Even if you do ticket sales of movies it is still not a good indication of how movies did 50 years ago and today. Even adjusting for inflation is not a good indicator. You just can’t compare movies form decades ago to movies today. One problem, way more people today. Another, far less movies came out in the 1940’s than today. Another, movies would sometimes run for years like Gone With the Wind that ran for like 4 or 5 years in many theaters. Today with all the movies coming out that is just not possible anymore. Of course Titanic would sell a lot more tickets if it ran for 5 years.

  • I really like the Avatar 3D movie, particularly the story line, not solely it brings a very new sensation however eye opening ideas of humanity. I heard the New Avatar 2 is comming soon, cannot wait to watch it again…!

  • I really like the Avatar 3D film, particularly the story line, not solely it brings a completely new sensation but inspiring ideas of humanity. I heard the New Avatar 2 is comming soon, cannot wait to see it again…!

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