When Avengers: Endgame overtook Avatar in July as the highest-grossing movie of all time, it sparked debate about whether apples could be oranges.
Given James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster was released in 2009, it was argued box office comparisons with 2019’s Endgame would need to involve adjustments for inflation.
But Hollywood doesn’t measure the success of modern movies against those of past eras because – thank broader audience choices, changing content and foreign markets – movie ticket inflation isn’t an exact science.
Still, US media measurement and analytics company Comscore came up with a method.
Commissioned by CNBC, the company divided the average ticket price for the year a film was released into the film’s gross to determine the estimated number of tickets the film would have sold.
“To be sure, this isn’t a perfect method,” said CNBC, but even given that, here are the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time if Hollywood did adjust box office based on modern ticket prices in the US (all figures in Australian dollars.)
The surprise? Where Endgame and Avatar both ended up.
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Estimated admissions: 109 million tickets . Actual box office: $271.3 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.44 billion.
Disney’s first full-length animated feature – singing birds, hard-working bachelors, love, loss and a handsome prince – has been re-released at least three times, making more money from those than its initial release.
9. The Exorcist (1973)
Estimated admissions: 116.5 million tickets . Actual box office: $341.6 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.525 billion.
One of only six horror films to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, The Exorcist reappeared in cinemas in 2000 and 2010 with extended scenes.
The plot? An exorcism expert (Max von Sydow) is sent by the church after a mother (Ellen Burstyn) is worried when daughter Regan (Linda Blair) starts speaking in tongues, among other oddities.
8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Estimated admissions: 124.6 million tickets . Actual box office: $164.4 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.64 billion
Re-released multiple times including on its 50th anniversary, the 193-minute, five-time Academy Award winner follows a doctor (Omar Sharif) whose life is changed by the Russian Revolution and his passion for a married woman (Julie Christie).
7. Jaws (1975)
Estimated admissions: 128 million tickets . Actual box office: $381.2 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.68 billion
Starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Spielberg’s movie about a community stalked by a marine monster won three Oscars (but lost out in the best picture stakes) and changed for years the way people felt about going back in the water.
6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Estimated admissions: 131 million tickets . Actual box office: $96 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.73 billion.
The Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner vehicle was biblical in length – 3 hours 40 minutes – and plot. After discovering a Hebrew heritage, Moses (Heston) led his people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and into box office magic that included a startling Mt Sinai visitation by God.
5. Titanic (1997)
Estimated admissions: 143.5 million tickets . Actual box office: $965.8 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.89 billion
You’re here … Without adjusting for inflation, James Cameron’s disaster epic is the third-highest grossing film globally, and has been re-released twice.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (plus a scenery-chewing Billy Zane), Titanic is the story of Rose and Jack, whose love was as doomed yet enduring as the legend of the ship they met on.
4. ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Estimated admissions: 147.9 million tickets . Actual box office: $637.6 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $1.95 billion
Another Spielberg hit, the sci-fi and coming-of-age tale (Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote and a seven-year-old Drew Barrymore) made most of its money during its debut but was re-released twice, in 1985 and 2002.
3. The Sound of Music (1965)
Estimated admissions: 157.2 million tickets. Actual box office: $232.8 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $2.06 billion
Re-released in 2018, The Sound of Music won five Oscars including best picture. Starring Julie Andrews as singing nun Maria and Christopher Plummer as a stern naval father, it told the real-life story of the Von Trapp family singers, clothes made from curtains, Nazis and all.
2. Star Wars (1977)
Estimated admissions: 178.1 million tickets. Actual box office: $675.7 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $2.34 billion
Reissued at least twice, the1977 space epic launched Harrison Ford’s career and George Lucas’ epic pop culture phenomenon.
Also starring Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, it gave the world Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Yoda, a couple of quirky robots and one still-meme worthy line, “May the Force be with you”.
1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Estimated admissions: 201 million tickets. Actual box office: $297.7 million. Estimated adjusted gross: $2.65 billion
In the 80 years since it was launched, the cinematic version of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War novel has been re-released at least seven times.
Vivien Leigh starred as impulsive, venal Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as her third husband Rhett Butler in the saga about family, fighting and what real love looks like.