Even as the “Avatar is only #24 in terms of tickets sold” backlash to the “Avatar has overtaken Titanic” storyline develops, some balance and sanity has been injected by a Wall Street Journal piece by Carl Bialik in which the author discusses the difficulty in comparing films from different eras – and if you do compare them, by what metrics? No sooner had Avatar passed “Titanic” as the #1 Global Box Office $ earner of all time, than the naysayers took the knives out and decided that the tickets sold should be the metric: this in spite of the fact that the same naysayers had happily awarded Titanic the #1 spot by exactly the same metric — box office dollars, unadjusted for inflation–until such time as a film overtook Titanic. Now it’s time to change the rules. In truth, if tickets sold is the metric, then Titanic is #7 and Avatar, thus far, is #24 — and that’s fine. But then why have all the scribes been calling Titanic the “All Time Champ” for the last 11 years, only now to shift gears and say wait a minute, we’ve been counting wrong? (Of course they aren’t saying that they were counting wrong — but that’s the inference to be drawn.)
The thing is this. Gone With The Wind achieved a stupendous, hard to believe outcome whether you use unadjusted dollars, adjusted dollars, or tickets sold. It’s just staggering. And if the pundits were interested in fairness, then Titanic should not have been considered to dislodge GWTW because GWTW’s achievement was truly unique.
But then again……
GWTW didn’t have to deal with the kind of competition that any movie today has to deal with. I mean … no broadcast TV, no home video (which a whole segment of today’s population considers is the only way to watch a movie, unless it’s on HBO)…no video games, no cable TV ….But then again on the other hand …. the US population in 1939 was half what it is today.
One statistic I’m very curious to see — and haven’t been able to find — is GWTW’s share of total box office admissions during it’s theatrical run. Can someone come up with that number? And if you can, pls leave it here as a comment or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To me it seems like that might be interesting…..but then again, maybe not, because then you have to take into consideration the effect of megaplex cinemas versus the old one-off cinema system that was in place when GWTV reigned.
Anyway … what conclusion can we draw from all this? None, I think, except that it’s fun to argue about this just like it’s fun to argue about the greatest boxer of all time, or the greatest pro football team of all time. I’m having fun.