Well, it has been nearly a month since my last post. Time seems to get away from me these days. Oh well, the goal for February is to post something every day. Hope it works out.
Today I want to talk about numbers. Or, more specifically, how numbers can be manipulated. In this particular case I am talking about box office return. It seems like Avatar is getting a lot of press due to many things including how it is poised to be the largest grossing film of all time. While that may be true in terms of gross dollars, there is a very large part of the story that is not being told and that is the number of actual tickets the film has actually sold. In fact, it makes perfect sense that Avatar is bringing in a considerable amount of when the cost of a single ticket is taken into account. A non-matinee, single adult ticket to see the film in 3-D is a whopping $12.25 at my local theater. While this price will vary market to market, it is still much higher than the standard rate for previous films. At $3.00 over the standard price ticket, it is easy to see how Avatar has grossed so much during its release.
*****All numbers quoted below can be found at www.boxofficemojo.com*****
Based on gross dollars, Avatar has taken in over $2 billion dollars worldwide eclipsing the previous record of $1.8 billion held by another James Cameron Film, Titanic. Domestically Titanic holds a slim lead over Avatar but only through the weekend when Avatar will become the leader both domestically and globally. Clearly Avatar is a box office monster but do these figures mean Avatar is the biggest film of all time? No. In fact, the film isn’t even in the top ten.
What is more important, in my opinion, is actually tickets sold and gross dollars. When one looks at ticket sales figures a very different view of the film industry can be seen. As of the most recent data, Avatar has sold 79,859,600 tickets in the US putting it in the 21 spot right behind Disney’s Fantasia with 83,043,500 tickets sold. The ticket sales numbers make something very clear. The Hollywood of today is nowhere near the size it was 30 years ago and no matter how big the films of today seem to be, nothing compares to pre-1980 Hollywood. Of the top 20 films in ticket sales, 13 were made before 1980, the beginning of the “Blockbuster Era”. Actually the era of the blockbuster probably officially began in 1975 with the release of Jaws but even then over half of the biggest movies of all time were released before the term “blockbuster” was used in the film industry.
So, what really are the BIG films? Gone with the Wind, the all time leader in ticket sales has an estimated 202,044,600 in sales since release. In comparison, Avatar hasn’t amassed even half that number! In fact, Gone with the Wind has sold more tickets than the entire population of the country at the time (1939) of its release! Now that is a big movie! It would be akin to EVERYONE you know having seen the same movie during its release. Not even everyone in my house as seen Avatar.
Ultimately what does this mean? First I think it means going to the movies was a much bigger deal 30+ years ago. When you think about it, there really isn’t much surprise in that statement. Look at all the forms of entertainment we have at our fingertips today. Multi-channel television, movie rentals, streaming, the internet, etc. There are just many more options for our entertainment dollars and our free time than their were in 1939. Not only that but the number of releases today far outstrip that of pre-war America. Remember, this was long before multiplexes. During that time your choice of film going experience was pretty much limited to a single film at any one time. No matter how many tickets Avatar sells today, the film can’t possibly eclipse what has come before. The market is just not the same.
So, the next time you hear Cameron’s speech about being “King of the World” chuckle to yourself a bit in knowing that he might be king but his kingdom isn’t what it used to be.