Monday, April 12, 2010

Avatar and alleged 'Box Office Gross'

I just received Screen Australia's latest email newsletter, Get the Picture, which states:
Avatar is now the highest-grossing film of all time in Australia. Released on 17 December 2009, it had earnt $108,621,853 at the local box office by 7 March 2010, making it the first film released in Australia to earn over $100 million.
It then provides a link to its website of the top-grossing films of all time. I always have a problem with these sorts of claims, because a dollar in 1960, for example, would be worth $12.07 today according the Reserve Bank's official CPI rates. Crocodile Dundee's takings of $47.7M in 1986 puts it in fifth place as all-time Australian gross box office. However, when inflation-adjusted, that amount is equivalent to a whopping $108.89M in today's currency, putting it just ahead of Avatar. Now, I have no doubt that Avatar will continue to increase at the box office and pip Crocodile Dundee, but you see my point? And look at E.T. - inflation adjustments boosts it from #30 on Screen Australia's list to #3 on mine (below).

The fact is that the publication of box office gross is statistically dishonest and misleading. If, in half an hour, I can put download Reserve Bank rates and Screen Australia's list, and make a quick calculation, why can't we get this sort of comparison? I don't think it's laziness. I think it's a tendency towards sensationalism. There will more often be a film that beat (in unadjusted figures) a previous record gross, allowing for a headline. That's just pure bullshit.

Now, I only have Screen Australia's list of the top 50 grossing films at the Australian box office. It's not a complete list, so I can't compare with say Gone With the Wind, because it's not on that list. From memory, in gross, that film beats them all. And there will be others from way back whose adjusted box office would put them into the top 50.

In case it's not clear, in the following table, the columns are: Screen Australia's rank of each film title, the year of release, the gross box office according to Screen Australia, and my calculation of the inflation-adjusted box office. The list is sorted descending by adjusted box office.
Update: Titles without a Screen Australia rank have been sourced from Movie Marshall.

Title Year released Box office $M Inflation adj. $M

Gone with the Wind 1940 12.22 400.44

The Sound of Music 1965 13.01 140.38
1 Avatar 2009 108.75 108.75
5 Crocodile Dundee 1986 47.71 101.30
30 E.T. 1982 32.66 89.46

Star Wars 1977 18.31 80.23

Dr. Zhivago 1966 7.60 79.97

The Sting 1974 12.64 79.09
2 Titanic 1997 57.65 78.82

Grease 1978 18.48 75.16

Jaws 1975 13.64 74.59

Towering Inferno 1975 11.27 61.63
6 Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring 2001 47.43 59.37

South Pacific 1958 4.69 59.08
4 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 2003 49.37 58.60
3 Shrek 2 2004 50.39 58.30
8 Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 2002 45.65 55.47

Ten Commandments 1958 4.26 53.69
9 Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone 2001 42.35 53.01
18 Babe: The Gallant Pig 1995 36.78 52.19
12 Star Wars: Ep. I - The Phantom Menace 1999 38.83 51.39

The Empire Strikes Back 1980 15.13 51.22
28 Jurassic Park 1993 33.00 49.91

Man from Snowy River 1982 17.23 47.19
7 The Dark Knight 2008 46.09 47.06

Crocodile Dundee 2 1988 24.92 46.19
17 Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets 2002 37.38 45.42
39 Forrest Gump 1994 30.56 45.15
16 Finding Nemo 2003 37.39 44.39

Pretty woman 1990 26.16 42.46
14 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest 2006 38.05 41.48
24 Star Wars: Ep. II - Attack of the Clones 2002 33.86 41.15
41 Independence Day 1996 29.50 40.95

Return of the Jedi* 1983 16.21 40.88
10 Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince 2009 40.60 40.60
23 Meet the Fockers 2004 34.98 40.47
11 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 2009 40.34 40.34
19 Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire 2005 35.73 40.22
32 Shrek 2001 32.10 40.18
36 Gladiator 2000 31.12 40.17
48 The Lion King 1994 27.11 40.05
26 The Matrix Reloaded 2003 33.63 39.91
21 Star Wars: Ep. III - Revenge of the Sith 2005 35.46 39.91

Mrs. Doubtfire 1993 26.24 39.69
22 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe 2005 35.17 39.58
42 The Sixth Sense 1999 29.31 38.79
15 Australia 2008 37.56 38.35
27 Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban 2004 33.14 38.34
13 The Twilight Saga: New Moon 2009 38.22 38.22

Note: my calculations are approximations that make these assumptions for simplicity:
  • Box office figures are considered to be amounts at the end of the year of release
  • Inflation rates are based on Reserve Bank calculation of CPI as of December of each year. So a 2009 value for gross box office, won't be adjusted by my calculations until the end of 2010.
If anyone can point me to where I'll find gross box office for all Australian releases, I'll update the above table to include the films pre-1982 that may otherwise make the top 50 box office (adjusted).

I've amended the table above to include titles not included in the Screen Australia list, using the gross box office figures from Movie Marshall, adjusted with my calculations (which unsurprisingly differ slightly from Movie Marshall's, who would obviously be using slightly different arbitrary assumptions). Many thanks to Paranoid Android for pointing out MM's list.

Taking over $400M in today's money, nothing is going to beat Gone with the Wind anytime soon.


Paranoid Android said...

Don't know where to get the full figures, but these guys have done the work already

Paul Martin said...

Ah, that's fantastic, PA. I've updated my list accordingly, using the gross figures from the Movie Marshall site, but using my calculations. MM hasn't posted their arbitrary assumptions which are presumably different to mine, but the end results are mostly similar.

This revised list certainly puts the top grossing films into a different light. Avatar will probably never be #1. It will struggle to make it to #2 and would probably only do so if there are future re-releases as has happened to Gone with the Wind.

Jurguens said...

The way it's usually reported is misleading, agreed.

Your table and method is far superior, no argument there.

What I would like to know is actual ticket sales. How many tickets each movie sold, not the money.

Paul Martin said...

Jurguens, I agree that ticket sales is a good measure, though that's not perfect either. There's a whole range of social and economic factors that contribute to ticket sales. At least with inflation-adjusted revenue, one is roughly comparing apples with apples.

Now, look at Gone With the Wind's adjusted box office. Australia's population was only 7M when the film was first released, though apparently the film has had 6 subsequent releases.