The world of movie making is all abuzz about Avatar because it’s become the highest earning movie of all time. In gross figures so far, Avatar has earned $1,858,562,198 worldwide (almost two billion dollars US). This makes Avatar the best gross earning movie of all time, but not the best selling movie of all time as many falsely claim. Avatar is actually far and some more from being the best selling movie of all time. Let me explain:
Titanic, a movie which as Avatar was also directed by James Cameron was the highest grossing movie up until a few days ago with $1,843,201,268 in earnings but when Titanic was released, the cost of a movie theater ticket was much lower than it is today. Cinemas rip us the movie goers off nowadays so gross earnings of latest movies are expectedly higher than gross earnings of movies from a few years back. Hence gross earnings are not a very good indicator of real movie popularity.
To get a better sense of which movie is the best selling movie of all time, one would have to take a look at ticket sales and that’s where Avatar lacks (albeit it still counts as a very popular movie). Throughout the history of filmmaking, there have been 25 movies that saw more movie theater tickets sold than Avatar. Above mentioned Titanic for example sold 128,345,900 tickets whereas Avatar only sold 76,421,000. Below is the list of top 20 movies of all time based on ticket sales:
1 Gone With the Wind (1939): 202,044,600
2 Star Wars (1977): 178,119,600
3 The Sound of Music (1965): 142,415,400
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): 141,854,300
5 The Ten Commandments (1956): 131,000,000
6 Titanic (1997): 128,345,900
7 Jaws (1975): 128,078,800
8 Doctor Zhivago (1965): 124,135,500
9 The Exorcist (1973): 110,568,700
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): 109,000,000
11 101 Dalmatians (1961): 99,917,300
12 The Empire Strikes Back (1980): 98,180,600
13 Ben-Hur (1959): 98,000,000
14 Return of the Jedi (1983): 94,059,400
15 The Sting (1973): 89,142,900
16 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): 88,141,900
17 Jurassic Park (1993): 86,205,800
18 The Graduate (1967): 85,571,400
19 Star Wars: Episode I (1999): 84,825,800
20 Fantasia (1941): 83,043,500
It’s understandable that a movie which was released in times when a ticket cost 50 cents will not show gross earnings comparable to a movie which was released when a ticket cost $20. That’s why calling Avatar the best selling movie of all time is premature. It’s only best grossing movie of all time because seeing a movie today costs more than it did in 1997 when Titanic was released.
That being said, modern technologies make it much easier today for many people to see a movie without going to the movie theater. Gone with the Wind may be leading the list of ticket sales, but back then going to a movie theater was the only option for people to see the movie. When Titanic was released, certain technologies such as DVDs or VHS were already available making it easier to come by illegal pirated copies (bootlegs) which could have affected ticket sales. In case of Avatar, internet makes the option to see a bootlegged copy of the movie at any given moment from the comfort of your living room chair real, which must have affected ticket sales even more.
Because of wide availability of pirated movies, ticket sales can no longer be considered a solid benchmark of movie popularity, but it is better than taking gross sales only. Avatar is a great movie, don’t get me wrong. I saw it and loved it. I didn’t particularly think it was gonna get this insanely popular, but I did enjoy it and ranked it as one of the finest I have seen. It’s still far from the best movie made, though. Let’s not call it the best selling movie of all time, because it simply isn’t.