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Top 15 Box Office Successes Of All Time (Adjusted For Inflation Edition)

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Top 15 Box Office Successes Of All Time (Adjusted For Inflation Edition)

Inflation is basically the general increase in prices that occur over time, based mostly on the fall in the purchasing value of money. A few weeks ago, we covered the top movies of all time before adjusting for inflation so it makes sense to cover the real list of top movies of all time in that regard.

Inflation isn’t the only reason that movies make more money these days, as ticket prices have just gone up beyond inflation as well. A few decades ago one could get a ticket to a movie for around five dollars, now taking a family of four to a movie can cost upwards of $100 (if they buy popcorn and pop).

So, let’s take a look at the top movies of all time to see if Hollywood is actually getting more lucrative (it’s had record years the past few years) or if it’s more of a matter of inflation boosting mediocre returns.

Keep in mind that these are North American Box Office returns/numbers, as well!

15. Avatar (Adjusted Gross: $868, 974, 500)

Avatar was once the biggest movie of all time by total receipts . While a lot of that had to do with the inflated price that came from viewing the movie in the new 3D technology, it was also a phenomenon when it came out at the beginning of the decade.

It started the 3D craze is one of the only films though it was slapped with claims of plagiarism from both Fern Gully and Dances with Wolves. However, Avatar was actually planned before both of those films came out. Writer-director James Cameron had to wait for technology to catch up to his vision.

Perhaps because of the drama, he didn’t plan for it to be as large of a success as it was. It’s been about seven years and we still haven’t gotten the planned sequels that were announced shortly after Avatar broke all sorts of records.

While the release dates of those sequels was recently announced, it’ll be interesting to see how big the market is for another Avatar now that 3D movies are everywhere.

14. Ben-Hur (Adjusted Gross: $875, 140,000)

At the time of its release in 1959, Ben-Hur was one of the biggest movies of all time in terms of it’s box office returns but also in just the general scope of how large the film itself was. It had the largest set of any movie ever made and also had one of the largest marketing budgets — at a whopping $15 million dollars.

Starring Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur was nominated for numerous Oscars and Golden Globes. It was included on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Films of All-Time list back in 1998 (at #72). It also came out as the second best on their list of “American Epic Films.”

It has selected for preservation by the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress for being a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.

13. The Empire Strikes Back (Adjusted Gross: $876, 753,100)

The Empire Strikes Back is thought of as the best film in the Star Wars pantheon. It has one of the biggest and best plot twists in Hollywood history. The line “No, I am your father” or rather, “Luke, I am your father” (depending on what universe you come from) shattered the world when it first hit.

Besides its gigantic financial success, it’s probably one of the more influential films on this list. Ironically, George Lucas didn’t write or direct it. It’s a testament to the people he had around him elevating his original vision. 

It looks like things have come full circle now as the new Star Wars trilogy is copying Empire. The trailer for The Last Jedi — the upcoming sequel in the Star Wars saga — shows a much darker film than 2015’s The Force Awakens.

12. 101 Dalmatians ($892,261,100)

1961’s 101 Dalmatians is one of the biggest Disney films of all time. A movie that focused on the incredibly large litter that somehow came from two dogs and the evil fashionista that coveted their fur, one wouldn’t think that that sounds like the recipe for a gigantic film.

However, the country was still innocent back in 1961. The thought of someone murdering a bunch of puppies to make a jacket seemed like a great film back then. Even if it begged the question as to why Cruella Deville just didn’t wait for the puppies to grow up so she had more fabric to work with.

Either way, this film was a behemoth and was a much needed win for Disney. It waited over 20 years since Snow White‘s release for another massive hit.

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Adjusted Gross: 965,467,800)

Three of the films on this list are related to Star Wars. After the three disasters that were the prequels, though, Star Wars felt like a dead or dying property and George Lucas sold it to Disney. Disney revived the saga and added new TV shows and anthology films.

But, the bread and butter of Star Wars are the main story trilogies and The Force Awakens really hit at the perfect time for Disney/Lucasfilms. Including all four of the original cast members — including Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca — the film was a gigantic phenomenon and is the largest film of all time before inflation.

It’ll be interesting to see how its sequel, The Last Jedi, performs this December. Will the two billion dollars that TFA grossed the norm for these films or just the perfect hype storm?

10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Adjusted Gross: $973,370,000)

Before Disney starting buying up any and all intellectual property that it could, it was mostly a company that made children’s cartoons. The crown jewel is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Released all the way back in 1937, it’s perhaps (besides Mickey himself) the property that is most associated with Disney.

The film itself is based on the German fairytale, like many of Disney’s 20th Century products. The film was so large that it was re-released in theaters many times over the years. It’s actually the most re-released Disney film ever.

Considering that they’re remaking all their films with live-action casts, it’s only a matter of time before it gets its remade. It’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up against more recent films like Beauty and the Beast. It’s a classic feel-good cartoon that’ll probably end up being the most recognizable Disney film ever.

9. The Exorcist (Adjusted Gross: $987,650,600)

The Exorcist is by far the scariest film on this list and held many box office records in North America regardless of inflation up until it was supplanted by Stephen King’s It this year. Based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, the story is actually was based on a true story of a real-life exorcism.

While he was a student at Georgetown University, Blatty had heard about the exorcism of a small boy. In the movie, it’s a small girl played by Linda Blair. The original film’s release in 1973, close to 10 sequels or prequels have followed.

The original company that produced the film ended up selling its original library of films. Yet, it fought to retain its ownership of The Exorcist  as an intellectual property for any future remakes or sequels. While there were rumors of a remake a few years ago, these plans fell through.

However, considering how horror is perhaps the most profitable genre of films right now, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to bring The Exorcist back. Even if that means that another generation of children will be traumatized by the experience.

8. Doctor Zhivago (Adjusted Gross: $1,108,529,600)

Doctor Zhivago is an extremely well known book and movie but it may surprise people that it’s on this list as it’s really just an epic romantic drama, the type of movie that doesn’t scream “blockbuster.”

Set in Russia in the years prior to World War I and the Russian Civil War (of 1917-1922), the film is based on a book of the same name by author Boris Pasternak. The book and film were banned in the Soviet Union for decades. The filmmakers were forced to film in Spain as opposed to Russia.

Starring Omar Sharif as Dr. Yuri Zhivago, the film is over three hours long. Its length cut down the number of times the film could be played each day. So it’s surprising that it was such a gigantic success.

Coming out the same year as The Sound of Music — and losing to it in many categories at the Oscars and Golden Globes — it made 1965 a huge year for Hollywood. It also shows how different Hollywood was then. Imagine this film and a musical about a nanny who raises children during World War II dominating the box office in 2017, or really even being made.

Unless the children were superpowered and the doctor was a mutant, they probably wouldn’t be made. That doesn’t mean that movie isn’t good though. In fact, it’s ranked as the 39th best movie of the 20th century by the American Film Institute. It’s also ranked as the 27th best British film of all time.

7. Jaws (Adjusted Gross: $1,143,743,800)

Besides perhaps Star Wars, few films changed Hollywood more than Jaws did when it was released in the mid-70’s. Directed by a young Steven Spielberg, the movie was also the first to be filmed in the open ocean as opposed to a gigantic set with miniatures.

Originally planned to be made in over 50 or so days, the film was notoriously hard to film. Filming on the ocean took twice as long as filming on land, the script often wasn’t ready until the day of filming and the technology behind the shark failed, leaving them without an actual working shark for much of the production.

That actually worked in favor of the film as they had to improvise a way of showing that the shark was near without showing the shark — it had taken on water and sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

It changed the tone of the movie from one with a ton of shark scenes and gore to one that was more of a thriller. It proved to be scarier not seeing the shark than actually seeing it. Jaws is responsible for the summer blockbuster season and was the highest grossing film of all time at the time of its release.

It also changed Steven Spielberg’s future forever. He gained complete control over not only which projects he wanted to work on but also how those projects were going to be shot, etc. However, the film also had a negative impact on sharks. People started slaughtering them in high numbers as they became terrified of them. Sharks are now extinct in many parts of the world.

6. The Ten Commandments (Adjusted Gross: $1,169,830,000)

The second film by Charlton Heston on this list, 1956’s The Ten Commandments was directed by legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. It dramatized the old testament story of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who worked to free his real brethren, the Jews, from slavery at the hands of his brother the Pharoah.

Billed as “The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History,” the film was a gigantic success but also had some of the best special effects anyone had seen up until that point. It made the plagues look real, and the parting of the Red Sea towards won them the Oscar for the Best Visual Effects. It and was nominated for six more Oscars that year.

Up until that time, it was the most successful film of all time. It brought in about $122.7 million dollars at the box office during its initial run. In today’s money, it’s enough to get it near the top five on this list. The film plays on TV every year near Easter. Even more than 60 years after its release, it is the standard that all biblical films are compared to.

5. Titanic (Adjusted Gross: $1,209,787,000)

There’s been no bigger movie in the lifetime of Millennials than Titanic, another film on this list that was written and directed by James Cameron. He has famously joked that he made Titanic as an excuse to focus on his passion of deep sea diving.Because the Titanic was the “Mount Everest” of deep sea diving, he needed the budget from a major film studio to do it.

For his Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic, Cameron and company did their best to ensure that the film was as historically correct. They did an amazing job of showing what it was like when the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean back in 1912.

It was the most expensive film ever at the time of its release. They built a gigantic tank to house one of the biggest sets ever made. The authenticity was hard to matchfor all of the cheesy ripoffs that came out afterward.

The thing about Titanic‘s commercial success was that it didn’t gross hundreds of millions of dollars its opening weekend. In fact, while it performed admirably, it wasn’t really anything to write home about. It just had tremendous legs based on the fact that tons of people went to see the movie five to 10 times.

Critics lauded it as a great film as well. It was nominated for a record amount of Academy Awards and tied Ben-Hur with a record 11 wins!

4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Adjusted Gross: $1,266,759,200)

For 80’s kids, besides Star Wars there’s really nothing bigger than E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, a film by Stephen Spielberg. It showed that he and George Lucas were two of the best young minds in Hollywood at the time.

While the movie actually shows E.T. dressed up as Yoda on Halloween, turns out E.T. is part of the Star Wars universe. He makes a cameo in the prequel films as part of the Intergalactic Senate. Most people are familiar with the film as Drew Barrymore’s debut.

There was also a bit of controversy surrounding the film. There was a script circulating in Hollywood in the 60’s by an Indian director named Satyajit Ray. Because the scripts are so similar, it’s hard not to say that Spielberg’s version was at least inspired by it.

The director said, “E.T. would not have been possible without my script.” To this, Spielberg responded, “I was a kid in high school when his script was being circulated in Hollywood.”

Star Weekend Magazine disputes Spielberg’s response, though, saying that since Spielberg graduated in 1965 and was a working director in Hollywood by the age of 19 or 20, he was around at the time of the circulation of “The Alien” script.

Even Martin Scorcese, who is a close personal friend of Spielberg’s admits that E.T. was at least inspired by “The Alien.” Ray even attempted to sue Spielberg in 1983. “It’s the people you’ve never heard of who crawl out of the woodwork like cockroaches to sue you,” Spielberg later said.

3. The Sound of Music (Adjusted Gross: $1,271,769,300)

On the surface of things, it may seem strange that The Sound of Music was such a massive hit when it was released in 1965, but it’s the source of so many classic and quality songs that it’s not THAT big of a surprise.

If you’ve never seen it you’d probably be surprised how many songs you grew up hating as a child came from this movie — “Edelweiss”, “My Favorite Things”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “Do-Re-Mi” and Tupac’s “Hit ’em Up”. Okay, the last one was a joke but who would’ve thought that “Do-Re-Mi” wasn’t at least several hundred years old?

The story is actually a bit older than the movie 1965 release date as it was originally a play by Richard Rodgers — with music from Oscar Hammerstein II. It is partially based on a book written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

It was a gigantic smash and during its initial theatrical release, it became the number one box office movie in the United States after four weeks. It remained number one for the next 43 weeks. Like Titanic and Avatar, it was known for its massive repeat customers. Families brought their children over and over again to learn the songs and sing along.

While they didn’t have fancy tracking metrics back then, they knew that they had repeat customers because in some cities the total number of tickets sold actually outnumbered the population of that town — think about that. It was in theaters for nearly five years!

2. Star Wars (Adjusted Gross: $1,590,608,000)

While it isn’t the biggest film on this list, it was the biggest pop culture phenomenon at the time. Still the biggest and most profitable film franchise out there, it all started in 1977 with Star Wars, a film that had bomb written all over it. So much so that Alec Guiness (Ben Kenobi) was embarrassed to be in it.

While writer-director George Lucas was actually pretty well known at the time — having directed American Grafitti a few years prior — the film was thought to be a boondoggle by the studio. A lot of its actual history has been disputed, though. Lucas has changed his story about the production of the film over time.

One story says that he wanted to make a Space Western, another story is that he wanted to make a film that was a “direct contrast from THX 1138” — one of his first sci-fi films about space that was a lot darker than A New Hope.

Either way, he ended up with a film that revolutionized special effects and the film industry in and of itself. It’s rumored that the film was saved in editing as the stock footage wasn’t very good.

Regardless, one thing most people don’t know is that Star Wars was nominated for over seven Oscars — including Best Picture — which is pretty neat for a silly movie about droids, a Wookie and a boy named Luke Skywalker.

1. Gone with the Wind (Adjusted Gross: $1,804,258,500)

It’s probably safe to say that there will never be anything as big as Gone with the Wind, the biggest film of all time during its release. With inflation it is still the largest film of all time. It was an absolute phenomenon at the time and broke all sorts of records

At the Capitol Theater in New York City alone, it was averaged 11,000 admissions per day in a month. It also ran for multiple YEARS, especially oversees, playing in theaters in London for example during the entirety of World War II — probably because that’s all they had but still.

It was also a critical success.  It was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning 10 of them, one of which was the first Oscar to go to an African American. Hattie Daniels won for her role as the house slave in the film. The film was about the Antebellum South and many people believed at the time and still believe that it glorified that time period and thus slavery — which is most likely true.

While the film was a massive success it was almost a disaster. It took two years to start production; the director insisted on having Clark Gable play the role of Rhett Butler. For the role of Scarlett O’Hara, the studio auditioned almost 2,000 actresses finally landing on Vivien Leigh in the role of a lifetime.

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