Top 10 Domestic* Box Office Hits
* Editor’s note: By domestic, we mean North America. As North Americans, we pretty sure that’s all that really counts. BD
We’re into the second half of the summer movie season, so it seems fitting to take a look back at the biggest box office hits of all time. However, with ticket prices exploding exponentially, it ‘s no longer germane to the conversation to throw out lists of the biggest blockbusters without adjusting for inflation. Each opening weekend has become a horse race to see which title can lead the pack, even though bad word-of-mouth can mean a drop into anonymity the following week. While some movie genres are critic-proof (family fare, horror films and anything following Tyler Perry’s name), the life of a film, decades hence, ultimately proves a movie’s staying power.
So here are the top ten domestic box office hits of all time, if the price for a ticket were the same “then” as it is “now.” Some interesting footnotes; none of the films were made in the 21st Century, none of them are sequels, and the Wizard of Oz is not on the list!
The list doesn’t take rental, purchase or television into consideration; although someone somewhere should sit down and figure those numbers out.
10. Snow White & The Seven Dwarves (1937)
Adjusted Gross: $889,440,000
Unadjusted Gross: $189,925,000
When you take into consideration that Disney’s first feature length animated film was released 76 (!) years ago, you begin to comprehend what a mammoth smash this movie was and still is. It doesn’t hurt that the Disney dream machine has re-released it in theaters 8 times since, charging full admission price. Interesting bit of trivia: Disney used much of the initial profits to finance Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where it still thrives today.
9. The Exorcist (1973)
Adjusted Gross: $902,489, 200
Unadjusted Gross: $232,906,000
Proof that the original hype that drew crowds (audiences members passing out, throwing up and running from the theaters) was a way to get ticket buyers in the door, the lasting attraction of any movie is good movie-making, which is why The Exorcist still brings in crowds upon its many re-releases and restorations. Even though it’s one of the scariest movies ever made, it’s also one of the best.
8. Dr. Zhivago (1965)
Adjusted Gross: $1, 012, 945, 300
Unadjusted Gross: $111,721, 300
Anyone whose parents are over 65 had to grow up with the soundtrack, and Lara’s Theme playing throughout their household. This was the film in the 60s, everyone went to see, old and young alike. Never been a fan myself. Even though I’ve seen it more recently, the only thing I can remember about Dr. Zhivago is unending shots of trains pulling into stations. Again. And Again. And Again.
7. Jaws (1975)
Adjusted Gross: $1, 045, 123,200
Unadjusted Gross: $260,000.000
No shocker here. Like The Exorcist, the sensationalist advertising campaign brought the audiences in, but the solid filmmaking and excellent performances are what kept ticker buyers returning. Hard to believe that Universal was prepared to bury the film until test screening results were off the charts. This is the film that defined the summer blockbuster.
6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Adjusted Gross: $1,068, 960,000
Unadjusted Gross: $65,000,000
Cecil B. DeMille was the originator of the movie spectacle and had made his name in Hollywood before there was a Hollywood. In fact, this was a remake of his own 1923 silent film. It’s not only DeMille’s most successful film, it was his last. It’s been shown annually on ABC during Easter since 1973, and next to The Wizard of Oz was ranked as the most familiar movie around the world ever made. “Where’s your Moses now?”
5. Titanic (1997)
Adjusted Gross: $1, 105,471,000
Unadjusted Gross: 658, 672, 302
It’s interesting to consider the fact that in only 16 years since Titanic’s initial release, ticket prices have gone up so much that the unadjusted gross domestically already has almost a $400,000,000 difference. James Cameron may consider himself the “King of the World,” but when adjusted for inflation, he’s still fifth in line. (Actually, he is King of the World, since Avatar and Titanic are the world’s biggest moneymakers of all time, both hitting over 2 TRILLION dollars.)
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Adjusted Gross: $1, 157,531,400
Unadjusted Gross: $435,110,554
Spielberg’s films have made more money collectively than any other director. If box office was the sole indicator of success, he would be the greatest director of all time. Luckily, it isn’t.
3. The Sound of Music (1965)
Adjusted Gross: $1, 162,109,500
Unadjusted Gross: $158,671, 368
Moms everywhere rejoice! Another network television mainstay, it’s also incredible when you realize only two films in the top ten were released in a single year, this and Dr. Zhivago. And just like Zhivago, your parents probably had this soundtrack album as well. The only musical to break the top ten, unless you count Snow White. I guess you have to count Snow White.
2. Star Wars (1977)
Adjusted Gross: $1,453,455,900
Unadjusted Gross: $460,998, 007
As I list these films, closing in on number one, I find I get more depressed. I’ve never been a fan of Star Wars (there, I said it) and actually fell asleep in the theater when I first saw it (not in re-release, mind you, but when it first came out). The success of this film is just proof that I have no business discussing what is or is not a good film. I have my opinion. Everyone else has theirs. And based on box office, everyone ELSE is right.
1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Adjusted Gross: $1,648, 684,100
Unadjusted Gross: $198, 676, 459
My faith in mankind has been restored! Not only is this the biggest box office hit domestically, it’s still the biggest film in the world. GWTW has its many detractors, and its politics are horribly skewed, but we people love our soap operas, and none is more exciting, salacious and satisfying as the triangle of Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.
Two More Fun Facts: (Not adjusting for inflation) The biggest R rated film of all time: The Passion of the Christ. The biggest NC-17 Film of All Time: Showgirls. (Proving yet again, there really is no accounting for taste. Beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks.)