What film has made the most money?

Film moneyThat’s an interesting question. Especially now with 3D releases of the same film. It can be easily answered by looking on IMDB or various other websites that show this sort of thing. But is it correct? Ticket prices have not stayed the same since Gone With the Wind or She Carved Her Name With Pride came out 70 or 80 years ago.

How can we adjust the figures to make them have the same starting point?

The British Film Institute [BFI] did this a couple of years ago by using a standard item. Ticket sales. This can be biased as well because cinema audiences were much, much higher in the 40s and 50s but ticket prices were “low”.

This does show that, something like Harry Potter that made, something like, £60 million in the UK isn’t on the list but A Matter of Life and Death is.

Could we use adjusted dollars? Well, yes we can but we cannot just use the release year as a conversion date. Classic films are re-released over the decades so that would slew the results. Would it give good, average, figure to use?

So, we can tell how much money a film actually took but we can’t say, in today’s money, how it compared to today. We can’t do the same with ticket sales. The numbers of tickets sold in the 40s are massive compared to today. The lack of television made it a must do event. Not only did you see a film, you also saw the newsreel. Found out what was going on in the world. Be that, hopefully, catching a glimmer of a loved one at war or laughing at London Zoo’s chimps tea party.

I don’t think that this question will ever be answered. If someone uses the numbers of tickets sold each year with the price then that is a good start. Then we can calculate the relative cost of that year’s sales. Then continue until today. It’s more of a hassle but that should give you a good, more accurate, figure of how much a film has taken.

Look at the top ten highest grossing films of all time. This is without any adjustment for inflation. Just the actual amount of money a film made in the cinema.

Rank Title Worldwide gross Year
1 Avatar $2,787,965,087 2009
2 Titanic $2,186,772,302 1997
3 The Avengers $1,518,594,910 2012
4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 $1,341,511,219 2011
5 Frozen $1,272,346,009 2013
6 Iron Man 3 $1,215,439,994 2013
7 Transformers: Dark of the Moon $1,123,794,079 2011
8 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King $1,119,929,521 2003
9 Skyfall $1,108,561,013 2012
10 The Dark Knight Rises $1,084,439,099 2012

When you look at that, you will notice a patten. None are over 17 years old. Most have been released since 2010 [7 of the 10]. The oldest on the list held the record for over 10 years. Titanic.

Rank Title Worldwide gross
(2011 $)
1 Gone with the Wind $3,301,400,000 1939
2 Avatar $2,782,300,000 2009
3 Star Wars $2,710,800,000 1977
4 Titanic $2,413,800,000 1997
5 The Sound of Music $2,269,800,000 1965
6 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial $2,216,800,000 1982
7 The Ten Commandments $2,098,600,000 1956
8 Doctor Zhivago $1,988,600,000 1965
9 Jaws $1,945,100,000 1975
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs $1,746,100,000 1937

Using one of the metrics mentioned before, another patten appears. The opposite of before. Only one of the films is from the last ten years and two of the films from that list appear on this one.