Most of us could probably rattle off half a dozen major blockbusters, but have you ever considered which film is the most popular of all time?
Even if you’re only a casual fan of movies, a quick rundown of the top five highest domestic-grossing movies of all time contains few surprises:
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – $936 million
- Avatar (2009) – $760 million
- Titanic (1997) – $659 million
- Jurassic World (2015) – $652 million
- Marvel’s The Avengers (2004) – $623 million
But hang on a second. Where’s Casablanca? The Graduate? The Godfather? The answer: lost to inflation. Because these classics were released when ticket prices were pennies on today’s dollar, we can’t base our assessment of the most popular movie of all time just on box office revenue.
But without the box office, what are we left with? Social media polls? American Film Institute rankings?
A semblance of a judgment was rendered when Box Office Mojo, an online box-office reporting service owned by IMDb, issued an ever-evolving list of the highest domestic grosses of all-time—adjusted for inflation. It’s constantly updated according to the most recent box office sales and the latest average ticket price.
Right away, you can tell this list looks a lot different from the ones that just tally up box office revenue. The titles at the top are much more representative of a history beyond the last 15 years:
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Unadjusted gross: $198,676,459
Inflation-adjusted gross: $1,854,769,700 (yes, you read that right—$1.8 billion)
Star Wars (1977)
Unadjusted gross: $460,998,007
Inflation-adjusted gross: $1,635,137,900
The Sound of Music (1965)
Unadjusted gross: $158,671,368
Inflation-adjusted gross: $1,307,373,200
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Unadjusted gross: $435,110,554
Inflation-adjusted gross: $1,302,222,800
Unadjusted gross: $658,672,302
Inflation-adjusted gross: $1,244,347,300
In fact, Titanic is the only movie made in the last 40 years to land in the top 10. And only three from the 21st century crack the top 25: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar and Jurassic World.
It’s hard to argue against installing Gone with the Wind on the throne. Film history and, specifically, the greatest films of all time are usually discussed not in terms of stars or technology, but by their proximity to Gone with the Wind.
This movie forever altered the course for storytelling onscreen, moving it from a casual indulgence to an epic emotional investment. That may be somewhat lost as we creep up on the movie’s 80th anniversary in January 2020. But true cinephiles will always treasure the fact that many of the movies on Box Office Mojo’s list owe their place to Gone with the Wind.