With the summer blockbuster movie Transformers II racking up some dizzying revenue to match its dizzying camera-work, we're hearing quite a bit about how it could challenge the box office "records" of past summer behemoths like The Dark Knight. But it's worth remembering that the records it is breaking aren't really records, because they're not adjusted for inflation. Via Slate, I've come across this inflation-adjusted list of the highest grossing movies of all time. Fans of Mary Poppins, rejoice! Just a spoon full of inflation-adjusting makes the Dark Knight go down.
To account for inflation, Box Office Mojo divided the film's earnings by the average ticket price that year to get number of tickets sold. Then it multiplies that number by the average price of a 2009 ticket to give you a sense of its adjusted earnings. You can click through here to see the whole list, but for the purpose of single-tab discussions, I've copied the top 31 films below. The inflation-adjusted gross of the movie is listed to the left of the unadjusted gross.
This is a pretty incredible list. And I mean that in two ways. Musicals seem to do extremely well -- perhaps too well. Are we willing to live in a world where 101 Dalmatians tops every non-Titanic movie in the last 20 years? What's going on here?
The guy behind the list, Slate writer
Still the list is instructive, and Pincus-Roth's point is right on. Lay readers, he says, should recognize that "ignoring inflation is like comparing the world record for the 100-meter dash to the record for, say, a 3-meter dash." Indeed, the average ticket price in 1939 (23 cents) is 3 percent of the price in 2009 ($7.18).