Posts Tagged ‘Jurassic Park’

Why Adjusted Box Office Grosses Are Mostly Meaningless

August 2, 2013

You hear it all the time: “Movie X did $400 million in the U.S. Box Office, but adjusted for inflation, it’s not even in the Top 100 movies of all time!”

This is a tactic commonly used by people who cling to their generation’s films as being the best and this statistic justifies it in their mind. They have a point, to an extent, as a lot of movies nowadays do bomb, but there are an unbelievable amount of movies hitting theaters nowadays – more on that later.

Let’s start with the obvious. Inflation adjustment is good for measuring the proportion of tickets sold. Older movies sold more tickets to a population less than what we have now. Now I’m going to tell you why it’s not a relevant statistic.

When I was younger (2002), I could buy two student tickets to a movie, popcorn, and drinks for about $20. Now, in 2013, it is $10-11 PER TICKET (Up to $15-17 for IMAX/3D/IMAX 3D). For two people to go to a movie in 3D and get drinks and snacks, you’re looking at between $35-50. That is a huge difference compared to only 10 years ago. Going to the movies is EXPENSIVE. In 1960, tickets were roughly $1 each. Nowadays, combining non-3D and 3D movie showings, the average ticket is probably around $11 (Especially if you use Fandango and pay fees). Since 1960, the average household income has increased 8X. The price of a movie ticket has increased roughly 11X.

Bottom line: The price of a ticket in 2013 is a higher proportion of people’s income than it was in 1960 – not including the rising cost of theater drinks and food.


Can you imagine ANY movie putting up $1 billion at the U.S. Box Office?
Source: Box Office Mojo

The other HUGE factor is simply the volume of movies. When Lion King, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and others released, they had top billing in the theater for at least a month. Nowadays, a $150+ million blockbuster releases every 6-7 days and sometimes 2 or 3 at a time. A month after release and there are 10-12 major movies pushing the films out of theaters. I would estimate the competition in theaters to be 10 times what it was 20-30 years ago.

Another factor that is ignored is that many of these older movies have been re-released multiple times in theaters and have pushed up their totals to misleading heights.

Lots of other things have affected recent movie totals that are worth mentioning:

  • Illegal streaming/downloading
  • Faster turn-around between theater and DVD/Blu-Ray release
  • Increase in media consumption mediums (Netflix, Red Box, On Demand PPV, Amazon Prime Video, Playstation Network, XBox Live, iTunes, etc.)
  • Increased exposure to critics and media hype (By this, I mean people that get off to movies bombing – see recent headlines)

What’s the point of this post? To show people that adjusted domestic totals are fun to look at, but ultimately meaningless. Avatar, Titanic, and The Avengers are this generation’s Star Wars or Gone With the Wind. Their performance is equally impressive, if not better than the older movies. I mean, due to the insane competition in theaters alone, any movie that goes over $400-500 million nowadays is absolutely amazing. I’m not saying older movies are bad, either. I’m saying that box office grosses from 1930, 1960, and 2010 are not an apples-to-apples comparison and shouldn’t be treated as such (but they are).