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The South rises again

The Economist, March 7, 1998 page 89

(*table reproduced below)

Believe the Hollywood publicists and "Titanic" is taking more money at the box office in America than any other film in history. It is mostly just hype. When ticket prices are adjusted for inflation, Leonardo DiCaprio's and Kate Winslet's blockbuster, with a projected domestic take of about $600 m[illion], cannot hold a candle to Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in "Gone With the Wind" (pictured here) or, indeed, to Grumpy, Dopey and company in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." On the same basis, "Bambi" beats "Home Alone" (number 35) and "The Sound of Music" beats "Jurassic Park" (number 25).

At the height of Hollywood's Golden Era, in the 1930s, about 90m Americans went to the cinema each week compared with about 25m a week now. But as ticket prices have soared in the intervening years-- from an average of 25 cents a seat in the 1930s to 42 cents immediately after the second world war to $1.10 in the mid-1960s to close to $5 today-- box-office records continue to be broken when measured in current dollars.

Such records are illusory. Variety, a Hollywood trade magazine, has recalculated the receipts on the basis of admissions. It has done this by assuming that yesterday's audiences paid today's prices-- ie, that it cost the same to see "Snow White" in the 1930s or "E.T." in the 1980s as it costs to see a film today.

Top Ten Films of All Time in America

1998 Dollars and Admission Prices

  Film Year
Studio Total Domestic Gross
(in millions of dollars)
1 Gone With the Wind 1939 MGM 1,299.4
2 Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs
1937 Buena Vista 1,034.3
3 Star Wars 1977 Fox 812.0
4 E.T. -- The Extra
1982 Universal 725.4
5 101 Dalmatians 1961 Buena Vista 656.6
6 Bambi 1942 Buena Vista 646.1
7 Jaws 1975 Fox 590.3
8 The Sound of Music 1965 Universal 565.8
9 The Ten Commandments 1956 Paramount 547.6
10 Return of the Jedi 1983 Fox 540.5

*ELIZABETH'S NOTE (6 February 2002): Titanic (1997) eventually grossed $600.8 million domestically, putting it seventh among the All-Time Moneymakers, just behind Bambi (1942).

1998 The Economist

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