Avatar vs Titanic Adjusted For Inflation: Avatar Leads $512M to $380M after 34 Days in Release

As Avatar nears the threshold of surpassing Titanic in both domestic box office gross and global box office gross, it’s time to start gearing up for the “Ticket Prices Adjusted For Inflation” comparison.  There are actually three variables that could be considered:

  • Rise in ticket prices from an average of $4.69 in 1998 to $7,35 in 2010
  • 3D Premium Charges
  • Impact of massive digital downloads (more than 1M for Avatar in the first few weeks.

My position on this is going to be as follows.  First, no problem with change in ticket prices — this will be included.  As for the other two, first of all I think the 3D premium charges really shouldn’t be considered because this was a clear risk taken by the filmmaker and the studio to add enough value through the 3D process to warrant the surcharge.  This was a gamble and there was no guarantee of success.  Audiences, had they flet the 3D didn’t deliver a viewing experience that made it worth the extra money, could just as easily have saved their surcharge money and gone to the 2d version.  So I won’t make an allowance for this.

As for the downloads — it’s clear that Avatar faces a far greater piracy challenge because of the massive number of illegal downloads, but I don’t see any way to make an adjustment in Avatar’s favor to account for this.  But I mention just as a way of quelling anyone who wants to argue about the 3D surcharge.  If you don’t by my argument about the 3D surcharge, then let’s just consider the 3D surcharge (advantage Avatar) and the download problem (advantage Titanic) to be a wash.

So, as of today, Avatar has unadjusted gross of $512,852,205 in 34 days in release.   Titanic had $242,748,914 after 34 days in release.  If we apply the inflation adjuster we multiply Titanic’s total of $242,748,914 by 156% (derived by dividing $4.69 into $7.45) and Titanic’s adjusted total becomes$380,427,403 after 34 days in release.  So Avatar still has a comfortable lead on an inflation adjusted ‘same number of days in release’ basis — however we all know that what is about to happen is that Titanic’s incredible ‘legs’ are going to start showing.  Avatar has been trending very much like Titanic — but not completely so.  It has great legs, but not quite as strong as Titanic.  So we’ll have to wait and watch and see.  Charts will be forthcoming.

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~ by Michael D. Sellers on January 22, 2010.

12 Responses to “Avatar vs Titanic Adjusted For Inflation: Avatar Leads $512M to $380M after 34 Days in Release”

  1. I really dont see Avatar doing a Billion domestically lol. Its possible of course. One cant ever say something like that is not. But in reality I see it doing around 700 Million or more when its done. No one also has mentioned how much Avatar cost. That movie has cost nearly HALF A BILLION in its self to make and advertise. Titanic cost around a quarter Billion to make and advertise. Now granted 250 Million in itself is still ALLOT of money. Half a Billion to make ONE movie is almost beyond comprehension lol. So even if Avatar makes 3 Billion world wide it only made six or Seven times its money back. Titanic made nearly 9 times its money back in theaters alone. Titanic though as Cameron said I just so appealing to so many people and cultures. It has something for everyone. You have something for guys, Action buffs, Historian buffs, Girls of course lol, Drama buffs ect. As with Avatar one can argue it kinda has all those things but its only kinda vague. Alsobut at the same time people dont and or wont take it as serious. Whether they liked it or not. After all Avatar is about 9 foot tall blue monkey cat people (whatever you wanna call them lol) who take on 22nd century weaponry with stone age weaponry. The Anniversary of Titanic though is literally going to be some sort of World Wide celebration. They are actually going to reopen the ship yard of where Titanic was made. Like I said its literally going to be a Huge ordeal around the world not just in the United States and Britain and the reissuing of the movie in 3D and enhanced visual effects is going to be huge. I can see Titanic making AT LEAST another 400 Million on its reissuing and with that it will be on top again in absolute terms. Another thing about Avatar is on AVERAGE it is meant to be seen in 3D and that is how most people all around the world have seen it and that puts its tickets at around 10 12 dollars. Titanic even the evening showings were an average of 4.50 matinee was about 3 or so. So even after its all said and done more people saw Titanic. What Avatar is doing now with its staying power Titanic was still doing it for another 2 months. Remember Tickets are on average twice the price for inflation and it being more in 3D being taken into account. Avatar will have to do over 3 Billion to actually meet up with Titanic. But I can bet you anything Avatar will be a long way away from 3 Billion at the end of its run. About 390 Million People saw Titanic at a 4.75 dollar Ticket price and thats actually higher than what tickets actually were even for the evening, but im just giving benefit of the doubt. But even if Avatars staying power continues for another FULL MONTH and does 2 1/2 Billion dollars world wide in its life time run, only about 320 to 330 Million people will have seen it at todays ticket prices, compared to Titanics 390 Million. After Titanics reissuing I can bet you anything Titanic will add another 120 Million plus ticket sales Thus putting it at a Mind staggering 500 or so Million Ticket sales. The reissuing is with out question gonna be HUGE. Between it being on its Anniversary and it being in 3D and enhanced, Think about it. Avatar only has its spot temporially.

  2. Im not against Gone with the Wind not being allowed to use the Adjusted for inflation lol. But inflation HAS to be taken into account. Look at how expensive a ticket is to go and see Avatar. The average ticket price in 97 98 was about 4 dollars. The average ticket to see Avater in 3D is over TEN. But in the end of it all Titanic will none the less be assured its place on top again. For as I said it is going to be released into theaters in 3D and to top it off again its going to on the Anniversary of the Sinking of Titanic. Look into Titanic being released into theaters again im not making it up lol. I can guarantee you that it will win its spot back in absolute terms.

    • What’s your projection on where Avatar will end up in terms of domestic gross and overall gross when all is said and done? At this point in its run (38 days) Titanic had achieved 45% of its eventual box office gross. If you apply that percentage to Avatar you come up with something ridiculous like $1.2B domestic. But let’s say that Avatar has done 60% of its total now — that means it ends up around 900 domestic and $3b worldwide. I don’t know if the re-release of Titanic can make up that kind of ground. I can see it doing $100m domestic in 3d — $300m overall. But anyway I’m not out to ‘sink’ Titanic. These two Cameron babies can have sibling rivalry that goes on for decades…..they both are extraordinary. Oh — but one thing I’ll say. I wrote about this. I think it’s completely legit to do an in inflation adjustment that takes into account the change in average ticket prices from 1998 until 2010. But I don’t think it’s legit to consider the 3D surcharge just to be more inflation. There is a reasonable guarantee that moviegoers will pay whatever the prevailing price is in their day to see a movie; but there’s no guarantee they will pay the 3D surcharge and their willingness to pay it is only going to happen if the film delivers. If Cameron hadn’t delivered something very special with the 3D everyone would be calling it his Waterloo and saying he overreached during a time of economic recession to think people would gladly pony up the 3d surcharge. So I would argue against including the 3D surcharge in the adjustment. But that’s just me . ;-)

  3. Hmmm very interesting examination Nick. BUT at the same time you can put it the other way in say for Titanic. We of course had TV’s back in 97 98, Cable, VCR’s, Computers and their were of course hosts of other ways one could be very much entertained. It was FAR from being say before we had TV’s I also still remember very much of how much Titanic was actually Pirated. I remember watching a special on the NEW about how bad the piracy was for Titanic. They were getting a hold of 18 wheelers that were Completely filled with Illegal copies of Titanic on VHS. You guys also forgot to bring in Rental numbers. Titanic brought in another Half Billion in that alone. The news add is still up on how Block Buster couldn’t keep copies in their stores for rent. They were actually having their employees wear life vests and some stores had ice sculptures brought in of Titanic. Avatar is of course a victim of Piracy but so was Titnaic. And yeah its easy to just download something verses having to go out and get a VHS. But at the same time they have also gotten better at fighting piracy as well in regards to computers and such. So it evens out. Avatar may also have gotten into allot of Hot water with its propaganda and so called messages (hence the Chinese giving it the boot) But at the same time Titanic went through the same thing. A number of the relatives of some of the people in Titanic wanted it pulled for the way Cameron portrayed their relative in the movie. Then of course Historians we all over it as well. So in the end things pretty much even out. So the only thing you can do that is fare in the end is adjust the inflation which would put Titanic on top still. Adjusted for inflation Titanic made nearly a Billion in the US alone, Avatar isn’t going to do that. Oh and in the end Titanic will remain Num 1 for sure because its going to be released again into theaters in 3D with improved enhanced visual effects. And no I am not at all a Titanic lover lol. But I just figured I would point out these Facts.

    • Good points …. hope Nick comments in reply. My only thought is that all the defenders of Titanic’s “right to adjust” and therefore still claim the top spot generally were silent on the issue of Gone With The Wind’s “right to adjust” when Titanic got to the top of the heap. Perhaps that’s because GWTW is ONLY able to be part of the conversation if you’re talking about “adjusted for inflation” … but still, strikes me that if Titanic’s proponents were happy enough to claim the top spot without talking about adjustment when doing so was in Titanic’s favor, while now that it’s no longer in Titanic’s favor to just talk about gross, the “adjusted for inflation” argument is coming back. In watching Avatar’s progress, I’m not one to use the metaphors about “sinking” Titanic or Avatar being an iceberg Titanic’s about to hit. Quite the opposite — I’m a huge fan of Titanic AND Avatar, but when talking box office achievement I’m generally not talking as a fan, just an observer whatching what’s happening and wondering about the dynamics. They are both extraordinary accomplishments.

  4. [...] we now are dealing with a (thick and deep) puzzle: being that popular (see Michael’s post, for example) and that radical, how can it be that useless to social progress? Because we [...]

  5. Great points Nick! And that is what makes Avatar so special – people are seeing it multiple times (6 times so far for me). Many of my friends have seen it 4 – 5 (unheard of these days). Yes Avatar has lots of competing factors that will IMO have less of legs duration that Titanic experienced. But when all else is said and done, when the dust settles – Avatar will prevail as a movie that brought people, young & old, all generations back into the movie theaters many times to re-experience the true art of cinema! Gotta go heading to Avatar today for the 7th time!

    • So Dennis, what is the special attraction that makes this movie desirable beyond the first and even the second time? I am just curious about the power of its substantive message(s) as you may see (braudel.wordpress.com and http://braudel.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/avatar-so-lucid-so-useless-2/)

      • I hope Dennis answers, but I’ll wade in on this one. How does any film or book or other work of art completely captivate billions of people worldwide with a message that is unique and special and one of a kind? It doesn’t. I think it can’t be about it having a unique and special message–so much as it’s about having a message that resonates deeply and archetypally, striking a collective nerve in a way that is deeply satisfying but not “unique” in the way that critics are looking for something unique. Look, that kind of movie (unique) will find a small and loyal audience of intellectually elite and curious filmgoers. But Cameron is operating in a different universe. His movies cost mega-millions of dollars and must by definition draw a HUGE audience, and you do that by picking a theme that will resonate with ‘everyman’, then building a great (and yes, somewhat familiar) story around it, then deliver an execution of the concept that is unique and powerful. Cameron does all of these things extroardinarly well. He’s a modern day Cecile B. DeMille, not Darren Aronovsky. His “substantive message” is a familiar story of a good man whom fate places on the side of the oppressor, who switches sides and leads the oppressed to freedom from the oppressor–with the help of beauitul and good and true woman who helps him see the oppressors for what they are. It’s an old, old story and one that resonates — but it’s packaged in new, extroardinary art and technology that pushes the limits of the familiar package. The ‘woman’ isn’t a woman at all, she’s an alien, so the journey for the hero is more extreme, and hence more powerful, than in other renderings of the same storyline. And then there is an overlay of another tried and true element — sci fi as social criticism. Cameron’s pro-environment message and depiction of humanity (or that corporate and mercenary portion of it that are on Pandora) also isn’t unique, but it resonates and is given greater power than the same message in other films because of the act of creative imagination that came up with and executed the Na’vi people and their world.

      • Michael you hit the hammer on the nail. Seeing Avatar multiple times – I see new things that I didn’t notice before but always feel immersion into the world of Pandora. The message of senseless wars, corporate greed, saving your planet and global interconnectiveness with all living beings resonates with the masses. If we take governments and multi-international corporations out of the picture – most people would get along with one another – it comes down to power and acquiring precious resources and propaganda to the masses. People feel the “tsahaylu” with Avatar’s message and deep down inside I believe they want to have that bond with all living beings which is needed to save our planet.

  6. If Gone With The Wind were released today instead of 1939, it wouldn’t be the top box office of all time. Big, but not that big. Released in a day with no TV -not to mention no DVD, TiVo, Cable, on demand, etc.- it continued to be rereleased every few years – 1942, 1949 and so on. Actually was released last year in Poland. Today’s movies have a quick run and then they are moved to DVD. It is harder to get people to go see a movie again in a few years when they have it sitting on the shelf in their den, on their ipod, on their phone, and anywhere elese you can think of. The only movie in modern times that has drawn that kind of repeat business over years is Star Wars and it wasn’t really the same movie. The rerelease was a major budget, major differences, new version. It should count as two movies.

    • Well … my math is that Gone With The Wind did manage $189m on its initial run in 1939 according to Box Office Mojo when the ticket prices were 23cents. That works out to about 821 million tickets sold. If Avatar does $800 million, that would be about 100m tickets sold given an average ticket price of 7.35 plus the 3d upgrade. The thing is, I think you’re right that it’s just hard to compare the two eras — you’re absolutely right that in the case of GWTW there wasn’t even TV to contend with — much less DVD, other home entertainment, illegal downloads, etc. Just like network news broadcasts today don’t come anywhere near the kind of viewership they did back before cable and satellite. It’s apples and oranges. But having said all that — Gone With The Wind certainly deserves a spot right up there at or near the top, just like Titanic and Avatar. I think by the time the dust settles, it will be pretty clear that those three are in a league of their own.

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