For some time now, its been a foregone conclusion that Avatar would surpass Titanic to become the highest grossing film of all time worldwide. Now it’s official, as The Hollywood Reporter puts the technological wonder at an estimated global total of $1.8437 billion, just ahead of Titanic‘s worldwide total of $1,843,201,268. Domestically, Avatar is still about $48 million behind Titanic‘s astounding $600.8 million pull more than a decade ago, but that record will likely fall before month’s end.
Such an accomplishment is truly amazing, but Avatar‘s ticket sales have benefited from rising ticket prices as well as surcharges associated with 3D and IMAX showings; the number of people who have actually visited the theater to see Avatar is still far less than the number who saw Titanic. I tried to put together a rough estimate of just how large this gap is after the jump.
Box Office Mojo does have a handy (though imperfect) chart which estimates an inflation-adjusted ranking of film’s highest grossers. Gone With the Wind and Star Wars, which have capitalized on multiple theatrical releases, top the list, while Titanic is #6 and Avatar is #26. Unfortunately, it only covers domestic releases, so it does not take into account the tremendous international business of both Titanic and Avatar. Thankfully, unlike Gone With the Wind or Star Wars, Titanic has only had one release in theaters (from December 1997 to September 2008), which will make it much easier to compare James Cameron’s two blockbusters.
I would like to stress that this will be a very rough estimate of tickets sold, and I don’t expect it to be particularly accurate.
The average U.S. ticket price over Titanic‘s release was somewhere between $4.60-$4.70. Because I don’t have access to average international ticket prices, I’m going to assume that international ticket prices have risen at approximately the same rate as domestic prices, and the U.S. average can be extended to all tickets sold. At this average, Titanic‘s worldwide gross translates into about 390-400 million tickets sold.
Calculating Avatar‘s tickets is somewhat trickier. The Hollywood Reporter listed some useful data: $134 million comes from IMAX locations at about $15 per ticket, and at least 65% of overseas tickets and 80% of domestic tickets were sold for 3D showings. From this, I estimated the following breakdown of Avatar‘s total gross:
-$1.147 billion from 3D
-$563 million from 2D
-$134 million from IMAX
The average ticket price for 2009 (and January 2010) is $7.35. From what I can tell, the 3D surcharge is typically between $2-$4. Because I don’t know what the average surcharge may be, I estimated that the average non-IMAX 3D ticket price is about $10. For the average IMAX ticket price, I used the number given by The Hollywood Reporter, $15.
All in all, my methods resulted in an estimate of about 200 million tickets sold to a theatrical showing of Avatar. This is about half of the 400 million estimated tickets sold for Titanic. Again, this is a very rough estimate, but I think the point is valid. Despite Avatar‘s enormous box office draw, it has a long way to go before it is quite the cultural phenomenon that Titanic was.
Of course, Avatar has been in theaters less than two months, so it may very well catch up to Titanic. But theatrical viewing patterns have evolved since 1997, and may no longer permit such an anomaly as Titanic, which topped the box office for 15 straight weeks. All that said, I am in awe of Avatar: it will be the first film to make $2 billion, a number I can barely wrap my head around.