When looking at a list of the highest-grossing films of all time, you might notice that there’s a disproportional amount of films that come from the past two decades. In fact, when it comes to the ten top grossing films of all time worldwide, only one of those films — 1997′s Titanic – has a release date before 2000.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all the biggest blockbusters have come from recent years. Financially speaking, it just means that a film’s box office gross in actuals, whether domestic or worldwide, cannot be accurately compared to past films because of inflation. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to get a ballpark estimate of how films of the past would compare to modern films, and box office aggregate website Box Office Mojo is just one of many sources to find adjusted box office estimates.
“Adjusting for ticket price inflation is not an exact science and should be used to give you a general idea of what a movie might have made if released in a different year, assuming it sold the same number of tickets,” Box Office Mojo explains. “Still, this method best compares ‘apples to apples’ when examining the history of box office earnings.” With that in mind, here is a list of the eight top grossing films of all time at the domestic box office when adjusted for inflation — all of which come before the year 2000.
8. Doctor Zhivago ($1 Billion) — 1965
Director David Lean’s sweeping 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago, based on the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak, was a huge success at the box office upon release despite a relatively lukewarm response from critics. The film would go on to become the most successful film of Lean’s career and one of the most successful films of all time period when adjusted for inflation.
With a total domestic gross of nearly $112 million at the time of release, Doctor Zhivago earned an estimated $973 million when adjusted for inflation — a number that makes it the eighth highest adjusted domestic gross of all time. When it comes to worldwide adjusted totals, Doctor Zhivago places number eight on the all time with $1.98 billion.
7. Jaws ($1.03 Billion) — 1975
The movie phenomenon that has given several generations of movie-goers a fear of water, Jaws was first released in 1975 and put a young Steven Spielberg on the map as one of Hollywood’s most talented big budget directors. Director Steven Spielberg is no stranger to the list of films with the biggest adjusted domestic gross — in fact, his films pop up a whopping four times before moving out of the top-twenty.
By the time Jaws’ theatrical run ended, the film had earned about $260 million domestic and $210 million overseas for a worldwide total of $470 million. When the domestic total is adjusted for inflation, Jaws has earned just a hair over $1 billion at the domestic box office and has a worldwide adjusted total of about $1.94 billion — the latter of which is good for number nine on the all time list of worldwide adjusted box office gross.
6. The Ten Commandments ($1.05 Billion) — 1956
The second-oldest film on this list, The Ten Commandments was released in 1956 and went on to earn $65 million at the domestic box office. While that may not seem like much, that $65 million rises to an estimated $1.05 billion when adjusted for inflation — and the adjusted worldwide total for The Ten Commandments places the film at number seven on the list of all time worldwide adjusted gross, with $2.09 billion earned during its entire theatrical run.
5. Titanic ($1.09 Billion) — 1997
When it comes to making hugely successful blockbusters, director James Cameron is among the most consistent of the bunch with a worldwide box office total of $6.13 billion earned across a span of nine feature films. But 1997′s Titanic, which cemented Cameron’s status as one of the top blockbuster directors in Hollywood, still reigns supreme when adjusted for inflation despite the fact that his 2009 film Avatar currently holds the box office records for all time domestic gross and all time worldwide gross at $760 million and $2.78 billion, respectively.
The fact that Titanic’s unadjusted numbers are not that far off from Avatar’s actuals should give you a sense of just how spectacular of a box office event it was when the film was initially released. With $600 million earned at the domestic box office plus an additional $58 million from re-releases, Titanic’s domestic total rises from $658 million to about $1.09 billion when adjusted for inflation. When overseas totals are included, Titanic’s $2.18 billion worldwide total rises to an astonishing $2.41 billion, good for number four on the all time list of adjusted worldwide box office totals.
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial ($1.14 Billion) — 1982
Spielberg’s second film to crack the top eight on the all-time list of highest adjusted domestic gross, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is also the director’s highest grossing film in actuals at $435 million, including the film’s re-releases. That number rises to approximately $1.14 billion when adjusted for inflation while the film’s worldwide adjusted numbers of about $2.21 billion are good for number six on the all time worldwide list.
3. The Sound of Music ($1.15 Billion) — 1965
Based on the musical of the same name, 1965′s The Sound of Music is often credited as singled-handedly saving 20th Century Fox from collapsing after the failure of its big budget historical epic Cleopatra (1963). The film ultimately took in $158 million at the box office and briefly became the number one grossing film of all time before being pushed back to number three. Adjusted for inflation, that puts The Sound of Music’s domestic take at approximately $1.15 billion with a worldwide adjusted total of $2.26 billion, good for number five all time worldwide.
2. Star Wars ($1.43 Billion) — 1977
When George Lucas’ Star Wars was released in 1977, it quickly became one of the biggest movie events in history as it dominated the box office en route to $307 million in domestic ticket sales. A cultural and cinematic phenomenon, Star Wars introduced the space opera to the masses and, along with 1968′s 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick, revitalized the sci-fi genre while setting the stage for the big-budget blockbusters that followed.
With re-releases included, Star Wars’ domestic gross rises to almost $461 million along with $314 million overseas for a worldwide total of $775 million. Adjusted for inflation, that gives Star Wars a domestic take equal to about $1.43 billion dollars and a worldwide gross of around $2.8 billion — the latter of which places the film at number three on the all time worldwide adjusted list.
1. Gone with the Wind ($1.63 Billion) — 1939
The biggest box office phenomenon of all time, 1939′s Gone with the Wind’s numbers are astounding before inflation even comes into the picture. Counting several re-releases over the years, Gone with the Wind earned almost $199 million domestic and $201 million overseas for a worldwide total of $400 million. That means Gone with the Wind earned about $1.63 billion domestic and approximately $3.3 billion worldwide when adjusted for inflation.
If you count Gone with the Wind’s first three runs as one, four-year theatrical run, the film sold a combined 59.5 million tickets — a number equal to about half the population of the United States at the time. When you add in all of the additional re-releases over the years, an estimated 202 million viewers have seen Gone with the Wind in theaters. With a sky-high budget (at the time) of $3.85 million, Gone with the Wind is still considered the most financially successful film of all time.