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What Movie Is The All-Time Box Office Champ?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In 2009, "Avatar" shocked the world.

"It was in 3D, it made monumental bounds with imaging and sound," said economist and media expert Joel Waldfogel, from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Nine years later, it is still number one when it comes to worldwide gross: $2.8 billion. "Titantic" is about $600 million behind followed by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

But if you look at what we are watching in the United States, flip those around and replace "Titanic" with "Black Panther."

"Star Wars: The Force Awakes" tops the list at almost $1 billion, then "Avatar." This year's "Black Panther" is third.

Now consider this: the average movie ticket was 23 cents in 1939, the year "Gone With The Wind" came out. So, when you adjust for inflation, that classic tops the list. It made $200 million back then -- which is $1.8 billion in today's money -- followed by "Star Wars," "The Sound of Music" and "Titanic." You won't find "Avatar" until number 15.

"It doesn't look like the movie industry is dying or the theater is dying," Waldfogel said.

He says ticket sales are down very slightly in the past 10 years, but ticket prices have gone up. It now averages $9.16.

"So total revenue has increased in real terms," he said. "People are also consuming movies in a whole bunch of other ways they didn't use to."

But are we watching more movies than we ever have? Waldfogel says probably, but it is hard to know. Box office data is easy to come by.

"Home video is largely invisible to us," he said.

That said, most of the movie money still comes from the big blockbusters.

"As long as studios are willing to make movies people want to see, people will still see movies," Waldfogel said.


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