Avengers: Endgame — Comparisons to Avatar aside, its box office collection is nowhere near the worldwide record

The Conversation

Jul 24, 2019 13:02:44 IST

By Jay L Zagorsky

Marvel’s gambit to propel Avengers: Endgame to become the top-grossing movie of all time finally paid off.

The studio re-released the final film in its Avengers series earlier this month with extra footage and a post-credit tribute in an effort to pass James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar as the world box office record holder.

As of 21 July, Avengers: Endgame had collected US$2.79 billion in worldwide ticket sales, edging out Avatar by around $500,000.

Marketing and bombast aside, however, the reality is Endgame isn’t even close to the real record-holder — nor is, for that matter, Avatar. The reason why gives me an excuse to offer a short lesson on inflation.

 Avengers: Endgame — Comparisons to Avatar aside, its box office collection is nowhere near the worldwide record

Yeah...maybe not. Image via Twitter/@Marvel

Why adjust for inflation

Prices from year to year cannot be directly compared with one another because the cost to buy things changes dramatically over time.

For example, in nominal terms, it costs more today to buy movie tickets, popcorn and soda and get to the theater than it did in the past, while it costs much less to call your friends and invite them to come along.

Without adjusting for inflation and changes in purchasing power, comparisons from one time period to another are meaningless.

One of my grandfather’s favourite stories helps illustrate this. He used to talk about the “good old days” in the 1940s when a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread cost just 10 cents. But my grandpa didn’t consider how much lower his wages were back then.

Adjusting for inflation means a 10-cent cup of coffee in 1940 would cost about $1.84 (about Rs 127) in 2019 money. Today you can buy coffee at chains like 7-Eleven for a lot less.

The real box office king

And that’s why Avengers: Endgame is a long way from becoming the box office king. The heralded numbers don’t reflect inflation.

To demonstrate, let’s first look just at US domestic ticket sales since it’s easier to calculate and see the effect.

The current list of top-grossing films at the US box office is led by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which came out in 2015 and earned a nominal $936 million, followed by Endgame at $854 million and Avatar at $761 million.

Adjusting for inflation alters the list dramatically. Box Office Mojo, an online box-office reporting service operated by IMDb, calculates inflation by multiplying average ticket prices in a given year by estimated admissions.

As a result, Endgame drops to 16th place. Avatar slips to 15th with $877 million in adjusted ticket sales. Gone with the Wind, released in 1939, meanwhile, vaults to first place with $1.8 billion in adjusted ticket sales.

Calculating sales internationally is trickier because inflation is different in every country. IMDb, however, makes a valiant effort making these adjustments.

Based on its estimates, Gone with the Wind is the worldwide box office leader with $3.4 billion to $3.8 billion in global sales. Cameron’s Titanic comes next at $3.2 billion to $3.4 billion, followed by Avatar with $3.2 billion.

With $2.79 billion, Endgame falls to fifth, leaving it with almost $1 billion in ticket sales to go to before it could legitimately lay claim to the top title. (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope and Sound of Music are fourth and sixth, respectively.)

Don’t believe the hype

We love Hollywood movies because they provide entertainment and escapism.

However, the marketing of Hollywood movies and the hype surrounding ticket sales records, like movies themselves, often play fast and loose with economic reality. This is something I expect we’ll see more of as films get released on far more screens and more people in countries like China go to see them.

I liked Avengers: Endgame, whose plot is based on time-travelling superheroes. It was definitely three hours of escapist fun. But the hype surrounding its box office records, like its plot, shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 2, 2019.

Jay L Zagorsky is a senior lecturer at Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Updated Date: Jul 24, 2019 13:14:27 IST