I’m not trying to diminish Avatar‘s truly awesome impact, but a little perspective can’t hurt. Yes, James Cameron has the two highest-grossing films of all-time. But in terms of tickets sold — arguably a better reflection of popularity — Titanic and Avatar rank 6th and 26th. Compare that to Steven Spielberg’s resume, which includes No. 4 (E.T.), No. 7 (Jaws), No. 16 (Raiders of the Lost Ark, and No. 17 (Jurassic Park). And don’t get me started on this country’s unrivaled affection for No. 1 Gone With the Wind, which played to packed houses for years.
Comparing the success of blockbusters from different Hollywood eras is a complex and perhaps futile assignment, due to new revenue streams, international markets, etc., etc. But it’s still worth noting that films of yesteryear were every bit the pop-cultural phenomena as today’s Avatar or The Dark Knight, if not more so. And from a bottom-line point of view, forgettaboutit. Star Wars grossed $461 million stateside; E.T. checked out with $435 million. Both films were made for less than $12 million each. No matter Avatar‘s eventual tally, those rates of return will probably never be equaled by a studio film.
Do you find these comparisons and debates as fascinating as I do, or am I simply grasping at straws to defend the blockbusters of my youth?