"Avengers: Endgame" became the highest-grossing film of all time on July 21, when Disney announced that the movie had pulled in $2.79 billion at the global box office. But the title of the highest-grossing film is a deceptive one -- it doesn't take into account the changing prices of movie theater tickets or the general effect of economic inflation. CNBC enlisted Comscore, a media analytics company, to calculate the top 10 highest-grossing films in the U.S. when ticket price changes and inflation are taken into account.
Because of the wide variations in inflation rates between currencies, Comscore analysts focused only on ticket sales in the United States, where "Endgame" made $854 million according to BoxOfficeMojo. They found the average ticket price for the year a film was released and divided that into the film's domestic gross to find the estimated number of tickets the film sold, then multiplied the estimated number of tickets by the average price of a ticket in 2019 ($9.01, according to CNBC). Comscore also included any times that the film was re-released in the adjusted domestic gross.
At an $854 million domestic gross, "Endgame" did not even crack the top 10 when adjusted for inflation.
Here are the top domestic earners:
RKO Radio Pictures
10. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1939)
Estimated admissions: 109,000,000
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $184,925,486
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $982,090,000
Disney’s first animated feature has been rereleased at least three times since its debut in 1937 according to CNBC, selling around 109 million tickets in total. “Snow White” made more in its 1983, 1987 and 1993 releases than it did in its initial run, and when all of those are adjusted for today’s ticket price, the movie would have made just under $1 billion in the U.S.
9. "The Exorcist" (1973)
Estimated admissions: 116,532,505
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $232,906,145
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,049,957,870
Audiences may have fainted, vomited and cried in the theater when “The Exorcist” debuted in 1973, but that didn’t stop them from buying tickets. William Friedkin’s groundbreaking horror film made the bulk of its money during its initial release, according to CNBC, and was brought to theaters again in 2000 and 2010 with extended scenes. All told, the movie sold an estimated 116.5 million tickets, which equates to around $1.04 billion.
8. "Doctor Zhivago" (1965)
Estimated admissions: 124,612,132
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $112,150,919
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,122,755,309
“Doctor Zhivago” earned $112.1 million during its 1965 theatrical run, selling around 124.6 million tickets. The romantic drama, based on a 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak, picked up five Academy Awards, and would have brought in around $1.12 billion at today’s ticket prices.
7. "Jaws" (1975)
Estimated admissions: 128,078,818
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $260,000,000
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,153,990,148
Often referred to as the first summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” debuted in 1975, selling around 128 million tickets and ruining an untold number of beach vacations. That’s equivalent to $1.15 billion at today’s ticket prices.
6. "The Ten Commandments" (1956)
Estimated admissions: 131,000,000
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $65,500,000
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,180,310,000
Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic sold an estimated 131 million tickets during its 1956 run, earning $65.5 million. When adjusted for inflation, the Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner vehicle would have earned $1.18 billion at the box office, even with its 3-hour-and-40-minute runtime.
5. "Titanic" (1997)
Estimated admissions: 143,501,591
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $658,672,302
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,292,949,334
Even without adjustments for inflation, James Cameron’s high-seas romance sits just below “Avengers: Infinity War” as the sixth highest-grossing film at the domestic box office and just under “Avatar” as the third highest-grossing film globally. The film has been in theaters three times -- an initial run, a 3D rerelease and a 20th anniversary rerelease -- selling about 143.5 million tickets in total. By today's ticket prices, the movie would have earned around $1.29 billion.
4. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
Estimated admissions: 147,950,537
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $434,974,579
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,333,034,339
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi adventure has brought in $434.9 million since it was first released in 1982. It sold about 147.9 million tickets over the course of three releases, with two rereleases in 1985 and 2002, which equates to around $1.33 billion using today’s average ticket price. The movie’s effect on Reese’s Pieces sales remains in dispute, though.
Twentieth Century Fox
3. "The Sound of Music" (1965)
Estimated admissions: 157,218,258
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $159,509,250
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,416,536,505
The hiiills are alive...with the sound of 157 million tickets…
This musical was released twice in theaters, first in 1965 and again in 2018, selling the majority of its tickets in the initial run and making $158.8 million in the U.S. Adjusted for today’s ticket prices, that’s $1.41 billion.
Twentieth Century Fox
2. "Star Wars" (1977)
Estimated admissions: 178,119,595
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $460,998,007
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,604,857,551
The original “Star Wars” (“Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope” for the sticklers in the audience) has been rereleased in theaters at least twice since it first wowed audiences in 1977, earning $460.9 million in the United States. It sold an estimated 178.1 million tickets, which comes out around $1.6 billion in modern box office terms.
1. "Gone with the Wind" (1939)
Estimated admissions: 201,068,305
Non-adjusted domestic gross: $203,078,988
Estimated domestic adjusted gross: $1,811,625,428
1939’s Civil War-era romance has been rereleased at least seven times since its premiere, according to Comscore, selling around 201 million tickets, which equates to about $1.81 billion in modern ticket prices. That leaves Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s Southern drama a theoretical billion dollars ahead of the latest Marvel flick’s domestic gross.