THE FORCE AWAKENS Far From Most Tickets Sold

by on January 7, 2016

in Entertainment

Star Wars The Force Awakens, box office number magic

Disney is doing exactly what it wanted. It took the most beloved film franchise, shoved it in the most theaters ever and the film has gone on to destroy box office records and crawled past Avatar to take the number one spot in domestic movie ticket sales. All that, despite barely selling 90% of the number of tickets that Avatar did! And according to my personal preference of ranking movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA) is only 21st and has a long ways to go before it even thinks about touching the top spot of that particular list.

No, I have not been drinking at “The Cantina.” Read on and see what I mean.

The latest headlines out there are:

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens Becomes Highest-Grossing North American Film Ever”

or

“‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Passes ‘Avatar’ to Become Biggest Movie of All-Time”

Or has it?

If you don’t count what inflation does to the price of things, then this conversation is over.  But what if we were to ponder the rate of inflation or for that matter, a pure demographic of number of tickets sold? What’s impressive about all this regardless, is that the film is still due to hit theaters in China on January 9th. (Cripes, no wonder there are so many video pirates out there!)

And right now, looking at unadjusted dollar numbers, TFA ranks as the top dog with films such as

2     Avatar (Fox)
3     Titanic (Par)
4     Jurassic World (Uni)
5     Marvel’s The Avengers (BV)
6     The Dark Knight (WB)
7     Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Fox)
8     Star Wars (Fox)
9     Avengers: Age of Ultron (BV)
10     The Dark Knight Rises (WB)

(Bruce Almighty sits at the 100th slot on this list…)

Don’t forget that we can probably expect re-releases of TFA…  I mean A New Hope has been “re-released” to theaters five times so far.

We also have to remember (or not) that for a movie in this era to break “box office records,” they truly do not have to sell as many tickets as movies in previous years have had to. But to say a movie is setting records is an awesome marketing spin if I do say so myself.

First thing I looked at was that while comparing TFA to Avatar, the average movie ticket price in 2015 was $8.34. The average price of a ticket when Avatar was out was $7.50. (I’m using a tool over on Box Office Mojo)

Avatar (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray/ DVD Combo Pack)

As you can see, technically, TFA does not need to sell as many tickets as Avatar did to break its box office record. In fact, at the time of this report, TFA only sold ~88 million tickets to bust the monetary BO record that Avatar set back in its day, but that record was set by Avatar after it sold ~97 million movie tickets.

I have always found this aspect of the box office reporting facet interesting. But the media has a job to do, and that is to sell the fantastic and pitch things as best they can to drum up their own ratings and the businesses who advertise with them.

It is also not surprising that any modern-day movie can set any kind of financially based record, considering we now have large and specially formatted movies whose ticket prices are 150% that of 2D ticket prices.

Speaking of 3D ticket prices, there’s also the tactic that Disney and other distributors do where they set up for a film’s release so that over 60% of screenings in any one day are 3D, so fans are being forced (or not) to spend that much more money to see a movie in larger formats, depending on their schedules.  That definitely helps set records not to mention, if we were to ponder what the numbers would be without the pricey overkill formats?

How Disney Made Millions Selling Fewer Tickets for ‘The Avengers?’

All Time Number Of Tickets Sold

But since I’m talking about number of tickets sold versus money spent, let’s look at tat top-10 domestic box-office winners list again, but this time with a different number next to them:

14     Avatar (Fox)
5     Titanic (Par)
24     Jurassic World (Uni)
29     Marvel’s The Avengers (BV)
31     The Dark Knight (WB)
17     Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Fox)
2     Star Wars (Fox)
89     Avengers: Age of Ultron (BV)
65     The Dark Knight Rises (WB)

WHAT are those funky numbers?

These numbers come from a chart that ranks films by the number of estimated movie tickets sold. To me, THAT is the telling tale of how good a movie was received, between its day and today. Inflation is removed when you count the number of butts in a seat! Period.

If you look at movies with the perspective of number of tickets sold, this top-10 performing movie list changes completely, with Gone with the Wind selling 202 million movie tickets…

1 Gone with the Wind MGM 202,044,600 1939^
2 Star Wars Fox 178,119,600 1977^
3 The Sound of Music Fox 142,415,400 1965
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. 141,854,300 1982^
5 Titanic Par. 135,474,500 1997^
6 The Ten Commandments Par. 131,000,000 1956
7 Jaws Uni. 128,078,800 1975
8 Doctor Zhivago MGM 124,135,500 1965
9 The Exorcist WB 110,599,200 1973^
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dis. 109,000,000 1937^
11 101 Dalmatians Dis. 99,917,300 1961^
12 The Empire Strikes Back Fox 98,180,600 1980^
13 Ben-Hur MGM 98,000,000 1959
14 Avatar Fox 97,255,300 2009^
15 Return of the Jedi Fox 94,059,400 1983^
16 Jurassic Park Uni. 91,922,000 1993^
17 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Fox 90,312,100 1999^
18 The Lion King BV 89,146,400 1994^
19 The Sting Uni. 89,142,900 1973
20 Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. 88,526,800 1981^
21 Star Wars: The Force Awakens BV 88,060,200 2015

The above chart comes from BoxOfficeMojo.

It’s obvious that Star Wars draws them out. Heck, the original 1977 film sits second for all-time number of movie tickets sold, and that’s cool. But for me to find the latest chapter of Star Wars, I had to extend this list down to the 21st slot, where TFA sits (at the time of this writing.).

I’m not knocking the reporting process of ignoring inflation-impacted ticket prices. It is what it is and if inflation were that critical of a factor, more movies would be setting records. Then again, in a thousand years, when another Friday the 13th comes out and tickets cost $50 a pop, these charts will be changing. Don’t laugh, today, in Japan, movie tickets cost $21 bucks!

Overseas Ticket Prices Help The Overseas Box Office Numbers!

But what I am seeing, seemingly, is that while fewer people are going to the movies these days, tickets prices have adjusted accordingly. Or is it the other way around? With prices going up, people have adjusted accordingly.

Before the two huge 2015 blockbusters of dinosaurs and the empire, movie ticket sales dipped 21% between summers. In fact in a 2014 poll, 57% of the respondents prefer waiting watching a film at home, where there will be no stranger sitting behind them with a mouth-full of popcorn sneezing. (Yes, that happened to me once.) Or where there are annoying aholes checking their tiny electronic leash (AKA, cell phone) during a movie.

And of late, (remember that marketing spin I spoke about earlier?), you might be seeing reports how the movie industry is doing much better this year than previous years, but from those numbers, roughly $2.6 billion in domestic ticket sales (over 20% of all of last year’s sales) came from only five movies.  Those films being,

Billions
Star Wars: The Force Awakens $0.76
Jurassic World $0.65
Avengers: Age of Ultron $0.46
Inside Out $0.36
Furious 7 $0.35

So don’t get too overly excited for the movie industry when you hear the “good news!”

But regardless, I’m not trying to trash the process or system, I just like pointing out that setting a present-day record, may not be all that there is to it. And as you, my consumer-minded readers, may be curious is seeing this other angle. You are not alone if you were thinking about this.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Paul Forcey January 8, 2016 at 9:28 am

I would love to know the profitability of those big 5 films at the end of the article.

Did furious 7 cost the same to make as inside out?

I wonder which made more $$

Although the line of Furious 7 dolls probably would not sell as well as the inside out stuff is.

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