The Highest Grossing Films Of All Time - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Highest Grossing Films Of All Time

As Endgame topples Avatar to become the world's highest grossing film (not adjusted for inflation), we look back in the history of cinema at other movies that have reached that milestone.

Just as we did in our look at the most expensive films ever made, we begin our journey 100 years ago at the height of the silent era of cinema.

Note: The adjusted for inflation figures are calculated at year end 2018, unless otherwise mentioned.

First Film To Earn $1 Million
1915's The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is an American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The film chronicles the relationship of two families in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era over the course of several years: the pro-Union Northern Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy Southern Camerons. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth is dramatised.

Often cited as one of the landmarks of film history (indeed, in 1992 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry) The Birth of a Nation was highly controversial for its portrayal of black men (some played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatised here) as a heroic force. It's the kind of film Trump probably has playing on a loop.

The exact box office gross is not known, and was long subject to exaggeration. Griffith's own records put worldwide investor earnings from the film at $5.2 million as of 1919, which was reported as being approximately 10% of the gross earnings. This would certainly tally with trade paper Variety, which for years had the gross box office take listed as $50 million, but in 1977 they repudiated the claim and revised the estimate down to just $5 million, which seems a strangely low figure being that the film was a huge hit, playing in some theatres for almost a year. It's most likely that The Birth of a Nation generated somewhere between $50–100 million in box office receipts.

First Film To Earn Over $100 Million
The 1937 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a critical and commercial success, and with international earnings of $8 million during its initial release briefly assumed the record of highest grossing sound film at the time. The popularity of the film has led to it being re-released theatrically many times, until its home video release in the 1990s. Not only is it the first film to reach the $100 million mark but, thanks to all those re-releases, it went on to gross, to date, $418 million from it's meager $1.49 million budget.

First Film To Earn Over $200 Million
The musical genre had been the most popular type of film with audiences for about a decade, after all it was a great way to showcase the newfangled talking pictures, but the outbreak of World War II cinema saw war-themed films dominate, starting with Gone with the Wind in 1939.

Gone With The Wind is, when adjusted for inflation, the highest grossing film of all time. Currently sitting at over $3.7 billion, meaning the epic American Civil War romance film will likely hold the top spot forever. But frankly my dear, even unadjusted it still made a damn good amount of cash. At $390 million worldwide it toppled that $200 figure almost in domestic box office alone ($198 million at the U.S. box office) and it stayed the highest grossing film for 25 years, only toppled by the combined total accumulated by one of those re-releases for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

First Film To Earn Over $500 Million
After the Second World War had ended, audience tastes shifted once again and films like Samson and Delilah (1949) saw the beginning of a trend of increasingly expensive historical dramas set during Ancient Rome/biblical times. Throughout the 1950s, as cinema competed with television for audiences, Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and Spartacus all becoming the highest-grossing film of the year during initial release, before the genre started to wane after several high-profile failures.

The success of White Christmas and South Pacific in the 1950s foreshadowed the comeback of the musical in the 1960s with West Side Story, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Funny Girl all among the top films of the decade. The musical had waned again and the late 1960s/early 1970s saw a shift towards more serious and high concept films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, The French Connection and The Sting.

In 1977 everything changed again. If you went to the cinema it was likely a case of Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars. Gimme those Star Wars, don't let them end! The cooky sci-fi fantasy genre movie, which arrived with little fanfare, turned the world of cinema upside down and, along with the likes of Jaws and Superman, ushered in a new era of blockbusters. It took a mighty $775 million at the box office, from an $11 million production budget.

And nobody ever heard of it again!!

First Film To Earn Over $1 Billion
On March 1, 1998, Titanic became the first movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide. And it did it in just 74 days of release. Jurassic Park, released in 1993, would actually also reach that milestone, making $1.029 billion, but it did it thanks to a re-release that occurred after Titanic had already hit the mark.

James Cameron's story of the 'unsinkable' ship and it's doomed 1912 maiden voyage went on to gross over $2 billion, thanks to a later re-release, and today holds the title of the third highest grossing film of all time. Ahead of it, in second place is...

First Film To Earn Over $2 Billion
In the 12 years after Titanic; Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and The Dark Knight would all just make it past the $1 billion barrier, but none of them troubled James Cameron's disaster epic as the highest grossing of them, The Return of the King, just topped $1.1 billion during release. Then, in 2009, Cameron sprinkled his Camerodian magic once again and hit the jackpot with Avatar.

Avatar benefited strongly from the advent of new 3D technology, and with it's inflated ticket price it went on to gross $2.789 million, became the newest highest grossing picture of all time and ushered in a new era of migraine inducing blockbusters for cinema goers worldwide.

A re-release of Titanic, to co-inside with the 100th anniversary of the ship sinking, pushed Titanic above the $2 billion barrier. Making James Cameron the most successful director of all time, if you're judging on purely financial returns that is.

I always understood the success of Titanic. It seems everybody has at least a smidgen of curiosity, or some morbid fascination about the sinking of the ship, and the love story Cameron wove into the tale helped it appeal to a much wider audience, but I've never really got Avatar. It's always baffled me how it has made just that much money. I know it has its fans, but take away the 3D and all you're left with is, in all honesty, a fairly average genre movie. I suspect none of its 27 sequels which Cameron seems to be working on simultaneously will perform anywhere near as well as the original. But, what do I know? It did extremely well, it remained in cinemas for months, had countless re-releases, and it held the title of highest grossing film of all time for a decade, until...

The Highest Grossing Film Of All Time
Week ending July 21st 2019, Avengers: Endgame took the title from Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time. What's most impressive is it did it within three months of release. The culmination of 22 superhero movies, spanning 11 years of release, Avengers: Endgame has been a cinematic masterpiece. You'd be hard pushed to find a negative review out there, which is no mean feat considering there are so many different players to juggle on screen, and so many different storylines to interweave. It's current take is $2.79 billion and rising, although with an upcoming home video release that's not likely to rise that much more.

Still, congratulations to Marvel and everyone involved both in front and behind the camera for taking the title of highest grossing movie of all time.

But where does Avengers: Endgame come if we adjust all the figures for inflation...

The Highest Grossing Films Of All Time (adjusted for inflation)
  • 10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - $2.215 billion
  • 9.Doctor Zhivago - $2.246 billion
  • 8.The Ten Commandments - $2.370 billion
  • 7. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial - $2.573 billion
  • 6. The Sound of Music - $2.564 billion
  • 5. Avengers:Endgame - $2.79 billion
  • 4. Star Wars - $3.061 billion
  • 3. Titanic - $3.099 billion
  • 2. Avatar - $3.273 billion
  • 1. Gone With The Wind - $3.728 billion
So, adjusted for inflation, Avengers: Endgame has some way to go, sitting in fifth place. As mentioned before, Gone With The Wind takes the crown and, as inflation's never going to make that number go any way but up, will likely hold first place forever. Unless, of course, the world goes ga-ga over Avatar 2!

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