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Tickets Sold, Not Gross Profit

When it comes to box office reporting, mainstream media often paints a picture of blockbuster success based on raw revenue numbers. Headlines from outlets like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline Hollywood, and Los Angeles Times, boast of record-breaking earnings and historic performances, hoping for a jaw-drop reaction from their readers. They paint a rather convenient picture, and a misleading one at that, and it’s as straight as a gay wedding. The reason for this deception is simple: box office reports tiptoe around inflation, blurring historic box office success and distorting the context of film performances from previous eras.

Dumbed-Down Reporting

To give the Devil his due, there’s an undeniable allure here in highlighting the BIG NUMBERS. Claiming that the latest Disney-branded superhero flick raked in $200 million on its opening weekend sounds mind-blowing. People talk, and Hollywood gets its buzz. Ah, those afterparties. These figures consistently hit the front page without any adjustment for inflation, creating a false equivalence between the earnings of today’s films and those of the past.

Inflation and Its Impact

Here’s how it works. Inflation erodes the purchasing power of money over time. A dollar today doesn’t have the same value as a dollar ten, twenty, or fifty years ago. The government prints and flushes that fresh, new paper money into the economy. People then suddenly have a few more Franklins in their purses and wallets, meaning more visits to the theater. But wait, what’s this? Theater chains raise their prices to compensate, meaning no one will feel that slight surge of wealth. When media outlets report box office figures in nominal terms—meaning the numbers are inflated—they ignore this critical factor for buzz. Don’t you dare pick up that calculator! Because of this, newer films appear to outperform older ones. But, in reality, the comparison is not apples-to-apples. They’d like you to think about apples, though, because they’re doing the thinking for you.

A Skewed Perspective

Consider the case of “Avengers: Endgame.” The climactic chapter in MARVEL’s historic saga, touted as the highest-grossing film of all time. The numbers were something like $2.798 billion in global box office receipts. While this is an extraordinary figure, it does not account for inflation. Far from it, in fact. In 2019, when the film released in theaters, ticket prices were $9.16, according to NATO (National Association of Theater Owners). When adjusting for inflation, George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), and even “Gone with the Wind” (1939) arguably hold stronger positions. Showcasing its monumental success at the time of its release, “Star Wars,” at $2.23 for the price of admission, would have grossed over $3 billion today. Meanwhile, in 1939, “Gone with the Wind” boasted $0.23 per pop. Damn.

The Misleading Narrative

No wonder the mainstream media wants to keep things like box office success stupidly inflated. There’s a whole ocean of truth out there they pretend is irrelevant because it’s old. By ignoring inflation, mainstream box office reporting (Box Office Mojo, Forbes, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, CNN Entertainment, IGN, Vulture, Collider, Yahoo Entertainment, The Guardian) perpetuates a narrative that today’s films are more successful than those of the past. Ah, the narrative. The truth is in the number of tickets sold. Like Gone with Wind, Star Wars sold more tickets than Avengers: Endgame. Fewer people saw Avatar: The Way of Water in 2024 than the droves of fanatical fans who stampeded into the theaters to see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star.

The echo-chamber reporting from the mainstream media not only distorts the historical success of older films but also creates unrealistic benchmarks for future movies. Studios put filmmakers are under constant pressure to break records, but these records are set on an uneven playing field.

The Cultural Implications

This skewed reporting also has negative cultural implications. Films that resonate deeply with audiences stand the test of time are often overshadowed by recent releases flaunting nominally higher earnings. This publishing strategy influences the industry’s focus, creating a strong, bull-headed drive to prioritize formulaic blockbusters over artistically sensitive and culturally significant storytelling.

Towards More Honest Reporting

For an accurate picture of box office performance, it is essential to adjust for inflation. This would provide a fair comparison across different eras, helping to appreciate the true scale of a film’s success. Media outlets should make it a standard practice to report both nominal and inflation-adjusted figures. This would enable audiences to understand the real impact of a film and celebrate cinematic achievements in a historical context.

Conclusion

The excitement of box office numbers should not come at the expense of accuracy and historical context. By failing to account for inflation, mainstream reporting misrepresents the success of films and contributes to a misleading narrative. It’s time for a shift towards more honest reporting with the focus on tickets sold, not gross profit. The rich history of cinema deserves respect, and the ticket buyer is entitled to the truthful accounting of cinema’s evolving landscape.