Is the argument around “how much money a movie has made” valid when it comes to arguing a film’s merits?
For years upon years, from the highest echelons to friend debates in canteens, the idea that a movie’s success should be (in part) tied to its box office takings has been mooted and argued. Now, this can be true from a certain point of view – maybe a film is expected to top $1billion worldwide and cracks it, and this would clearly rank as a success. Similarly, a movie not expected to rake in the cash yet ends up rolling in it like a Kardashian in a cosmetic surgery clinic would be deemed a gem by the studios.
However, does that signify a good movie? Could it be due to clever social media marketing? Maybe there’s controversy surrounding the production? A posthumous appearance? In some cases, box office takings can be used as an argument for a movie’s quality, but before anything else, let’s have a look at the worldwide Top 20* (NOT adjusted for inflation)
1 - Avatar : $2,788,000,000
2 - Titanic : $2,186,800,000
3 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens : $2,068,200,000
4 - Jurassic World : $1,670,400,000
5 - Marvel's The Avengers : $1,518,800,000
6 - Furious 7 : $1,516,000,000
7 - Avengers: Age of Ultron : $1,405,400,000
8 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 : $1,341,500,000
9 - Frozen : $1,276,500,000
10 - Iron Man 3 : $1,214,800,000
11 - Minions : $1,159,400,000
12 - Captain America: Civil War : $1,153,300,000
13 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon : $1,123,800,000
14 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King : $1,119,900,000
15 - Skyfall : $1,108,600,000
16 - Transformers: Age of Extinction : $1,104,100,000
17 - The Dark Knight Rises : $1,084,900,000
18 - Toy Story 3 : $1,067,000,000
19 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest : $1,066,200,000
20 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story : $1,055,200,000
We all know that film tastes are subjective, therefore this list could be absolutely 100% for some people.
In the all time worldwide top 20 is Furious 7, Minions, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, a glut of superhero offerings and TWO TRANSFORMERS MOVIES. In the annals of movie history, and the rundown of greatest movies of all time – these aren’t anywhere near it. The superhero movies bring the spectacle, spandex and a raft of fabulous effects and visuals, so at least they’re a feast for the eyes, as for the others mentioned I can’t really think of any redeeming arguments.
Of course, none of this is saying no one is allowed to like the above picks, so none of that please.
Would Avatar be the number one all time grossing flick had it not been for the hurricane surrounding the 3D effects and animation? Nope. Would Star Wars: The Force Awakens be at number three had it not been for the immense hype surrounding the sequel to 1983’s Return of the Jedi? Maybe not.
Some movies on that list I believe warrant their place in the hallowed listing. Firstly, Titanic. Whilst I wasn’t a massive fan of the lovey aspect of the movie (90% of it), the final spectacle once the doomed liner collides with that murdering iceberg is haunting – and being the first big budget version of the movie, coupled with the finding of the actual Titanic and the public interest surrounding the event leaves me in no flap that it takes the number two spot. At the time, the visuals were something else, and the lead performances are very good indeed. Plus, they also had THAT song backing it all over the airwaves.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King were the final acts in critically acclaimed sagas and provided the big payoffs that fans and the casual audiences were clamouring for. LOTR, especially, provided draw-dropping effects and visuals coupled with an emotionally charged story and bagged numerous Academy Awards (that’s another argument of quality for another day...)
As mentioned, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was potentially the most hyped movie of all time, and J.J. Abrams captured the zeitgeist of the original times and delivered a fine continuation to the saga – a big question is would it have made as much had the prequel trilogy been better received? Alternatively if the prequels never existed? Hyperbole Express is rolling.
Another case is sometimes a movie comes along and doesn’t immediately hit, then something happens, the audience decide to Let It Go and we get the Frozen phenomenon (which shows no signs of letting up). A movie that resonated with kids and adults alike, the movie became an unlikely monster hit and the inevitable sequel is in the works.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction. Could these movies ever be classed as greats due to having taken SO MUCH MONEY? How many ways are there to say no?
Now, if you compare the above list to the US domestic box office adjusted for inflation, and see what titles make up the numbers:
1 - Gone with the Wind : $1,747,686,000
2 - Star Wars : $1,540,734,500
3 - The Sound of Music : $1,231,893,000
4 - E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial : $1,227,040,000
5 - Titanic : $1,171,854,200
6 - The Ten Commandments : $1,133,150,000
7 - Jaws : $1,107,881,800
8 - Doctor Zhivago : $1,073,771,700
9 - The Exorcist : $956,682,800
10 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs : $942,850,000
11 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens : $935,195,600
12 - 101 Dalmatians (1961) : $864,284,200
13 - The Empire Strikes Back : $849,262,500
14 - Ben-Hur (1959) : $847,700,000
15 - Avatar : $841,258,100
16 - Return of the Jedi : $813,613,900
17 - Jurassic Park : $795,124,900
18 - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace : $781,199,400
19 - The Lion King : $771,116,600
20 - The Sting : $771,085,700
Believe me, I am not being a movie snob…but this adjusted list wipes the floor with the unadjusted offering (yes yes, I can see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on the list too, every list needs a few duffers)
Among the list sit bona fide classics Gone With The Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Jaws, The Exorcist, Ben-Hur (the 1959 version, thankfully) and The Lion King, amongst a bundle of other fine flicks. To me, this list is far superior in most aspects – story telling, acting, original moments, groundbreaking elements and just damn fine movies. Yet, in a worldwide list where do these classics reside? I shall tell you – a lot lower (bar Titanic, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar)
So, should box office takings be used as a barometer of a movie’s quality? For me, the answer is no, not really. Some very ordinary movies (and some downright crap) have made a ton of money whereas The Shawshank Redemption took $58,500,000 worldwide – and I’d watch that every time over Transformers: Age of Extinction that’s for sure.
Let’s not forget there’s a small thing studios like to call “breaking even” – yep, they like to make their money back and then some. Ben Hur lost a reported $120m after raking in less than $100m worldwide. The BFG dropped almost $100m from Disney’s purse, with Ghostbusters (2016), Assassin’s Creed and Deepwater Horizon all providing big money losses to their studios – studios who probably believed their product had the quality to break even. Then there are cases such as 47 Ronin and The 13th Warrior…
As always, the topic of film is indeed subjective, and if you don’t agree with what I’ve rambled, then that’s cool, I’d love to hear your thoughts on movie quality in relation to box office takings. Remember, every one’s opinion is valid!
Now, I’m off to watch Furious 7.
* Figures correct as of 30/03/2017
*Figures courtesy of
Make it rain, Optimus
30th March 2017