Why Avatar isn't REALLY the box-office champ

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

We've been writing a lot about how James Cameron's Avatar has been breaking all kinds of box-office records and that it is now the highest-grossing film of all time in terms of dollar receipts, now at more than $2 billion.

But y'all have noted—and we've tried to be mindful of it as well—that the number comes with a bunch of caveats: The sci-fi epic's take doesn't take into account inflation, higher ticket prices (especially for 3-D theaters), foreign currency fluctuations, etc.

So is Avatar really all that when you factor in those elements? The Los Angeles Times tried to get at the answer.

After all, if we were writing about the all-time box-office champ in terms of actual ticket admissions, it would still be "Gone With the Wind," David O. Selznick's 1939 sweeping historical romance that has riveted moviegoers for generations. If you put together an all-time box-office chart, adjusted for inflation, "Gone With the Wind" remains the undefeated, unrivaled champion, having earned an astounding $1.45 billion in ticket sales over the years. As box-office guru, Hollywood.com's Paul Dergarabedian, told me yesterday: "You never want to say never, but that's a record that I don't think will ever be broken."

In an adjusted for inflation all-time box-office Top 10 (compiled by Dergarabedian), "Gone With the Wind" is the easy winner, with George Lucas' 1977 "Star Wars" in the No. 2 slot, with $1.26 billion in grosses, followed by 1965's "Sound of Music," 1982's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and 1956's "The Ten Commandments."

By that measure, Cameron's Titanic ranks sixth, with $955 million. Avatar doesn't even make the top 10.

The newspaper suggests switching to box-office charts that are based on attendance, not grosses, which would give us a more realistic portrait of how many people actually saw a film.

Do you agree?

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