Written By: Kate Raddatz

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 broke box office records opening weekend—the film sold more tickets in a single day than any other film in history. But ticket sales don’t count when it comes to naming the most “successful” movies of all time. It’s all about the money.

Mary Thueringer from St. Louis Park wants to know why is movie’s success measured by how much money the movie grosses?

“The box office revenue is tied directly to the number of tickets sold,” said Marcus Theatres Communications and Marketing Manager Carlo Patrick. “[Sales] have been a constant measurement of the success of a movie for almost as long as there have been movies and theaters,” he said.

Each week Variety magazine publishes the top grossing films at the box office. Those numbers are then recorded to keep track of the top grossing, most successful movies of all time.

But here’s a real problem with using that metric to compare movies overtime.

A movie opening in North America at the box office today could gross $170 million, while a movie 20 years ago would have a hard chance of beating that record as prices for theater tickets have gone up over the years.

“You can’t go by money,” said Kevin Hynes on Facebook. “Titanic was seen multiple times by people but back then it was $5. I could’ve spent $25 seeing that five times or spend $27 seeing Captain America twice in 3D this weekend.”

“Sometimes you see the top movies adjusted for inflation,” Patrick said.

But ticket prices haven’t necessarily followed the inflation rate, so it’s not a perfect comparison.

Why not just simplify it and just go by tickets — like we do at Twins and Vikings games? Then movie studios wouldn’t get to advertise they’ve set a new box office record, all the time.

“Even if the movie is being judged by sales, that shows that the movie has lots of interest, and if people see it more than once it means it was a good movie to them,” Amanda Morrison said.

Patrick said while theaters usually report accurate sales reports for movies, errors do occur.

“Mistakes happen,” he said. “Sometimes the numbers are not reported accurately on Sundays -— they’re often estimated since it’s often based on Friday and Saturday so they’ll try to use mathematical formulas and historical data.”

Other entertainment venues like sports games and concerts tally up the number of tickets sold, but these special events don’t offer many alternatives, while films are a dime a dozen these days. Movies go by money made because it tells how worth the audience felt it was to go see it instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD or watching it online.

The bottom line is for any form of entertainment, both the money and the tickets are important.

“They’re pretty much one in the same -— a movie’s probably sold the most tickets if it’s made the most money.”

  1. Mary Sampson says:

    I have a British Film Institute book from several years ago called Ultimate Film which ranks the 100 top ticket-selling films in the British domestic market. Using that criterion, some films from the 1940s are still in the top 10 alongside more recent blockbusters like Titanic. (I realize though that in the US at least, release patterns were different before 1970 than afterward and a film may have had a much longer life in theaters than it does today)