1/13/16 UPDATE: Since its release on December 18th, The Force Awakens has moved into 15th place in all time domestic tickets sold. This makes it the third most successful Star Wars film to date, behind 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
As you are undoubtedly aware, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released last week, and beyond easily topping the box office, it also became online ticket retailer Fandango’s all-time best selling film. According to the site, by the time the new Star Wars film was released last Thursday, it had already sold more tickets than any other title during those titles’ entire theatrical run. While that feat is certainly impressive (especially since most of the tickets were sold before the film was even released), I was curious as to how The Force Awakens stacked up against the films with the most tickets sold of all time. As of Sunday, 12/20/15, The Force Awakens has sold an estimated 28.9 million tickets (box office total = $238 million divided by average ticket price of $8.25) in the USA. If it did not sell another single ticket, this would not place the film in the top 200 movies by tickets sold.
In the following graph I created in Tableau, I illustrate where the Force Awakens ranks so far against the top two hundred films of all time based on estimated number of tickets sold. Using the filter to the right of the graph, you can choose to view only films that have been released once, or, like the top ranking film here, Gone with the Wind, films that have been released multiple times over the years.
Note that I am not looking at the most financially successful films of all time, although the two (tickets and revenue) obviously usually go hand in hand. Beyond the fact that the impetus behind this post was strictly raw number of tickets sold, I chose not to compare the most financially successful films of all time for a few reasons. The “highest grossing film of all time” seems to change every few years. There are obviously numerous reasons for this, e.g., inflation, population always increasing, etc. This speaks to what we call “normalizing data,” or colloquially, making an apples to apples comparison. In 2009, after its box office run, Avatar was hailed as the most financially successful movie of all time, which is true. As many pointed out, however, when older movies’ revenue was adjusted for inflation (thus making an apples to apples comparison), Avatar slipped to the 14th most financially successful movie of all time. This is a good example of why you should always be aware of whether you are working with normalized data or not.
As data comes in regarding The Force Awakens’ performance, I will be updating the graph accordingly, so check back in order to gauge the film’s progress.
Data source: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm?sort=rank&order=ASC&adjust_yr=1&p=.htm