Friday, July 02, 2004

The Inflation of Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2 made box office records (at number 4), raking in $40.5 million dollars on Wednesday (of which I’m proud to say I was a part of). But the industry’s approach to ranking films is meaningless for the simple reason they ignore a big part of economics: inflation.

It is exciting to keep reporting record-breaking numbers, each reaching new and greater heights, which is probably why no one ever adjusts for inflation. Luckily for us, did some of that for us. According to “mainstream” numbers, the ranking for the top five highest grossing films at the box office (1977 and after) is as follows:

1 [$600,788,188] Titanic (1997)
2 [$460,998,007] Star Wars (1977)
3 [$431,197,000] ET (1982)
4 [$431,088,297] Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
5 [$403,706,375] Spider-Man (2002)

I’m happy to report that, after we adjust for inflation, a story about a kid dying at sea no longer reigns supreme:

1 [$981,848,794] Star Wars (1977)
2 [$806,467,408] ET (1982)
3 [$774,918,846] Titanic (1997)
4 [$573,323,886] The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
5 [$560,754,164] The Return of the Jedi (1983)

And that’s not even adjusting for population growth. If the goal is to measure a film’s success by the number of tickets sold, shouldn’t we include the change in the number of people to buy tickets? The world population estimate (the numbers above are international box office) grew by 33.65% from 1977 to 2004. Obviously, using this number isn’t very useful (Zimbabweans are less likely to see the newest release than Canadians) but it does indicate that it’s not a simple matter of inflation and it certainly isn’t a matter of nominal dollars.

No comments: