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The Literary Exhibitionist
Titanic vs. Gone with the Wind
king of the world

"I'm just pretending to be King of the Wooooooooorrrllld!"

Shobhit and I have an ongoing argument over which is truly the biggest movie of all time: Titanic (his belief) or Gone with the Wind (my belief). This is a difficult argument to engage in, considering all the different ways this can be determined: adjusted dollars versus unadjusted dollars; domestic versus worldwide, etc.

Well: thank God for Box Office Mojo.

Box Office Mojo has a plethora of all-time lists: All Time Domestic; All Time Worldwide; All Time Adjusted for Inflation. Unfortunately, in order to see the third list, you have to be a paid member -- which, naturally, I am! Even better, when I am logged in as a member, most of these lists provide an inflation "adjuster," so I can show what the dollar values are in the dollars of any given year. It can even be altered to show the specific number of tickets sold!

-- Ah, but there is a catch. For some reason, that adjuster is not on the worldwide list. Furthermore, the "adjusted for inflation" list shows only domestic grosses, not worldwide. Both of these things are major monkey wrenches thrown into Shobhit's and my argument.

You see, I am always very quick to tell Shobhit that, adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind, even after all these years, still remains the biggest movie of all time. He is quick to note two very specific things: #1, that list to which I refer is in terms of U.S. ticket sales only; and #2, Gone with the Wind was much more geared specifically to American audiences than Titanic was, as Titanic earned the majority of its revenues overseas.

It occurred to me today, though, that there was a way to figure this out. Well, sort of, anyway.

Let's look at the Worldwide grosses for each film, and then adjust those amounts for inflation. I figured there was a place online that would help me do that, and there is. So, without further ado:

Gone with the Wind (currently #83 when not adjusted for inflation)

Domestic gross: $198.7 million (49.6%)
International gross: $201.5 million (50.4%)
Total worldwide gross: $400.2 million

Total worldwide gross converting 1939 dollars to 2006 dollars: $5,682,810,857.


Domestic gross: $600.8 million (32.6%)
International gross: $1,244.2 million (67.4%)
Total worldwide gross: $1,845 million

Total worldwide gross converting 1997 dollars to 2006 dollars: $2,292,401,703


And by how much, you ask? Well, in adjusted dollars, Gone with the Wind's box office take is 2.48 times the amount of Titanic's!

It really doesn't matter: U.S. box office or worldwide, when ticket prices are adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind remains the most popular movie ever made.

Now, Shobhit still likes to bring up silly details, which in his mind mean that I can never truly win this argument. For example: the price of a movie ticket in India is extraordinarily cheaper than it is in the U.S., with a totally incongruent purchasing power parity, and thus not only are the actual ticket sales not necessarily indicated by the official box office tally, but it makes an accurate comparison to a far more America-centric movie from 1939 practically impossible.

Not only that, but he's really bent on how extremely successful Titanic was overseas compared to how successful Gone with the Wind could possibly have been overseas.

And I'll even play devil's advocate with myself and add another argument that he has yet to think of: that worldwide gross includes all grosses, including subsequent re-releases -- which means converting all of those grosses to 2006 dollars from 1936 dollars is not accurate either.

But I have counter-arguments to all of these points.

First of all, even though the difference is far smaller than that of Titanic, Gone with the Wind itself also earned more overseas than it did domestically. Granted, it only earned 0.8% more overseas than it did at home, but it's still indicative of an extremely pertinent fact: America was not that film's only audience, much as Shobhit insists on constantly suggesting.

Therefore, his "purchasing power parity" argument is nearly as applicable to Gone with the Wind as it is to Titanic. Certainly plenty of people purchased tickets overseas for that movie too, which were far cheaper than they would have been in the United States.

As for the new point I brought up myself, that there's no clean way to adjust for inflation for a film that has seen re-releases for decades after its release, I submit that it makes no difference. Why? Not just because by far the majority of the box office take would still have been from 1939, but because the difference between those two figures is so huge. Given that adjusting Gone with the Wind's grosses from 1939 dollars to 2006 dollars makes that movie's take two and a half times the take of Titanic in 2006 dollars, I absolutely do not believe that re-adjusting for inflation with each subsequent re-release of the film would narrow the gap enough for Titanic to believably become the most popular movie of all time.

There is also the argument that, in 1939, there weren't nearly as many other movies playing for people to choose from. I say to that: so what? It doesn't change the facts of the matter. After all, this was an adaptation of the biggest-selling novel ever written. I think that even if there were more other movies playing in theatres, everyone still would have been seeing Gone with the Wind.

Shobhit, of course, is just hell-bent on insisting Titanic is truly the biggest movie of all time because he personally loves it so much. I, on the other hand, am hell-bent on looking at the comparisons logically. Well, and proving him wrong.

I think the fact that there have been decades of re-releases of Gone with the Wind -- I'm telling you, it's the most beloved movie ever! -- is very telling. It's been 10 years now since Titanic first came out, and when was it ever re-released? Um . . . can we say, never? It's not likely to in the future, either. That movie had its moment, when it exploded, but it will not nor will it ever rise again. Hell, even Jurassic Park got a second run a year after it was first released.

And Titanic won't rise again in any other country either. Other countries have their own nearly universally beloved movies, and they are virtually always referred to as that country's equivalent to Gone with the Wind. People refer to "the French Gone with the Wind" (that would be Children of Paradise), they don't say "the French Titanic." No county has its own Titanic -- because, really, Titanic was everybody's. I'll grant that. But it was never bigger than Gone with the Wind, not in the United States and not worldwide, and it was certainly never bigger than any other country's own equivalent to Gone with the Wind.

The hard truth of the matter is, by far the biggest reason Titanic is regarded as "the biggest movie of all time" is simply because inflation itself afforded the movie a deceptive advantage. But in terms of permeating the culture for decades to come, in terms of influencing movies that came after it, and in terms of simple shelf life, Titanic could not now, nor has it ever been able, nor will it ever be able to stack up to Gone with the Wind.

. . . So there!

(Don't be disappointed, Shobhit -- just remember . . .

tomorrow is another day)



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i_count_crows From: i_count_crows Date: April 11th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ugh..."Titanic" is utter tripe...

Did I ever tell you about watching that movie and me in a pathetic girl moment, hoping that Jack was still alive in artic waters without a survival suit and me making the mistake of saying that to pragmatic Walt? His response was to ask if I knew why it was he was still up there, holding her hand. I did not, so he proceeded to explain it to me: he was frozen to her. And so he was. And then she moved, and Jack sunk, and the magic was gone. Gone, gone gone (much like the wind)....

Gone with the Wind (an infinitely superior movie!)
machupicchu From: machupicchu Date: April 11th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, you have told me about that before.

And I don't hate Titanic, per se; I just think it has a terrible, terrible script -- at least in terms of, you know, virtually any of its wooden dialogue. I still enjoy it, though -- especially the hour of it when the ship sinks. That's some awesome shit.

But as storytelling goes, you're right -- Gone wit the Wind is infinitely superior. Clearly, many people around the world agree!
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