The movie industry has changed radically in the past few decades. When the industry began, people had to go to movie theaters to watch films. However, TV became an outlet for movies, and people could watch them in their homes for the first time. The next evolution was Blockbuster, the 9,000-location chain where people could rent movies. That gave way to mailed DVDs, which was the original foundation of Netflix. Also, Netflix pioneered streaming, which became commonplace as more and more people had broadband connections in their homes.
Movie success is still based on theater ticket sales. That may no longer be a good yardstick. The COVID-19 pandemic nearly shut down the industry. Streaming became the primary way people watched films. However, ticket sales continue to be the way that the highest-grossing films are determined.
To identify the top-grossing movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed gross box office revenue and estimated ticket sales for major motion pictures released in the United States as reported by The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Revenue is adjusted for inflation based on the value of the dollar in 2020.
Action and adventure films (including superhero movies) dominate the list of finalists. Romances, musicals, dramas and comedies also are represented in the mix. Films date back to the 1930s, with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) among the early high-grossing movies, having brought in over $1 billion when adjusted for inflation. Although “Avatar” (2009) is often referred to as the highest-grossing film ever, it is not at the top of the list when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation.
The highest-grossing movie of all time is the controversial Civil War movie “Gone With the Wind,” released in 1939. It is based on a novel, and today some of its content is considered racist. It starred among the greatest movie actors of all time, led by Clark Gable. The film’s inflation-adjusted box office gross is $1.9 billion, on estimated ticket sales of 202.3 million.