Can 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' beat 'Avatar' for the all-time box office title?

'Force' has passed 'Titanic' to become the second-highest-grossing film domestically (not adjusted for inflation). How does its cultural impact compare to past box office champions like 'The Sound of Music'?

David James/Disney/Lucasfilm/AP
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' stars John Boyega (l.) and Daisy Ridley (r.).

The Force seemingly can’t be stopped. 

The newest “Star Wars” film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” has now become the second-highest-grossing movie of all time, besting the 1997 James Cameron movie “Titanic.” “Force” has now grossed more than $740 million domestically, while “Titanic” grossed more than $658 million domestically. 

Experts are predicting “Force” will soon pass “Avatar,” which is the highest-grossing movie domestically of all time without adjusting for inflation. After all, “Avatar” grossed more than $760 million domestically over its entire run, while “Force” has done all this in just a little more than two weeks.

Whether “Force” can become the highest-grossing movie of all time internationally is another question, as it’s still behind several movies, including “Jurassic World” and “The Avengers.”

Like “Titanic” and “Avatar,” “Force” came out in December. The massive success of these movies shows that the end of the year, when families are all home and going to the movie theater together, can make a movie a champion.

Coming out in December can also make a movie a success in January. Traditionally, movie studios don’t release very many high-profile films at the beginning of the year. This lack of competition can keep a film like “Avatar,” which topped the box office through the month of January, scoring big numbers into the following year.

“Force” has obviously had a big cultural impact. A new “Star Wars” film always attracts interest and the hiring of an acclaimed director like J.J. Abrams as well as the return of original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill had fans hoping that the new movie could be a return to the glory days of the original 1970s and ‘80s trilogy. Early screenings brought positive reviews and word-of-mouth. 

But declaring a movie like “Avatar” the highest-grossing domestically of all time always comes with the caveat “without adjusting for inflation.” If you do adjust for inflation, how does “Force” compare to past champions?

It’s only at number 21 so far. Movies like “Gone with the Wind” (still the biggest-grossing movie) and “The Sound of Music” have still grossed more. By comparison, “Titanic” attracted more moviegoers, placing above both “Avatar” and “Force” on the adjusted-for-inflation list.

Films like “Gone” and “Music” obviously came out in different eras than our current culture. In 1939, for example, when “Gone” hit theaters, moviegoers couldn’t have dreamed of the many entertainment options we have today. Going to the movies was still an essential part of almost anyone’s life.

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