|Scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens|
For many, today is a triumphant moment in pop culture. While it has broken almost every other record in its path, today is the day that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has officially become the highest grossing movie in the United States. While this seems impressive, add on the fact that this is the first time in 18 years where director James Cameron hasn't held this honor; first with Titanic in 1998 (the first film to gross a billion dollars), and then again with Avatar (the first film to gross two billion dollars) in 2010. While it still has a ways to go to beat the international box office, its status has at least been set as, and Steven Spielberg would agree based on his predictions, that this would be the biggest movie of all time.
To focus exclusively on numbers, The Force Awakens has (as of January 6, 2016) crossed the $750 million total that Avatar grossed in its entire run (plus additional rerelease). Speaking as the film isn't even a month old yet, this is an impressive honor that is both reflective of the film's popularity as well as the benefits of having increased ticket prices and surcharges. The only question now is how far things are likely to go. Will The Force Awakens become the first film to gross a billion dollars solely in America? Will the film be able to outdo Avatar internationally, which has yet to be beaten - but is getting very close?
While there's some hope that its status as a big juggernaut means that it will show up big at The Academy Awards, it pretty much has established itself as transcending criticism with its financial successes that put a daunting challenge for every Star Wars (and Avatar) sequel to come down the pike in the foreseeable future. The film is likely benefiting from over a decade's absence of the franchise in theaters and the praise that it's the best that they have done in close to 30 years.
However, there's another hurdle beyond modern numbers to consider. Next comes the challenge of films adjusted for inflation. With the massive hikes in ticket prices, it's hard for most audiences to notice older films that have done well. For instance, Gone With the Wind (released in 1939), grossed $189 million during its run. While not impressive today, the number is much higher when considering the inflation of ticket sales over the past 77 years. It remains the most successful film of all time by 2016 standards with $1.7 billion domestically and $3.4 billion internationally. Even within Star Wars' franchise history, the 1977 original still beats The Force Awakens with $2.8 billion internationally.
Even if The Force Awakens' success looks impressive (which it does), there's certain records that may be tough for the film to beat. For starters, it becomes difficult to measure how many people saw Gone With the Wind in 1939 compared to The Force Awakens in 2016 solely because the ticket structures have changed and are shown in various models, making the actual attendance difficult to track. So while it looks likely that The Force Awakens is our champion without price inflation, the question is if it can be with it considered. The movie still has a ways to go before it likely says farewell to theaters, so there's a chance that we're looking at unprecedented history. The only question is how soon that is likely to be.