Pretty much how I see math. Photo Credit: Seth Goodman (Flickr)

Pretty much how I see math. Photo Credit: Seth Goodman (Flickr)

It’s a question which really plagues a lot of movie fans: “What makes a successful film?”. There have been plenty of films which failed to draw a crowd but was a critical darling.

At the end of the day, Hollywood defines their most successful films by how much money they make. So, how do we find out which movies have made the most money?

Well, there just happens to be a couple of decent list online which tell us which movies are the highest internationally grossing films.

Let’s see what this list looks like in a more visually appealing way:

The Highest Grossing Films of All Time

The Highest Grossing Films of All Time - Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

The Highest Grossing Films of All Time – Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

As you can see, there really isn’t any major surprises in this list. It really reads like a list of movies you probably saw in the last decade.

The main trend that emerges from this is that the oldest film on this list is Jurassic Park which came out in 1990. Does this mean that before that people just didn’t go to the cinema? Is it possible that ticket prices have gotten so high in the last thirty years?

Well, the answer is a bit more complicated. As with anything involving money and time, inflation is a concept that really needs to brought in. Unfortunately, mathematics is not really my forte. Fortunately, there is a handy list here which we just need to update for some sort of cultural phenomenon returning late last year.

While the first diagram was fairly generic, here’s what happens when when we adjust the gross profit:

The Highest Grossing Films of All Time (adjusted for inflation)

Highest grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation. Photo credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

Highest grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation. Photo credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

Surprise, Avatar is no longer in the top spot. It has been unseated by a movie everyone has probably seen in their lifetime, Gone With The Wind, which has made a shocking $3 billion.

Rather amusingly, Doctor Zhivago makes a surprise entry as the fourteenth highest grossing film of all time. What do you expect from a film which won five academy awards and has had ten re-releases, the most recent of which was last November at the Lighthouse Cinema. It is that popular and I still had to check IMDB four times to see if I spelt the name properly.

However, some interesting things happen when we ask ourselves “If this is the gross, what is the top twenty in net profit?”

This question is a lot harder than it sounds, mainly due to Hollywood’s tight lipped nature when it comes to exactly how much was spent on any film. We can easily find an estimated budget on each of the IMDB pages and just adjust them for inflation using a handy little calculator.

There is a general statement that a film needs to make twice it’s budget in order to be considered successful. So, let’s see how many times their budget these films actually made.

So, if we divide the gross profits by the estimated budget (adjusted for inflation), we get a rather interesting picture:

How Many Times A Film Has Made Back Their Budget.

 How many times it's budget each film has made in bubble form. Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

How many times it’s budget each film has made in bubble form. Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

As you can see, there’s a lot more of a gap between each movie. Surprisingly, the winner of this little experiment is E.T. which made around 64 times its budget, even though it’s eleventh on the highest grossing film list.

Meanwhile, at the lower end is The Avengers which made back about 6.9 times its budget. Trailing close to the end of the of this list is Furious 7 and The Phantom Menace which made around 7.9 times of their estimated budget.

We also see that while Avatar and Titanic were topping the last two charts, they were also pretty expensive to make. Titanic made back 14 times it’s budget and Avatar made 11 times it’s budget. Turns out James Cameron makes really expensive films, who knew?

Now you know that the most successful film, at least which film made an insane amount of money.

However, a cynical person (that may or may not be me) would question how successful these films are really. Sure, they may have made a lot of money but that means nothing without critical acceptance.


Film Ratings

The bubbles are on a graph now, the information is evolving. Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

A graph of each film by rating. Photo Credit: Stephen Allen (RAW)

This is a graph of the top twenty films based on their rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Surprise, they are actually on the higher end of review scores. The only 100 % score on this list is Pinocchio, a film which has created my favourite philosophical paradox.

Well, it’s nice to know most of the highest grossing films are also highly rated films. Well, except Jurassic World and The Phantom Menace but that’s really not that surprising. It’s as if they’re tacked on entries to beloved franchises or something.

Do you feel there’s something you can add to this data? Could it be that mathematics is not really my strong suit? Leave a comment below to let me know.