In 2019, “Avengers: Endgame” finally surpassed “Avatar” to claim the title of the world’s highest grossing movie of all-time. Many applauded Marvel and Disney for wrapping a bow on their decade-long cinematic universe with their record. However, some box office purists were quick to point out that the film didn’t come close to setting the all-time record…when you adjust for inflation and only count in North America, that is.
When it was said and done, “Endgame” had barely cracked the top 20 when the ticket prices were adjusted for inflation based on when movies were released. Domestically, “Titanic” is still the number five movie of all time ($1.22 billion), with “E.T.” ($1.27 billion) and “The Sound of Music” ($1.28 billion) just ahead. Then there’s a big leap to the first “Star Wars” film at $1.6 billion, while “Gone with the Wind” sits alone at the top with an absurd $1.82 billion.
Many feel like this is a record that will never be reached again. The film’s original release was in 1939, and unadjusted made an impressive $200 million in ticket sales. So what made “Gone with the Wind” such a spectacle that it’s almost impossible for North American audiences to put those kinds of numbers up for one film? There’s a few reasons why.
Back then, “Gone with the Wind” was a major blockbuster in a time when Hollywood studios were starting to put multi-million dollar budgets on their films. “Gone with the Wind” was among the first and had some of the biggest names in entertainment at the time, and the book that it was based off was a recent best-seller that was still fresh on the memories of a lot of people. That’s pretty standard stuff for big films, though.
What really propelled “Gone with the Wind” to be such a major success was the fact that everybody had to see the movie. If you hadn’t gone to the four hour epic, you would’ve been left out, and it was an experience. There weren’t nearly as many movie theaters back then, either, but the ones that were there were playing “Gone with the Wind”, some of them for four years without stopping. This granted people a lot of chances to be involved with the phenomenon.
There were a ton of repeat viewings for “Gone with the Wind” in the years that it remained in theaters, and the studio even set up traveling screens so that people in smaller towns could see the movie. One other thing: air conditioning was pretty rare, but theaters had them. Since “Gone with the Wind” was so long, people were paying to cool off during the summer months for a few hours, even if they didn’t care about the movie that was playing.