Published in Slate
When The Dark Knight earned $158 million in its opening weekend last summer, journalists went gaga over the possibility that it would unseat Titanic as the all-time domestic box office leader. But the race was utter bunk. Accounting for inflation, the true record holderis Gone With the Wind, which—in 2009 dollars—earned over 50 percent more than Titanic and almost three times as much as The Dark Knight. Rhett Butler doesn't give a damn about Jack Dawson, let alone Bruce Wayne.
Every summer, journalists engage in this brand of misleading speculation. Even when there isn't an all-time contender like The Dark Knight, other records trip us up. For instance, in 2007, journalists proclaimed The Bourne Ultimatum the top August opening ever, but when you account for inflation, it's surpassed by 2001's Rush Hour 2 and 2002's Signs. While this summer's Star Trek ($247 million-plus) seems light-years beyond its predecessors, it actually only inched by 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which made $235 million in 2009 dollars.
The problems with our growing fixation on box office figures—they don't account for costs of the film, they don't include home-entertainment revenue, etc.—have been chronicled in the past. But as long as we continue to indulge this obsession, shouldn't journalists at least factor in inflation, instead of pretending that it doesn't exist?
To continue reading, click here.