The list author says: "This list is based on the U.S. Domestic Box Office Receipts adjusted for inflation.
Don't be fooled by headlines stating that a recent movie has broken a box office record. These headlines are released by studios trying to get free advertising. In fact such movies are very successful, but usually when they break a box office record in an historical context it's because ticket prices have gone up. For example, Avatar is now said to have beaten Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time in the US Box Office grosses, with Titanic second and The Dark Knight coming in third. This is a fallacy. In fact, as of this writing, Avatar is number 14, Titanic is number 6, and The Dark Knight is number 27! Accounting for box office ticket prices, all three have a long way to go to beat the likes of E.T., The Sound of Music, Star Wars, and the seventy-year king, Gone With the Wind.
The below list will set the record straight. It shows the most popular movies in United States history. (A world wide list would be difficult, adjusted for inflation, because of the varying degrees of exchange rates. This is a US Box Office Gross list only.)
I will try to keep it updated as new movies enter the list, or re-releases adjust the rankings.
"This famous Civil War movie made $198.7 million dollars domestically, most of that in 1939. That is a blockbuster unlike anybody has ever seen in the last 70 years. It translates to $1.3 BILLION in the U.S. alone! (Triple it for a worldwide estimate.)"
"Star Wars has made the equivalent of $1.1 BILLION in the U.S. alone, adjusted for ticket prices. People these days who remember the success of Titanic, Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man or Pirates of the Caribbean don't understand that Star Wars, in 1977, was far more popular. It took everyone by surprise."
"At the time of its release in 1982, the studios hailed Steven Spielberg's masterpiece as the all-time highest grossing movie. It was the first movie to "beat" Star Wars based on unadjusted gross. However, between 1977 and 1982 ticket prices had inflated quite a bit, and E.T. is actually now 4th in the list (especially considering the Star Wars rereleases)."
"James Cameron's Titanic, now with an adjusted U.S. gross of $857 million, had something for everyone. The women loved it for the romance, the young girls loved it for Leo, the boys loved it for the action sequences and destruction, the older men loved it for its history."
"Steven Spielberg's Jaws, released in 1975, had a huge impact on the tourist industry of that time. People were literally afraid to swim in the ocean years thereafter. These days, horror has a different baseline, but Jaws is the most successful of its kind. Ignore it's non-Spielbergian sequels. The orginal is the classic. $850 million in adjusted dollars."
"The Jungle Book and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or always neck-and-neck as Disney's most successful production, mostly due to rereleases. Without accounting for rereleases, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was more successful, but this was because it was the first of its kind. Adjusted gross of $719 million."
"William Wyler's epic Ben-Hur was Charlton Heston's "other" Christian classic of 1959. Charlton Heston was the "Harrison Ford" of his day, being the most popular movie star of all time for many generations."
"Sequels-be-damned, don't watch them. The original 1973 is the only one directed by William Friedkin, based on the William Peter Blatty novel exploring the possession of a little girl. It was one of the most controversial movies of its time, along with Clockwork Orange of 1971, and has an adjusted gross of $668 million."
"A completely immersive science fiction world with the most detailed 3d CGI rendering ever brought to screen. Unrealistic plot with very realistic CGI. Without adjusting for inflation it's made more money than any in history with a domestic gross of $760.5 to date, and $2.7782 billion worldwide."
"The Empire Strikes Back is the most successful sequel in movie history, following the success of Star Wars. Later dubbed Episode V, it was so anticipated that people camped out in front of movie theaters days in advance, forming lines several blocks long, and the movie was sold out for weeks. Now with an adjusted gross of $637 million."
"Though many fans saw Return of the Jedi as a disappointment for a Star Wars followup in 1983, it still managed to become the second most successful sequel in history, and now has an adjusted gross of $611 million."
"Julie Andrews had two hugely successful movies in a row: the 1965 release of The Sound of Music, and the 1964 release of Mary Poppins, wherein she had teamed up with TV star Dick Van Dyke. Adjusted gross of $566 million."
"Another hugely successful movie by Steven Spielberg, released in 1981. Along with E.T. (1982), Jaws (1975), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Spielberg had become the most successful director of all time by 1983, and holds that title to today."
"Formula for success: Bestselling novelist Michael Crichton + World reknown movie-making pop star Steven Spielberg + Unprecedented special effects + Dinosaurs. How can you miss? Jurassic Park set the new stage for computer animated realism. Stop motion and go-motion techniques became officially antiquated with its 1993 release. Adjusted gross $558 million."
"The Phantom Menace was the hugely anticipated prequel to the famous Star Wars trilogy of 1977, 1981, and 1983, all three of which are in the top 20. The Phantom Menace was met with some disappointment by die-hard Star Wars fans (who are all grown up now), but captured a whole new audience to the tune of $555 million in adjusted dollars."