By the time you read this, James Cameron's Avatar will have surpassed Titanic's domestic gross of $600.8 million to become America's biggest hit ever. Also about that time, someone will pipe up and note that when you adjust domestic box office grosses for inflation, the No. 1 title still belongs to the beloved 1939 classic Gone With the Wind, which has earned $1.5 billion in today's dollars.
But is it even fair to compare Avatar to Gone With the Wind? After all, Wind has been rereleased on at least nine occasions over the years. According to Roland Flamini's 1975 book Scarlett, Rhett, and a Cast of Thousands, the film sold 25 million tickets during its initial release in 1939-40. MGM immediately reissued Wind in 1941 and 1942, selling an additional 24 million and 10.5 million tickets, respectively.
If we regard Wind's first three runs as one four-year-long debut, then the film sold a combined 59.5 million tickets. As for Avatar? Box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian estimates that as of press time, the sci-fi blockbuster has tallied 62 million tickets domestically.
There you have it: Avatar has already sold more tickets than Gone With the Wind did in those first four years. But Cameron is not officially King of the Box Office World just yet. Thanks to seven decades of rereleases, an additional 142.5 million people have seen Gone With the Wind in movie theaters, for an estimated lifetime total of 202 million viewers. Looks like Cameron needs to start planning his own Avatar rerelease.