Is Box Office the Be All, End All?

Already the "debate" over the box office success -- or is it failure? -- of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is beginning, and the holiday weekend isn't even over yet. Third 'Pirates' to Sack Memorial Record, Box Office Mojo insists, but the IMDB disagrees: 'Pirates' Fails to Claim Box Office Treasure. Both sources are working from the same numbers, so what gives? And what does it really matter, anyway, to we fans who just like going to the movies? Isn't the movie worth seeing or not worth seeing regardless of how the numbers are interpreted?

I started thinking about this because I was stunned at the vehemence of some of the commenters and emailers about my piece last week about the best films of 1977. How dare I suggest that Freaky Friday may have made more money than Saturday Night Fever? Just as an aside, I listed the grosses of each film as the IMDB reported them, and, you know, the IMDB is not infalliable, or perhaps it reports inital domestic grosses, not lifetime grosses. But whatever the reason for the numbers being what they were, does it really matter? Even if Fever had made less money than Friday, how would that in any way affect the actual worth of either film as art or entertainment? How does the mere suggestion that one movie made less money than another somehow denigrate the one that made less? Is this the only way we have to measure the value of a film?

I don't see that it does. But just to set the record straight -- or perhaps the muddy the waters even more -- here are the lifetime grosses of my top 1977 films as reported by Box Office Mojo. I suggest you take them with a grain of salt. I like that many of the numbers remain unknown:

Star Wars: $775,398,007 (worldwide)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: $303,788,635 (worldwide)

Saturday Night Fever: $237,113,184 (worldwide)

Allegro non troppo: still unknown

Jabberwocky: still unknown

Annie Hall: $38,251,425 (domestic only)

High Anxiety: $31,063,038 (domestic only)

Freaky Friday: $25,942,000 (domestic only)

Damnation Alley: still unknown

Pete's Dragon: $4,100,000 (domestic only, from a 1984 rerelease)

Editor's Note: adjusted for inflation these titles would have near three times their reported 1977 box office in today's dollars.


MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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