This Memorial Day weekend was a big one for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the new movie that earned first place in the box-office race — and, perhaps more surprisingly, for Frozen, a movie that has been out for about half a year already. The mega blockbuster has now grossed $1.219 billion worldwide, which earns it a spot in the list of the top five highest-grossing movies ever. (The movie bumped to No. 6 was Iron Man 3, which has earned $1.215 billion.) According to Deadline, the film got a big boost from its domination in Japan, where it’s won 11 weekends in a row and is the fourth highest-grossing movie ever.
That latest Frozen news is just one more in its long line of victories: Oscar wins, the title of highest-earning animated movie ever, fastest-selling digital home-entertainment release ever, source of a soundtrack that was the first album to sell a million copies in 2014 and much, much more.
But while being the fifth highest-grossing thing is a big deal — it’s in good company, following Avatar, Titanic, The Avengers and the Harry Potter grand finale — it’s maybe not as big as you’d think. Here’s a hint why: the oldest movie on that list is Titanic, which came out in 1997; no other movie from before 2000 cracks the top 10. That’s because the ranking in question is not adjusted for inflation, so newer movies have a leg up in raking in extremely impressive-sounding fortunes. As the New York Times pointed out when Avatar took the top spot back in 2010, it’s easy to think that such a list means that more successful movies are being made today; a more complete picture would look those numbers in context.
But that’s easier said than done. Sites like BoxOfficeMojo offer up data about which domestic inflation-adjusted box-office — Gone with the Wind is first, Frozen is Number 101 — but different currencies worldwide inflate at different rates, so it would be a massive undertaking to break down the value of a unit of money in each country where each movie played and how much it has inflated since then. But that doesn’t mean that bloggers haven’t done that work. This 2011 chart, for example, finds that Gone with the Wind, which made $400 million worldwide, would have raked in a whopping $3.239 billion in 2011 dollars. Avatar and Titanic are still champs but Frozen‘s $1.219 billion leaves it at Number 17. A different blogger calculated in 2013 that, using available worldwide gross data and running it through a U.S. inflation calculator, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would come in first with an astounding $6.729 billion; on that chart, Frozen would be #27. Another has Gone with the Wind at $3.862 billion.
With Frozen still going strong from its November release, it does have a chance to climb the charts — adjusted for inflation or not — further, though it seems unlikely to break the $3 billion mark, a feat that has never happened in today’s dollars. On the other hand, Gone with the Wind and its early high-earning brethren didn’t have things like digital downloads and DVD sales to make the studio money in addition to the billions at the box office. That’s where Frozen has its edge — particularly because there’s no way to adjust for inflation on YouTube hair tutorials.