007’s double-edged sword: box office receipts vs. tickets sold

The news that Harry Potter has passed James Bond for the most successful movies series, can stir reactions from Bond fans (including HMSS’s own staff) that such a comparison is unfair. The notion is that if you go by number of tickets sold, that’s a much fairer comparison that using unadjusted box-office gross.

If you look at the unadjusted figures, the highest grossing 007 film is 2006’s Casino Royale with more than $596 million worldwide. In terms of U.S. gross, the No. 1 Bond film is 2008’s Quantum of Solace, according to by http://www.by-thenumbers.com, with more than $169 million out of a worldwide gross of $576 million.

However, there are lists that based what grosses would be if you adjusted for inflation of ticket prices. According to a list compiled at the Box Office Mojo Web site, Thunderball’s $63.6 million U.S. gross alone would be equal to almost $595 million. There have been other estimates that Thunderball’s worldwide gross would equal about $1 billion today.

Others say not so fast. The Hot Blog, in a January posting argued the “ticket sold” argument isn’t the strongest, that studios don’t care about the number of tickets sold, just about revenue, that they’re trying to find new ways (and with 3D a revamped old one) of generating more revenue and that it’s hard to compare movies of different eras. A sampling:

But the adjusted grossers would have you believe that properly read, Thunderball would have grossed more than The Dark Knight last year and would be fighting Avatar for the #2 slot al-time worldwide now at more than $1.2 billion, as Bond always plays great in the international market.

Bond is a very valuable franchise. But the best it has ever grossed with one film is still under $600 million worldwide. I’m not saying that $64 million for Thunderball in 1965 wasn’t extraordinary. But was it of significance like a billion dollar-plus movie is now?

Here’s something else that the Hot Blog post doesn’t mention. If you embrace the tickets sold/adjusted for inflation argument, it’s doubtful any new Bond movie would ever surpass Thunderball,. Or put another way, the series’ best financial days are behind it. Based on Box Office Mojo’s estimates, Thunderball‘s grosses were more than 15 times its $9 million production cost. Quantum of Solace, the most recent 007 film? About two-and-a-half times, thanks in part to an estimated production budget of $230 million.

No matter which side one takes, it’s a double-edged sword for 007, and a debate whose answers are murky.