2009 has the most films on the list with seven, next stand 2007 and 2010 with five. Eighty percent of the films in the top 50 were released after 2000, while no film prior to 1977 appears in the list because ticket-price inflation, population size and ticket purchasing trends are not considered.
Figures are given in United States dollars (USD).
Due to the long-term effects of inflation, notably the significant increase of movie theater ticket prices, the list unadjusted for inflation gives far more weight to more recent films; a film in 1910, given much lower ticket prices at that time, would have to sell close to 100 times as many tickets as a 2007 film in order for the two to have equal gross takings. Further complications are added by changing currency values. The unadjusted list, while commonly found in the press, is therefore largely meaningless for comparing films widely separated in time, as many films from earlier eras will never appear on a modern unadjusted list, despite achieving higher commercial success when adjusted for price increases. Some have suggested that studios prefer not to make inflation adjustments because doing so would reduce the grossing numbers and eliminate the ability to advertise new box-office records. Yet another complication that has mainly arisen since 2000 is releases in multiple formats for which different ticket prices are charged. One notable example was Mamma Mia!, which benefitted from a sing-a-long rerelease for karaoke fans. Another notable example of this phenomenon is Avatar, which was released in 3D and IMAX, almost two-thirds of tickets for that film were for 3D showings with an average price of $10, and about one-sixth were for IMAX showings with an average price over $14.50, compared to a 2010 average price of $7.61 for 2D films.
Movie ticket prices and inflation do not necessarily parallel one another. For example, in 1970 movie tickets cost $1.55 or about $6.68 in inflation-adjusted 2004 dollars; by 1980, movie-ticket prices had risen to about $2.69, a drop to $5.50 in inflation-adjusted 2004 dollars. A possible solution to this problem would be to compare the number of tickets sold rather than comparing dollar amounts. However, there may not be accurate information on the number of tickets sold, especially for older films. Box Office Mojo uses a compromise solution on its chart by adjusting the grosses for average ticket price inflation.
Social, political, and economic factors influence the number of people willing to pay to go to the movies as well. These factors can be determined by calculating the per capita ticket-purchasing rate for a particular year. Normalizing this to the reference year normalizes all social, economical, and political factors such as the availability of expendable cash, number of theater screens, relative cost of tickets, competition from television, the rapid releases of movies on DVDs, the improvement of home theater equipment, and film bootlegging. For example, in 1946 the per capita movie ticket purchasing rate for the average person was 34 tickets a year. In 2004, this average rate had dropped to only five tickets per person per year, in response mainly to competition from television. Another often ignored factor is population growth. The 1910 Census in the United States, for example, had less than 100 million people while the 2010 Census is expected to have more than three times that at over 300 million. The measure of popularity for a movie can also be normalized for the size of the population at the time, as well as the various factors listed above.
As the motion picture industry is highly oriented towards marketing currently released films, non-inflation unadjusted figures are always used in marketing campaigns so that new blockbuster films can much more easily achieve a high sales ranking, and thus be promoted as a "top film of all time". Since inflation adjusted sales figures are therefore not widely publicized by the film industry, inflation adjusted sales rankings and ticket sales comparisons across the last 100 years are difficult to compile.
* Canada and U.S. gross only.
** It is unclear if The Big Parade remained in the top position until the record was assumed by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It holds the record as the highest-grossing silent film, but it is possible the Al Jolson musical, The Singing Fool, released in 1928, replaced it as the highest grossing film. Some sources state that The Singing Fool was the highest-grossing film until the record was taken by Snow White while others state it was only the sound-era record-holder.