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Titanic ‘Avatar’ is Gone with the Inflated Dollar

Within a matter of days, Avatar will pass Titanic to become the USA's highest-grossing film of all time.

But are you really the king of films if fewer people saw your movie than, say, The Graduate or Dr. Zhivago?

Such is the debate every time a film approaches historic box-office highs. Unlike other forms of entertainment, such as books or music, movies are measured by the money they rake in, not by units sold.

By that standard, Avatar is rising fast. It collected another $30 million this weekend to lift its U.S. total to $594.5 million - nearly even with Titanic, which earned $601 million in 1997. Worldwide, the movie crossed $2 billion, another record.

But getting a consensus on the titan of ticket sales is problematic. When adjusted for inflation, Avatar ranks 21st, well behind the all-time winner in today's dollars, Gone With the Wind. The 1939 classic would have grossed $1.5 billion if tickets were as expensive then as they are now.

Using that measure, Avatar still has a way to go before it will crack the top 10 movies of all time. Adjusted in today's dollars, movies such The Graduate ($638 million), The Sting ($665 million) and 101 Dalmatians ($745.6 million) have made more, according to Box Office Mojo.

When compared with 1997's Titanic ($957.5 million), Cameron still has work to do if he wants to sink his own ship: Titanic sold about 128 million tickets domestically. Avatar has sold about 76 million.

Studio executives argue that comparing the films of today with those of decades past is an unfair comparison.

"Back in 1939, the entertainment options were somewhat limited," says Chris Aronson of 20th Century Fox, which released Avatar. "That was a different world, when the only things competing with movies might be radio theater."

But it's a comparison studios brought on themselves, says Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com.

"Hollywood has always liked to beat its chest," he says. "Bragging rights are huge, which is why you'll see studios give these odd records, like highest-grossing, non-sequel comedy in June."

Still, Dergarabedian says, Avatar's numbers are "an impressive feat by any standard."

The Mel Gibson thriller Edge of Darkness was second with $17.1 million. The romantic comedy When in Rome took third place with a healthy $12.1 million.

Final figures are due today.

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