Q: Why do they announce movie ticket sales in terms of dollar amounts? Ticket prices obviously are much higher now than they were when, say, "Jaws" came out. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to measure this by number of tickets sold instead of the amount of money that was brought in?
A: Get ready for a long answer.
The movie industry wants to impress you with its success, and dollar figures look better than the number of people in the seats. When you say how many people went to a movie, it may not look all that impressive compared to other forms of entertainment; far more people watch a hit TV show in a given week than go to most hit movies. You can see the same phenomenon in the video-game industry, where, with the high cost of games, sales revenue looks much more impressive than units sold.
Of course, dollar figures can be confusing, too. The premium price for 3-D showings -- about $3 more than for the same movie in 2-D -- can lead to income that looks higher than actual attendance, and many reports on box-office returns make note of what percentage comes from 3-D showings.
Nor do revenue tallies show profitability -- which is the big reason for making sequels, spin-offs and imitations. At this writing, "Insidious" has taken in about $48.3 million, but cost just $1.5 million to make. "Source Code" has made $48.9 million -- but cost $32 million to make, and still more for advertising and promotion. And I'm not even getting into the issue of overseas revenue, which can turn some U.S. flops into overall hits.
As for your question about how to compare current hits to older ones, the Box Office Mojo website, for one, has an all-time movie ranking adjusted for inflation. According to unadjusted returns, "Avatar" is the box-office champ; Box Office Mojo's inflation adjustment ranks it 14th, and "Gone With the Wind" first.
Q: Could you please tell me if the guy in the Ford "Swap Your Ride" commercial is the same guy in the Visa towel commercial, who comes home with dirt all over him and two other people in the ad run around after him wiping up with Visa towels. They look alike to me.
A: Same guy. That's Mike Rowe of the "Dirty Jobs" series and many commercials.