It’s common today for movies to gross over $400 million domestically at the box office. It happened with The Avengers in 2012 ($623 million domestic) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire last year. Opening weekends have become huge, too. In the 80's, a major film grossing only $10 million on opening weekend wasn't considered a flop but today it would be. Of course there is the aspect of inflation. Today, average ticket sales are about $8.35 per ticket, compared to $2.69 in 1980.
In the 80's, we saw releases of some of highest grossing films of all time, and endless films that have since become classics. It was the beginning of breaking box office records and of studios manufacturing the bankable movie star we know today. Harrison Ford basically won the 80's, starring in three years of the #1 grossing movies (1980, 1981, 1983). Comedies, sci-fi and action films reigned in the 80's and continued to do well into the 90's. The box office for 1980 exceeded a billion dollars in tickets sales and set off a decade that would end on a high note. The blockbuster as we know it, though, didn't begin in the 80's—it began in 1975 with Jaws when it made $470 million worldwide. But the idea of the blockbuster became more ubiquitous in the 80's. The following films on the list are the highest grossing film per year of the 1980s and are non-inflated, domestic totals.
9 1987: Three Men and a Baby, $167,780,960 million
8 1988: Rain Man, $172,825,435
7 1980: The Empire Strikes Back, $209,398,025
6 1985: Back to the Future, $210,609,762
5 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark, $212,222,025
4 1984: Beverly Hills Cop, $234,760,478
3 1989: Batman, $251,188,924
2 1983: Return of the Jedi, $252,583,617
1 1982: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, $359,197,037
Early on in the decade, a film came out that would crush pretty much all competition for ten years. The sci-fi family film, E.T., with a small budget of $11 million, grossed $359 million domestic and $357 million foreign in 1982 (without inflation) and knocked off Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time. If you add in inflation, E.T’s gross comes out to over a billion dollars, ranking it as the fourth highest grossing film of all time. For a decade, E.T. held the position of highest grossing film of all time until Jurassic Park came along in 1993 and pounced on it. The next highest grossing film of 1982 was Tootsie, grossing $177 million. And like E.T., it was nominated for many Oscars, including Best Picture. E.T. not only was the #1 film of the year, but it also was the highest grossing film of the decade.
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