These days, massive tentpole blockbusters dominate the box office and franchises rule the Hollywood landscape, with a mix of comic book movies, large-scale sci-fi films, and animated IPs often making it to the yearly domestic and worldwide top ten. However, when adjusted for inflation based on the 2022 ticket price, the domestic top 10 looks significantly different. It becomes a showcase of classic films that have left a lasting impact on American cinema, featuring epic dramas, heartwarming musicals, and beloved animated classics. While there are still a few blockbusters representing the genre, the list is primarily composed of timeless masterpieces.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $997 million
Walt Disney’s first-ever animated effort, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a groundbreaking achievement in the film industry. The story revolves around the titular princess, who seeks refuge with seven kind dwarves after her evil stepmother plots to kill her. This Depression Era hit remains highly influential, ranked among the all-time best movies by the American Film Institute. Snow White’s adjusted domestic box office gross stands at an impressive $997 million, thanks to its original 1937 release and subsequent re-issues in 1987 and 1993.
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.011 billion
Considered one of the scariest horror films ever made, The Exorcist directed by William Friedkin is a cinematic institution. It tells the story of a young girl possessed by a vengeful demon after playing with a Ouija board, and her mother’s desperate attempts to save her through an exorcism performed by two Catholic priests. The Exorcist was an instant hit in 1973, hailed as one of the best movies of the year. Its adjusted domestic box office gross, $1.011 billion in 2022 dollars, makes it the highest-grossing horror film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.135 billion
Directed by British icon David Lean, the 1965 historical epic Doctor Zhivago stars Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, whose life is dramatically affected by the Russian Revolution. Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, and Alec Guinness also feature in supporting roles. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning five Oscars and a staggering $111 million at the domestic box office. Adjusted for inflation, Doctor Zhivago ranks as the eighth highest-grossing movie in US and Canada, with a remarkable $1.135 billion.
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.172 billion
Often hailed as the first summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws played a pivotal role in establishing the success of the New Hollywood business model. Based on the 1974 novel, the film follows the efforts to stop a man-eating great white shark terrorizing a beach resort. Renowned for its tension, iconic score, and groundbreaking use of animatronics, Jaws was a massive hit both commercially and critically. With an original domestic gross of $260 million, adjusted to $1.172 billion in 2022 dollars, Jaws solidified Spielberg’s reputation as a game-changing filmmaker.
The Ten Commandments
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.198 billion
Cecil B. DeMille’s religious epic The Ten Commandments, released in 1956, stars Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Rameses, and Anne Baxter as Nefertari. The film dramatizes the biblical story of Moses leading the Hebrews to freedom. Known for its grand spectacle, The Ten Commandments won one Oscar out of seven nominations and grossed $65 million during its original release. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic box office gross reaches an astounding $1.198 billion, securing its place as the sixth highest-grossing film in US and Canada.
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.240 billion
James Cameron’s epic romantic drama Titanic was the cinematic event of the 1990s. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it tells the tragic love story of two star-crossed passengers on the doomed RMS Titanic. Titanic held the record as the highest-grossing film of all time for twelve years until it was surpassed by Cameron’s own Avatar in 2009. With an original domestic gross of $600 million and additional earnings of $73 million from re-releases, Titanic’s adjusted domestic box office reaches an astonishing $1.240 billion.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.329 billion
Steven Spielberg’s beloved sci-fi film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial holds a special place in Hollywood history. The story centers around an alien left behind on Earth who develops a friendship with a young boy, as they try to find a way to send the alien back home. E.T. was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film until Spielberg’s Jurassic Park surpassed it eleven years later. With an original domestic gross of $359 million and an additional $75 million from re-releases, its adjusted box office gross stands at an impressive $1.329 billion.
The Sound of Music
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.303 billion
Robert Wise’s musical masterpiece The Sound of Music, released in 1965, stars Julie Andrews as Maria, an Austrian postulant who becomes the governess to the seven children of a retired naval officer. The film was an instant hit with audiences, who embraced Andrews in another musical role a year after her Oscar-winning performance in Mary Poppins. Grossing a massive $158 million at the domestic box office, The Sound of Music became the highest-grossing film of its time. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic gross reaches a staggering $1.303 billion.
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.629 billion
George Lucas’ Star Wars is a game-changing film that revolutionized the movie industry. Alongside Spielberg’s Jaws, it redefined the summer blockbuster and became the epitome of the genre. The story follows Luke Skywalker as he joins the Rebel Alliance to fight against the evil Galactic Empire and discovers the power of The Force. Star Wars held the title of the highest-grossing film for five years, earning $307 million during its original release and an additional $138 million from a 1997 re-release. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic box office gross stands at an impressive $1.629 billion.
Gone with the Wind
Adjusted domestic box office gross: $1.850 billion
Despite its revisionist portrayal of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Gone with the Wind remains the biggest box office success in the history of Hollywood. Starring Janet Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, the film follows her romantic entanglements with Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable. Upon its release, Gone with the Wind became an undeniable hit, grossing $189 million in 1939 dollars and earning an additional $11 million from four re-releases. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic total stands at an unprecedented $1.850 billion, a record that is unlikely to be surpassed.