Inflation has more of an effect on historical box offices than you’d think.
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18 Nov 2011 - 4:18 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 1:33 AM

Australians are still spending more than $100,000 per week to see director Kriv Stenders' Red Dog in cinemas and if that behaviour continues Australia's favourite kelpie will overtake Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (pictured) and become the seventh biggest home-grown hit of all time. Or will it?

According to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA), as of Thursday morning, Red Dog had earned $21.14 million in ticket sales compared to Strictly Ballroom's $21.76 million in 1992.

But the glaring problem with this comparison, of course, is that there's two decades between these films and both figures are in current dollars, that is, inflation has not been taken into account.

In mid-2010, however, Film Victoria did adjust the box office figures on Australian films for inflation, using annual Australian inflation rates based on the Consumer Price Index published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

It found that Strictly Ballroom's box office would actually have been equivalent to $34 million in 2009 dollars, putting it 11th in the chart. Things will have shifted since because inflation rates more around but, in a nutshell, it's open to argument whether Red Dog is barking up the wrong tree to think it's one of Australia's top 10 hits. That said, it's probably in the top 20, which is still a fabulous achievement.

Crocodile Dundee
and its sequel, Babe, The Man From Snowy River, Happy Feet and two Luhrmann films, Moulin Rouge and Australia, all get top 10 status on film agency Screen Australia's website, which lists the MPDAA figures, and in Film Victoria's adjusted chart (the top 15 from both charts are below).

Once inflation is in the mix, the hits from yesteryear that surface are Gallipoli, Alvin Purple and Mad Max 2, knocking out Strictly Ballroom (just), The Dish and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Picnic at Hanging Rock, They're a Weird Mob and Young Einstein also do well with inflation added.

In very general terms, the older a film, the more likely it deserves to be moved up the hit list, global financial hiccups notwithstanding.

But, frankly, assessing hits is always a trap because the playing field is never level. It is also only fair, for example, to consider budget: Babe, Australia, Moulin Rouge and Happy Feet were all made with huge budgets, courtesy of Hollywood, and had big budgets for advertising and prints to match.

It is arguable, too, that there is far more competition for leisure time than ever before. Also, because of ticket price variations – the average and top prices in 1992 were $11.50 and $7.09, compared to $23 and $12.26 last year – revenue may not necessarily represent actual audience numbers. Think twice when judging hits and failures.

Top 10 ranked by total reported gross box office in current dollars as at March 2011
1. Crocodile Dundee, 1986, $47.7m
2. Australia, 2008, $37.6m
3. Babe, 1995, $36.8m
4. Happy Feet, 2006, $31.8m
5. Moulin Rouge, 2001, $27.7m
6. Crocodile Dundee II, 1988, $24.9m
7. Strictly Ballroom, 1992, $21.8m
8. The Dish, 2000, $18.0
9. The Man From Snowy River, 1982, $17.2
10. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, 1994, $16.5m
11. Muriel's Wedding, 1994, $15.8m
12. Mao's Last Dancer, 2009, $15.4m
13. Tomorrow, When the War Began, 2010, $13.5m
14. Young Einstein, 1988, $13.4m
15. Lantana, 2001, $12.3m

Source: Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. Compiled by Screen Australia.

Top 10 ranked by total reported gross box office, adjusted for inflation, as at March 2011
1. Crocodile Dundee, 1986, $104m
2. Babe, 1995, $53.0m
3. The Man From Snowy River, 1982, $50.1m
4. Crocodile Dundee 2, 1988, $46.8m
5. Australia, 2008, $38.3m
6. Gallipoli, 1981, $38.0m
7. Alvin Purple, 1973, $36.7m
8. Mad Max 2, 1981, $35.1m
9. Moulin Rouge, 2001, $34.7m
10. Happy Feet, 2006, $34.6m
11. Strictly Ballroom, 1992, $34.0m
12. Picnic At Hanging Rock, 1975, $30.0
13. They're A Weird Mob, 1966, $26.1
14. Young Einstein, 1988, $25.2
15. The Adventures Of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, 1994, $24.7

Source: Film Victoria analysis of figures from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia.

For both full lists go to the Screen Australia and Film Victoria websites.