There's been a lot of talk about whether "The Dark Knight" will overtake "Star Wars" and "Titanic" as the all-time box-office champ.

There seems to be little question that "Star Wars" is about to fall to third place. At No. 2, with $461 million in box-office earnings, George Lucas' epic could be knocked off its perch this weekend, since "The Dark Knight" has already taken in $441.4 million.

"Titanic" is further away, at $600.8 million, and to some analysts that stranglehold on the all-time No. 1 spot simply seems unbeatable.

But I haven't seen anyone bring up "The Dark Knight's" ace in the hole. More than a few of its box-office dollars are coming from IMAX showings around the country, and those tickets cost more than regular theater admissions.

When a kids' movie makes big bucks, it's worth noting that most of that money comes from half-price admissions for children, so the number of actual tickets sold is especially impressive.

Conversely, extra cash from IMAX showings could be the key to "The Dark Knight" climbing to the top of the box-office heap — even with fewer tickets sold.

That's why the "adjusted for inflation" lists are always more interesting to me, since they count — or more correctly, estimate — the number of tickets sold, or, in other words, the actual number of people in theater seats as opposed to dollar earnings.

In fact, looking at the adjusted list, it seems unlikely that "Gone With the Wind" will ever fall from the real No. 1 all-time perch.

"Star Wars" came close and still reigns in the No. 2 spot. But "Titanic" stalled at No. 6 — behind "The Sound of Music," "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Ten Commandments."

It's interesting that the top five films are all from different moviegoing eras. "Gone With the Wind" came out in 1939, "Star Wars" in 1977, "The Sound of Music" in 1965, "E.T." in 1982 and "The Ten Commandments" in 1956.

Each preceded the home-video explosion, of course (although "E.T." arrived as it was building) and "Gone With the Wind" came before television. As a result, each also sold tickets through theatrical rereleases several years after its debut. (Yes, even "E.T." and "Star Wars.")

And "Gone With the Wind," "The Sound of Music" and "The Ten Commandments" were rereleased many times.

There were fewer entertainment options for the masses in those days, and when a movie was talked up and considered a "must see," everyone saw it. And they saw it in a theater.

That was still the case when "Star Wars" came along and boosted the number of repeat moviegoers to outrageous numbers. But it still couldn't overtake "Gone With the Wind."

"Titanic" was impressive, but since VCRs were common in most households by the time it came along, no way was it going to be bigger than "Star Wars" — much less "Gone With the Wind" — in terms of actual ticket sales.

Similarly, "The Dark Knight" doesn't have a chance of catching them on the adjusted list.

But that's not to say it can't topple "Titanic" on the contemporary dollar list.

Although $600 million seems hard to beat, "The Dark Knight" is earning big money faster than any film ever, and fans are going back to see it again and again — and many of those repeat viewings are on pricey IMAX screens.


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