Ignoring for a moment the 3-D surcharge on Avatar tickets, let's look at how things have changed from December 1997 to December 2009:
- The average US movie ticket has gone from $4.69 (per the National Assoc of Theater Owners) to $7.46 (per the referenced NYT story). That's a 59% increase.
- For comparison, the cost of first-class postage went from $0.32 to $0.44, a 38% increase.
- The value of the Japanese Yen has gone from $0.00784 to $0.0111 (historical exchange rates per OANDA), an increase of 42%. And the value of the French Franc (since subsumed into the Euro, but you can do the math) has gone from $0.168 to $0.219, a 30% increase. Note that any increase in the price of tickets in Yen, Frans, or Euros would be in addition to the noted exchange rate fluctuations.
The NYT story says that Fox stated that 72% of worldwide sales came from 3-D screens, which tack a surcharge onto each movie ticket. This further decreases the number of tickets sold, putting Avatar far behind Titanic.
Why do I care about this? I don't. Except that I'm tired of the constant drumbeat every year, as mega-budget movies open and "set new records". The records are in inflated dollars, inflated exchange rates, and (in this case) 3-D surcharges. If the movie studios would report the number of tickets sold, we could track some version of "popularity". The dollar comparisons are nearly meaningless.