I think the numbers my friend Dave comes up with in his post “Most popular movies based on ticket sales” are more meaningful than just dollars, but I think it also highlights the difficultly of declaring anything the “All-Time” best.
Because I would argue it’s still apples to oranges. The first 6 on the list all have had multiple theatrical re-releases – which counts in the All-Time USA Box office grosses from IMDB. Yet how many movies since 1980 have had a re-release? And even if they have, they must compete against VHS/DVD sales/rentals of themselves. As it stands, with a re-release being unlikely and DVD sales/rentals to compete with, I would argue no modern movie has a chance to knock Snow White or Gone with the Wind off Dave’s ordering – they are over double the ticket sales of Bambi, not to mention any movie made after 1950.
Opening weekend sales might be interesting – but news media may affect how quickly people respond to a good movie. If someone collected initial release only sales figures, that I think would be a more fair comparison – though I don’t know if initial releases were handled differently in the past.
It’s just tough to compare the past to the present.