When we think of classic films from the 1940s we think of Citizen Kane and Casablanca. The Maltese Falcon. It’s a Wonderful Life. And yet these films were not among the biggest hits of their era.
What is a hit movie? Can box office receipts tell us. Well yes, and no. With inflation it isn’t always easy to tell if a film that grossed $170 million in 2010 was a bigger hit than a film which grossed $4 million in 1945.
After all, adjusted for inflation Gone With the Wind is still a bigger hit than Star Wars. And, of course, many films are re-released through the years and rack up many more dollars. (Think of the Disney classics),
So let’s look at this a different way. What about ticket sales? Not what the ticket cost, but just the number of tickets sold, and compare that with the population of the country at the time.
In that case the biggest hit of the silent era was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Rudolph Valentino starrer, which was seen by 41% of the people in The U. S. in 1921! Forty one percent!
We’ve decided to look at the films of the 1940s and determine which were hits and which have become classics. How many films of that decade were seen by 41 percent of the population?
One of the biggest hit films of the decade was Leave Her to Heaven, starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde and Jeanne Crain. (The first film noir in color) It grossed over $8 million in a time when $4 million was considered fantastic. And yet it was only seen by 26% of the people in the country.
But there were 10 films of the 1940s which were seen by over 30% of the people. And surprisingly, only two of those ten are considered classics.
Starting tomorrow we will highlight those ten mega hits.