Avatar, box office, and the development of records
Comparing box office numbers is a tricky thing: US domestic box officee has Avatar as the clearly highest grossing film in raw dollars, but it reaches only place 15 in an inflation adjusted viewe—behind all three original Star Wars movies and Gone with the Wind, the 71. y.o. queen of the box office. (Retrieved on 2010-02-25; in both cases beware that box-office figures change over time.)
Still, such comparisons provide an excellent illustration of a common phenomenon that applies much more generally:
Records tend to be smashed, with the new record standing out for a long time, while the rest of the world slowly closes up, possibly even surpasses the record—and then the record is smashed again.
This is by no means an infallible rule, but surprisingly often, it is correct. (In particular, when correcting for e.g. phases of rapid natural growth due to changing circumstance or a period of weak records, say because a new technique or material has dramatically changed the circumstances).
Consider the list of Highest-grossing films (US and Canada)w provided by Wikipedia, and note how the number one spot tends to reside with a clear all-time leader, with the occasional series of several breakings leading up to a new clear number one. (This is even more obvious if we compensate for the extreme inflatione between Star Wars and E.T.)
A similar principle appears in the world-wide box office, but less clearly (and with a lot more leg-work).
For other examples look at Wikipedia’s Timeline of world’s tallest freestanding structuresw or some of the world record progressions in athletics present at http://www.athletix.org/e (but beware that what is considered a smashing in athletics is very different from in the box office; also note some counter-examples like the men’s high jump until Sotomayor). Alternatively, try your hand at an arcade game and note how your high score develops over time.