The NFL’s Super Bowl XLVIII is set to take place this Sunday, between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, and there’s every chance that this year’s Super Bowl could end up being the most watched of all time. It pits two popular teams against one another, one of which sports the most popular player in the NFL (Peyton Manning) and the other of which features the most talked about player of the last two weeks (Richard Sherman). Moreover, ratings for the Super Bowl have already been trending upwards. Each of the last four Super Bowls have been seen by over 100 million people.
We all know that the Super Bowl is annually the most watched event on television, but I was curious as to how the number of viewers stacked up against the number of viewers for the most watched TV series finales of all time, and how it compared to the number of moviegoers who saw the highest grossing films of all time.
Let’s take a look at the numbers for the highest grossing films of all time, the most seen series finales, and the most watched Super Bowls (note that the films are ranked by gross, not by number of attendees. The most seen movie of all time is still Gone with the Wind, which was seen by 200 million people, though Star Wars is second amongs the most seen movies. It is 6th in terms of gross.).
The Top Ten Grossing Films of All Time
1. Avatar: 81.5 million attendees
2. Titanic: 123 million attendees
3. The Avengers: 76.7 million
4. The Dark Knight: 70.6 million attendees
5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: 84.8 million attendees
6. Star Wars: 178 million attendees
7. The Dark Knight Rises: 57 million attendees
8. Shrek 2: 74.2 million attendees
9. E.T.: 150 million attendees
10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: 64.6 million attendees
The Ten Most Watched Series Finales
1. M*A*S*H: 105.9 million viewers
2. Cheers: 80.4 million viewers
3. Seinfeld: 76.3 million viewers
4. Friends: 52.5 million viewers
5. Magnum, P.I.: 50.7 million viewers
6. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: 50 million viewers
7. The Cosby Show: 44.4 million viewers
8. All in the Family: 40.2 million viewers
9. Family Ties: 36.3 million viewers
10. Home Improvement: 35 million viewers
Most Watched Super Bowls
10: Super Bowl XXVII (1993) – Cowboys 52, Bills 17 (90.9 million viewers)
9: Super Bowl XX (1986) – Bears 41, Patriots 10 (92.5 million viewers)
8: Super Bowl XLI (2007) – Colts 29, Bears 17 (93 million viewers)
7: Super Bowl XXX (1996) – Cowboys 27, Steelers 17 (94 million viewers)
6: Super Bowl XLII (2008) – Giants 17, Patriots 14 (97.4 million viewers)
5: Super Bowl XLIII (2009) – Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 (98.7 million viewers)
4: Super Bowl XLIV (2010) – Saints 31, Colts 17 ( 106 million viewers)
3. Super Bowl XLVII (2013) — Ravens 34, 49ers 31 (108 million viewers)
2: Super Bowl XLV (2011) – Packers 31, Steelers 25 (111 million viewers)
1: Super Bowl XLVI (2012) – N.Y. Giants 21, Patriots 17 (111.3 million viewers)
So, basically, the Super Bowl dominates. Only one TV finale (M*A*S*H) would place in the top ten Super Bowls (at number 5), while no film has been seen as much as the Super Bowl since 1997’s Titanic. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl is now seen by about 30 million more people than the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar.
This is why the Super Bowl can command $4 million for a 30 second ad spot.