Microsoft announced that Halo 3 sales reached $170 million after its first day on sale to the general public, and although those numbers are certainly impressive, they they aren't all they are being heralded as by other media pundits who ought to know better. Matt Mitovich of TV Guide as an example claims that Halo 3 is "the biggest entertainment launch in history" that "puts to shame the coin collected by the launches of the film Spider-Man 3 and the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
Comparing games to films is apples and oranges really, they simply don't work the same way. The first metric you'd use is retail price, and the true reason for the incredible sales numbers for Halo 3 are immediately obvious in how over-priced the game is: $59.99 on Amazon.com. Compare that to a typical theater ticket at between $10-15, and the disparity is immense. At that price, we're only talking about sales of about 2.833 million units. If you compare the units sold of Halo 3 to tickets sold for Spider-Man 3 (estimating tickets at $12 each) then you're looking at almost 5 million tickets vs 2.8 million units on the first day.
Halo 3 is quickly blown out of the water by quantity, but is that fair? Not really, since Halo 3 went on sale world-wide on the same day. Movies open in different territories across the globe in a process that can take weeks and months to complete. If you assume a world-wide launch, SM3 handily crushes Halo 3 in total volume and gross.
But that's not the end of it, because movies aren't simply shelved after they run in the theater - another reason why comparing games to films is nonsense. Games only have a primary shelf life of about three months, after which their sales decline rapidly and it becomes a bargain bin item, never to be seen again. Films on the other hand have a number of secondary outlets which see it continually sold over the course of many years - all completely legitimate original sales.
After the theater there are DVDs, Pay-Per-View, pay-channel cable, broadcast network, and finally regular cable syndication. If you added in these sales, which is perfectly legitimate since they are all first-run sales and not used goods, practically any moderately successful film would beat Halo 3's sales numbers. I say these are legitimate because these all represent sales of the film versus that film's performance in a theater.
If you want to count sales, then you count sales, not performances in a single venue.
The previous installment in this game franchise, Halo 2, has sold approximately 6.5 million units since its release one year ago. There is a major discrepancy in its Wikipedia entry though, where at one point it says 6.5+ units had been shipped as of this month, only later to say that over 7 million had shipped as of Nov of 2005.
6.5 million units at $59.99 each totals around $389 million, a paltry number when compared to total gross of major motion pictures. It doesn't come within sniffing distance of the top 10, hell, it can't even see the top 50.
SM3 has grossed $890 million worldwide (12th all-time) while Pirates 3 spanked Peter Parker for $960 million (5th.) Halo 2 for which we currently have (semi-)decent numbers, would rank 96th, just above Happy Feet, just below Robin Hood: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. See for yourself.
Halo 2 trails all-time leader Titanic by about $1.5 billion.
So while Halo 3's opening day sales are impressive, they are only truly impressive in the world of games. Feature films simply operate by different metrics that handicap their opening day gross. People can order a game online and never leave their home, while you have to lose an entire work day visiting a movie theater making it more likely that people will make the trip when it is most convenient for them. Additionally, theaters have a more limited capacity for screening films while Microsoft can have millions of copies of the game produced in third-world countries and ready to ship without delay or shortages when the big day comes.
That alone destroys any chance for a film to match a big game like Halo in single day cume.
It would be nice if people would get their heads on straight and stop trying to compare first-day game sales to feature film opening - it's just not possible, and even if it were with all things being equal, games would get absolutely squashed anyway.
**Note: the graphs don't include Halo 3 because those numbers aren't available, it being new and all, but you can certainly project.