After what was a dramatic end to the year, Gower Street estimates that the 2021 box office finished at $21.4 billion. This comes in 48% below the average of the last three pre-pandemic years ($41.3bn) but is a 78% increase on the 2020 figure ($12 billion).
The $21.4 billion yearly total is in line with the revised projection of $21.6 billion which Gower Street released in October.
Gower Street estimates the year-end box office to break down as approximately: Asia Pacific: $11.3bn (China $7.4bn of that total), Domestic $4.5bn, EMEA $4.4bn and Latin America $1.1bn.
The sunburst graph (below), shows approximately how Gower Street calculates the year to be split amongst key regions and major markets.
Comparing against the global market share in 2020, there is little change within Domestic and Latin America. The share of box office in Domestic fell just 0.6 pp (percentage points) (from 21.8% to 21.2%) whilst the share in Latin America increased 0.3 pp (from 4.9% to 5.2%). The biggest swings from the 2020 global share came from EMEA and Asia Pacific (APAC). EMEA’s share of the box office fell 2.4 pp (from 23.1% to 20.7%) whilst the share in APAC grew 2.6 pp (from 50.2% to 52.8%). This highlights the differing fortunes of cinemas in each of the regions. Whilst large parts of Europe were locked down in the early part of the year (and some in the later), APAC managed to remain largely lockdown-free for most of the year.
Within the APAC region the growth in global share was almost entirely thanks to large gains in China. The market’s global box office share grew over 6 percentage points (from 28.2% to 34.4%). Establishing it as the biggest market globally for the second year running, $7.4 billion yearly total. The drive of local product helped to cement this position; of the top 5 highest grossing films of the year 3 were Chinese productions. THE BATTLE OF LAKE CHANGJIN, HI MOM and DETECTIVE CHINATOWN alone contributed over a third of China’s box office (34%).
Elsewhere in the APAC region, the share of global box office fell in 2021. Japan’s share was 6%, a drop of 6.2 percentage points from 2020’s 12.2%; South Korea’s market share shrank to 2.3% having previously stood at 4.1% in 2020; and Australia’s slipped to 2.1% from 2.7% in 2020.
In EMEA, UK & Ireland represents 3.7% of global market share, down from 4.2% in 2020. However, the market has regained its position as the fourth biggest global box office market, behind China, Domestic and Japan, having been beaten by France in 2020. France is anticipated to fall back to 3.2% from 4.4% in 2020.
As the new Omicron variant causes concern around the globe the year ends as it started, with cinema closures in several markets. Europe has been particularly affected with Netherlands and Denmark in complete lockdown and restrictions in many others. Predictably, January ($976 million) was the lowest box office month of 2021 – the overspill of closures from 2020 and a lack of product the main cause of that.
There was a bounce back in February ($2.28bn), thanks to Chinese New Year and in particular Chinese local productions HI MOM ($833m) and DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 3 ($695m). In that month, China alone accounted for 84% of the entire global box office.
The following four months, a lack of new product and continuing restrictions saw the global market stagnate. It wasn’t until FAST AND FURIOUS 9 ($727m) was released in late June that the box office got the jumpstart it needed. The month witnessed the Domestic market outperform China for the first time during the pandemic since China’s July 2020 re-opening – a feat it repeated in five of the following six months of the year.
The holdover success of FAST AND FURIOUS 9, aided by BLACK WIDOW ($373m), helped the global box office surpass the $2 billion mark once again in July ($2.1bn); International (excluding China) delivered $1 billion ($1.01bn) for the first time in 2021.
The subsequent two months witnessed steady returns at the box office with SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS ($432m) and FREE GUY ($325m) among the notable releases.
With October came renewed hope. A trifecta of releases catapulted the month to the biggest result since January 2020, delivering a monthly box office of $3.1 billion. Unlike the February result, this was a global effort. NO TIME TO DIE ($774m) dominated the International (excl. China) box office. In Domestic, VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE ($500m) was the top title. Whilst in China, spurned on by the national Golden Week holiday, it was THE BATTLE OF LAKE CHANGJIN ($890m). The Chinese local production went on to become the biggest film of all time in the market.
In November, ETERNALS ($401m) and DUNE ($396m) helped ensure the global box office didn’t fall far below the $2 billion marker set out in other months, grossing $1.8 billion.
SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME ensured the year finished on a high with December grossing $2.9 billion. The Marvel sequel made $1.2 billion in just the last two weeks of 2021. This despite not releasing in China and with Japan still to come in 2022. December was the biggest month of the year for Domestic ($920m) and for International (excl. China) ($1.6bn), but, with a modest $420 million in China, was unable to surpass the global October result.
Throughout the year the percentage of cinemas open globally by market share has been steadily increasing. On the first week of the year, it stood at just 56% globally and only 24% in the EMEA region. By the end of Q1 the share globally had risen to 63%. Pushed largely by a big increase in Domestic – rising from 38% to 56%. At the close of Q2 the number had risen to 82% with all regions above 75% of cinemas operating for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The end of Q3 saw that trend continue with 88% of cinemas open by market share. Finally, by the end of the year 90% of cinemas by market share were open globally. Domestic is the only region with less the 90% of cinemas open (85%).