As evidenced by the estimated $21.4 billion total global box office, 2021 was a vast improvement on 2020. This is true in terms of overall global performance, in terms of individual territories achieving “recovery” levels of pre-pandemic business, and in terms of delivering a number of audience-driving global hits that can stand alongside pre-pandemic releases. However, there were still significant gaps. Where were they and how has the picture changed since 2019?

As part of Gower Street’s review of the year we are once again taking a look at how titles released stack up on a global basis.

The poster image below compares the top 100 global box office titles of 2019 (which saw box office range from $2.8bn to $61m) with the two pandemic years (2020 and 2021). The “WW 2019” image (below left) displays the top 100 global performers released in 2019 tracking left to right and top to bottom.

Rather than simply also show the top 100 titles in 2020 and 2021 the image instead compares like-for-like. Therefore the comparative “WW 2020” and “WW 2021” images (below center and right, respectively) show the titles released in those years that achieved a global box office performance equivalent to those of 2019. Each 2020 and 2021 title is placed in the position that its global box office corresponds to in the 2019 image.

These poster images consider total global box office for a title first released in a given year. As a result many 2021 titles will still be accruing box office and placement in this image may change over time, while other titles may yet earn their place. All figures for 2021 are correct to Sunday January 9, inclusive.

To explore the images more closely you can access downloadable hi-res versions of all three individually via the below links. This will enable you to zoom in to see data on each title with Domestic, International and Global box office displayed beneath each individual poster image.

You can access the 2021 image (to Jan. 9) here.

You can access the 2020 image here.

You can access the 2019 image here.

As they currently stand there are many interesting points to note.


Upward Trend

As we noted last year, in 2020 the sheer amount of black space told a clear story about the lack of major titles on offer during the first year of the pandemic. Only 28 titles released in 2020 achieved grosses that would have scored them a position in the top 100 global titles the previous year. No title achieved a gross equivalent to a top 10 title of 2019 and only one, Japanese hit DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN, was equivalent to a top 15 title.

In 2021, the picture is notably improved. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is already equivalent to the #2 title of 2019 and few years could deliver an equivalent to 2019’s #1: AVENGERS: ENDGAME – the second highest grossing film of all-time!

In total 61 titles (more than double 2020) achieved grosses that would have scored them a position in the top 100 global titles of 2019.

There is also a notable improvement in Hollywood titles. In 2020 the top ranking Hollywood title was pre-pandemic release BAD BOYS FOR LIFE at an equivalent rank of #19 compared to 2019 titles. The top two titles were Asian hits: DEMON SLAYER and China’s THE EIGHT HUNDRED.

In 2021, as well as SPIDER-MAN, there were another five titles performing as well as BAD BOYS FOR LIFE or better: NO TIME TO DIE, F9: THE FAST SAGA (aka FAST & FURIOUS 9), VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, GODZILLA VS KING, and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS.


China’s Local Dominance

Of course, one of the big stories of 2021 was an apparent shift, especially in the second half of the year, in China’s acceptance of Hollywood imports. The only Hollywood import to make the year’s top 5 in China was F9: THE FAST SAGA ($215m), released in May. The only other one in the top 10 was GODZILLA VS KONG at #8 ($187m), released in March. The only Hollywood import released in the second half of the year to make China’s top 20 for the year, and then narrowly, was FREE GUY ($94m) at #19!

A number of titles were not granted a release date at all. These included all five Marvel titles, Disney’s BLACK WIDOW, SHANG-CHI and ETERNALS, and Sony’s SPIDER-MAN and VENOM. Of the 35 Hollywood titles featured on the 2021 top films poster image only 11 (31%) received a Chinese release before the close of the year. Among other, non-Chinese, titles Japan’s DETECTIVE CONAN: THE SCARLET BULLET received a Chinese release.

In comparison, while only 12 Hollywood titles feature on the 2020 image all but two received Chinese releases (83%). Of the 72 Hollywood titles featured in the 2019 top 100, 68% received a Chinese release.

China’s status, for the second consecutive year, as the #1 global market can also be felt. In 2019 only 28% of titles in the top 100 were not US productions. In 2020 this rose to 85%. Despite many more US studio titles being available in cinemas in 2021, 43% of featured titles were not US productions. Of course, as well as Chinese, Japanese titles were also present with EVANGELION 3.0+1.0 THRICE UPON A TIME and BELLE joining DETECTIVE CONAN.


Mind The Gap

Despite the resurgence of Hollywood titles there remain notable gaps – especially in the top tier (in 2019 nine titles topped $1 billion, compared to only SPIDER-MAN in 2021) and, perhaps more significantly, in the $200-300 million range. There were 14 titles in this latter range in 2019, of which 10 were US titles. This compares to just 7 in 2021, of which 4 were US titles.

The absence of US family animated titles is also obvious in the top half of the poster. In 2019, two animated titled featured in the year’s global top 10 (FROZEN II and TOY STORY 4). Three more made the top 20 (including China’s NE ZHA). A further five (including Japan’s WEATHERING WITH YOU) featured in the 41-50 rank. In total 16 animated films featured in the 2019 top 100 (2 Chinese, 4 Japanese, and 10 US).

2020’s top film was animated – Japan’s DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN – while of the 28 featured titles another five were animated: Pixar titles ONWARD and SOUL (the latter denied theatrical release in Disney+ territories including the Domestic market) and DreamWorks’ THE CROODS: A NEW AGE, as well as another Japanese title, STAND BY ME DORAEMON 2, and China’s JIANG ZIYA. Both JIANG ZIYA and THE CROODS sequel joined DEMON SLAYER in the top half of the ranking (equivalent to 2019).

In 2021, only the top two performing animated titles, ENCANTO and SING 2, appeared in the top half of the poster – both ranking in the 41-50 section equivalent to 2019 (although both are still in release and may edge up). Most animated offerings featured in the lower half of the poster, with another 10 titles featuring. Of these three were Japanese and three Chinese, with the remaining four US. Pixar’s LUCA, which, like SOUL, did release in some international markets did not make the poster. In should be noted that there were another three hybrid animation-live action titles featuring: SPACE JAM A NEW LEGACY, PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY and TOM & JERRY. These were also all in the lower half of the ranking.

Disney recently announced the next Pixar, TURNING RED, will also be skipping theaters in Disney+ territories. Meanwhile this week sees the latest HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA movie, TRANSFORMANIA – the fourth film in a franchise that has previously delivered $1.36 billion in global box office, debut via Amazon Prime.