In October, global cinemas generated a $1.4 billion box office, by far the highest monthly sum since shutdown. In fact, it’s more than a third (38%) of the box office accumulated in the seven months from April until October combined. The latest update of Gower Street’s Global Box Office Tracker (GBOT) shows that the 2020 global box office grew to $9.6 billion in October from $8.2 billion a month ago. From the beginning of April, when it stood at $5.9 billion, until the end of October, box office grew in total by $3.8 billion.

Despite this accelerating upward trend, the recovery continues to be happening at significantly different speeds around the world. Nearly two third (64%) of the global box office in October was made by China with $0.9 billion. It catapulted the 2020 cume from $1.2 billion to $2.1 billion.

The next biggest part of global growth in October was delivered across the International market (excluding China) with $0.4 billion (the same amount as in September), rising to $5.4bn by the end of October.

The Domestic market is clearly the slowest growing among these three, again contributing only $0.1 billion. Domestic box office in October increased from $2.05 billion to just $2.13 billion. Given that, China has now overtaken the Domestic market’s annual grosses in 2020. With the current speed of recovery and the release schedule for the rest of the year, this means the Domestic market will finish the year as the #2 Global market for the first time on record!

The stacked bar graph on the left shows total box office levels split out by the three key global markets: Domestic, China and International (excluding China). The pie chart indicates the current deficit compared to the average of the past three years and where those losses are currently coming from. The bar graph on the bottom right displays the percentage drops globally.

The impressive October result in China was kicked off by the historically strong Golden Week (Oct. 1-7), that opens with their National Day holiday. The Oct. 2 play-week delivered their best weekly result since February 2019, achieving Stage 5 “recovery” level on Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery for the second time since re-opening. Multiple titles opened led By MY PEOPLE, MY HOMELAND (now at $400m) and animated film JIANG ZI YA (LEGEND OF DEIFICATION) (now at $230m). The Oct. 23 weekend brought another patriotic epic with Korean War drama THE SACRIFICE which grossed $106 million in its first 10 days.

The success shows that China is now essentially back to business as usual, at least as far as bringing audiences back to cinemas is concerned. China has reduced its percentage box office loss compared to the average box office over the previous three years from a peak of -94% in July to -72% now. In October, China also started recouping their total loss from -$5.4 billion to -$5.3 billion.

The other two Regions continued to slightly grow their losses. Domestic added another -$0.7 billion around the same level as in the prior two months up to their now -$7.2 billion total. The International market (excluding China) lost -$1.2 billion, more than the -$0.9 billion in September, but still clearly the second lowest number since April, which adds up to a loss of -$11.6 billion until the end of October.

The most positive story from the International market (excluding China) in the last month comes from Japan. The incredible launch of anime DEMON SLAYER THE MOVIE: MUGEN TRAIN, which at the end of October had already achieved $150 million after just 17 days on release and is continuing a phenomenal run. This drove Japan to hit two consecutive weeks at the Stage 5 “Recovery” level of Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery measures. Mainly due to that, Japan, like China, has made significant headway in recouping market losses. Full-market box office in Japan is currently tracking 51% behind an average of the past three years, having been 65% behind in early July.

That the recovery in the majority of the other international markets (excluding China) and Domestic hasn’t accelerated in October was caused by the triangle-of-troubles: Lack of Product / Re-closing of cinemas / New or further rise in Covid-19 cases.

With TENET fading out and no studio tentpole dated for subsequent weeks, the month opened with the announcement that NO TIME TO DIE would move to April 2021. That left an already dried out release calendar without a studio live action blockbuster scheduled for more than another two months.

This resulted in the Cineworld Group, the world’s second largest cinema chain, re-closing all Cineworld, Picturehouse and Regal sites in the UK and US one week into October. Other exhibitors followed. After months of constantly increasing numbers of global cinemas open by market share, this triggered a reduction from a peak of 79% at the beginning of the month to 74% in Oct. 9 play-week.

The next hit was caused by the rapid rise of Covid-19 cases in Europe. Italy and France were the first to re-close their cinemas in the final week of October. This let the number of global cinemas open by market share to further drop to 70%, the lowest number since late August. That the numbers were not even lower was driven by the re-opening of major cinema chains in Brazil, another big market, plus the start of re-opening cinemas in New York state within the month and further re-openings in some other US states.

The outlook for November shows that the European downwards trend will continue, with most of their major markets re-closing in the first week of the month. The number of global cinemas open by market share dropped further to 63%. As a result, Hollywood studios are now even less likely to release new movies, despite the Domestic market slowly returning. This has just been illustrated by the recent push of Disney’s FREE GUY and DEATH ON THE NILE out of the year. WONDER WOMAN 1984 is widely expected to follow. Consequently, Asian markets and titles are likely to continue to dominate any positive film industry news for the remainder of the year.

This article was originally published in Screendollars’ newsletter #142 (November 9, 2020).