Two of the key global box office markets, Domestic and UK/Ireland, have finally achieved their Stage 3 targets on Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery. The target, which measures when a market has achieved a box office play-week equivalent to the lowest grossing play-week of the two pre-pandemic years (2018-2019), is considered a base level of recovery.
Both the Domestic (North American) and UK markets did so for the May 28 play-week, utilizing holidays and a resulting resurgent release calendar to achieve a target that had long eluded them. The UK/Ireland market in particular was left out in the cold in summer/autumn 2020 when many of its European neighbours (including France, Germany and Italy) hit their Stage 3 targets in the final play-week of August thanks to the opening of Christopher Nolan’s TENET. That same week (beginning Aug. 28, 2020 in the UK) had delivered the UK/Ireland market’s best pandemic-era result (£8.03m according to our partners at Comscore Movies) prior to the latest re-opening last month. However, it was still a far cry from the £11.7 million required to achieve the UK’s Stage 3 goal, achieving only just over two thirds (68%) of the required box office.
A more co-ordinated full-market re-opening for the May 17, 2021 brought the UK market immediately back at stronger levels this year with 81% of UK cinemas by market share back in operation for the first weekend back. During the 2020 summer re-opening only 7% of cinemas by market share were operating for the first weekend after England allowed re-opening July 4. By the beginning of August this had risen to 45% with Odeon and Cineworld opening their first sites.
There are a number of reasons a co-ordinated re-opening if beneficial, not least in terms of communicating to audiences, but foremost is the ability for distributors to plan their release schedule. While a number of smaller and mid-range titles from independent distributors enjoyed individual success and shored up the UK market in July and August 2020 it was a long wait for TENET at the end of August and that was not followed up with additional major titles. Other markets like Russia and Singapore hit their Stage 3 goals thanks to addition title MULAN landing to support TENET. MULAN did not receive a theatrical release in the UK.
This year’s re-opening was different in that it allowed distributors to provide a stronger slate of alluring titles from the get-go. Just having over 80% of cinemas open by market share (the Stage 1 target on Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery) would not have been enough without the content to draw audiences in. After all the August 28 play-week, when TENET opened, had 92% of UK cinemas by market share back open for business. Multiple titles, led by PETER RABBIT 2, were on hand to welcome audiences back to UK cinemas from May 17 and the May 21 play-week came close (94%) to hitting Stage 3 with a box office just shy of £11 million – delivering the, then, best result of the pandemic era in the market.
The following (May 28) week brought more titles (led by THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT and CRUELLA) as well as a national holiday (May 31) and school half-term holidays. With school holidays through the week it was little surprise PETER RABBIT 2 held onto #1, despite the competition, rising 5% week-on-week. The heady combination of holidays and a strong array of titles appealing across all demographics (also including GODZILLA VS KONG, Japanese smash DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN, and Oscar-winner NOMADLAND) resulted in a weekly box office just shy of £16 million, surpassing the Stage 3 goal on Wednesday (June 2) six days in.
The Domestic market also hit its Stage 3 goal ($110.7m) on Day 6 of the May 28 play-week. Never 100% closed the Domestic market never really gained real traction until key markets New York City and Los Angeles were able to re-open on March 5 and March 19, respectively, giving distributors the confidence to plan the release calendar. The April 2, Easter, play-week brought a sizeable hit in the shape of GODZILLA VS KONG which, despite also being available at home to HBO MAX subscribers, fuelled a $57.1 million play-week across the market. At the time 57% of movie theaters by market share were open across the market. A few weeks later, the April 23 ply-week topped it ($60.7m) as two new titles (DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN and MORTAL KOMBAT) battled it out for supremacy. Market share of open theaters had grown to 61%.
The market then found itself largely treading water despite continued growth in the market share of open theaters, which had reached 75% by the Memorial Day weekend. With the long-awaited A QUIET PLACE, PART II and Disney’s CRUELLA opening for the Memorial Day holiday, the May 28 play-week achieved a new pandemic-era high of $119.2 million, easily achieving the Stage 3 requirement. A QUIET PLACE, PART II was particularly impressive in that it’s opening week ($69.1m) actually out-performed the original film’s 2018 opening week ($67.0m) by 3% despite capacity restrictions and a quarter of Domestic theaters’ market share remaining completely unavailable. Additionally 29 states achieved their own Stage 3 targets for the first time during the May 28 play-week; the 5 that had previous done so (Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming) all repeated at a Stage 3 level; and several other states only narrowly missed their targets, including Louisiana, North Dakota and Pennsylvania (all at 99%) as well as Florida (98%).
The Stage 3 target is only an early level of achievement on the Road To Recovery but it is an important one to indicate forward progression. Of course, momentum needs to be maintained. To date only four markets (China, Japan, Taiwan and Russia) have gone on to achieve all five stages of Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery (achieving full recovery, indicated by a box office play-week equivalent to a play-week in the top quartile of the two pre-pandemic years [2018-2019]). And, as recent developments and renewed restrictions in both Japan and Taiwan have shown, recovery can be precarious with regression possible. Among those European markets that first achieved their Stage 3 targets back in August 2020 only France, also recently re-opened, has re-achieved the level in 2021, doing so immediately upon return with the May 19 play-week despite a 35% capacity restriction. Capacity will expand to 65% in French cinemas this week (June 9). The €2.66 million play-week required of Italy to mark Stage 3 had eluded it so far since re-opening at the end of April; Germany has yet to re-open after over seven months of closure in the current shutdown.
Recovery progress across 30 global markets, including all those mentioned in this article, can be tracked weekly in Gower Street’s Road To Recovery reports, available via subscription here.