What a promising start to the new year! Despite a lack of new releases, global cinemas accounted for a remarkable box office of $1.9 billion in January! That is nearly double last year’s $1 billion first month (+94%), when fewer global cinemas were open. It’s the third highest monthly result of the last six months after October ($3.1bn) and December ($2.9bn); the 5th best since February 2020. At the end of January, the current 2022 global box office deficit compared to the average of the last three pre-pandemic years (2017-2019) is -$1.6 billion, a drop of -46%.

The recovery continues to be happening, not just limited to a country or region, but on a global basis. Except for China and Taiwan, all of the 30 territories tracked in our global State Of The Market report were performing above January 2021. Furthermore, 28 of the territories reached the basic Stage 3 target (a week equivalent to the lowest grossing week in 2018-2019), or higher, on Gower Street’s 5-Stage Blueprint To Recovery at least once during January. Half of them (14) held above that level in all four full play-weeks. This is the same level as in December – a pandemic best – and displays a growing stability to the recovery. Nevertheless, in an ebb of major global releases the number of weeks crossing at least the median Stage 4 level more than halved between December and January.

As diverse as the recovery continues to be in terms of territories, it was concentrated in terms of the movies driving the box office in January. Holdover hit SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME contributed the commanding amount of around $500 million in the month for a current total of $1.74 billion (Domestic $739m, Intl $1.0bn). It is already #6 in the global all-time ranking and the only title in that sphere that hasn’t seen a release in China.

On this month’s GBOT (above), 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 pre-pandemic years (2017-2019) and where those losses are currently coming from. The bar graph on the bottom right displays the percentage drops globally.

January marked the two-year anniversary of China’s closure on January 23, 2020. The first market forced to shut cinemas due to the COVID-19 outbreak. For only the second time in the last eight months, China recorded a monthly box office result above that of the Domestic market in January. The January box office of $427 million was in the same ballpark as the mediocre December ($430m). It was 35% and $230 million behind the three-year average. At the same time, it was also down $93 million on last year’s $520 million January (-18%).

In January the country continued to be dominated by local titles. Holdover Covid-romance EMBRACE AGAIN topped the month with $104 million of its current $146 million within the period. It was followed by action sequel G STORM with $75 million and comedy ANOTHER ME with $72 million. The month also saw the now rare release of a few Hollywood titles. All of them delivered disappointing numbers, just slightly above $10 million at the bottom of the monthly top 10 with THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (#7, $13.5m), ENCANTO (#9, $12m) and PAW PATROL (#10, $11.4m).

The Domestic market did $392 million in January, the lowest result since September 2021 ($365m). It’s tracking -57% behind the three-year average, a total of -$0.5 billion. Still, this is an impressive 468% more than last January, when the box office was down to $69 million and a number of states were still largely closed including California, New York, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, as well as much of Canada, including Ontario and Quebec.

Taking advantage of a weak competitive environment, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME ruled the month again with $164 million of its current $739 million total. It is now the #4 film of all-time and still climbing. SCREAM, the only major wide release of January followed with $63 million (enough to ensure another sequel was greenlit this week). Only holdover SING 2 also grossed over $20 million in the month with $58m (now at $135m).

The biggest part of the global box office in January was once more delivered across the International market (excluding China) with $1.1 billion, the 3rd best result since March 2020! This is an impressive growth of 179% and $0.7 billion against the same period last year. However, it’s still -$0.8 billion and -44% below the three-year average.

Among the three sub-regions, APAC (excluding China) had the lowest drop against the three-year average with -40%. Japan was a key driver, being one of the few global territories in January performing above the pre-pandemic average by +5%. It accounted for one third of the regional monthly result, while historically having a share shy of one fifth (19%).

In Japan the three top titles of January were collectively responsible for nearly two thirds (63%) of the monthly box office. Local anime JUJUTSU KAISEN 0 reigned for the second month. It generated $42 million of its now $86 million total. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME followed with $28 million since it’s release on January 7. At #3 was the TV spin-off 99.9 CRIMINAL LAWYER: THE MOVIE adding $18 million.

The EMEA region saw a major improvement in January compared to a year ago, when most of the region had its cinemas closed. This year, only the Netherlands suffered a lockdown, and the region delivered nearly half of the international result (49%). It was up by 352% against January 2021. Of course, this is still -45% below three-year average.

Just like last year Russia had a standout opening to the year. This month’s result came in on par with January 2021, both now the country’s highest grossing months of the pandemic. It’s just -25% against the three-year average. The month was headed by another sequel to the local adventure THE LAST WARRIOR franchise, which also conquered the box office a year ago. The newest instalment is already 4% ahead of the last with a current total of $29.7 million, and is now the 4th highest grossing local title of all-time (and 11th among all titles)! Within January the #2 title was again SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME with $12 million, pushing its current total to $45 million and making it the 2nd highest grossing movie of all-time in Russia!

All in all, 2022 is already starting significantly better than last year. Globally the number of cinemas open by market share is at 84%. That is slightly below the pandemic best of 90% reached in the December 3 play-week last year, and the lowest level since September, but is still significantly higher than the 56% recorded at the end of January 2021. Just a marginal number of cinemas have been closed since the middle of last year. Even if in rare cases cinemas are forced to close, the recovery mostly happens in a fast forward mode now nearly two years into the pandemic.

What January suffered the most was an emptied release calendar in the fear of the status of the pandemic, especially due to Omicron. The severity of the pandemic thankfully eased instead, despite record numbers of new cases. Holdovers were strong throughout the month and, despite all challenges, delivered an encouraging first month result. The number of attractive movies increases again in February, while still a bit lighter in heavyweights than in the final quarter of 2021. Therefore, the next month should show a further uptick for the global box office.

This article was originally published on Screendollars’ newsletter (February 6, 2022) and on the Screendollars website here.