Despite the best efforts of Spider-Man, Black Widow and other mighty Avengers, movie theaters have yet to rebound in another topsy-turvy, pandemic-battered year.
According to early estimates from Comscore, overall domestic box office revenues in 2021 are projected to hit $4.4 billion through the final days of December. The final number could fluctuate in the next few days; the stretch between Christmas to New Year’s is usually the busiest time at multiplexes, but the rapidly spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 may have other plans.
Should estimates hold, it would represent a huge 91% increase from 2020. Of course, that’s not a high bar to strive for since ticket sales in that period sank to a 40-year low. Domestic earnings in 2020 were barely able to reach $2.2 billion while cinemas spent many months shuttered and studios released hardly any high-profile movies.
Next to 2019, the last normal period at the domestic box office, revenues from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2021 will be down approximately 61%. In 2019, “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Lion King” and “Toy Story 4” helped propel overall grosses to a mighty $11.39 billion. By comparison, the 2020 domestic box office tally was down 80% from 2019.
This year, things were supposed to be different. And to some degree, they were. Hollywood began to unveil buzzy movies in earnest, and people began to trickle back to their local multiplex. But results were mixed. Superheroes reigned supreme — the biggest movies of the year include “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($467 million domestically), “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” ($224 million domestically), “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” ($212 million domestically), “Black Widow” ($183 million domestically) — while films targeting adult audiences, such as “West Side Story” ($23 million domestically) and “The Last Duel” ($10 million domestically), struggled to sell tickets.
Still, there were a few scattered success stories that didn’t involve comic-books, like Daniel Craig’s James Bond sequel “No Time to Die” ($160 million domestically), Universal’s “F9: The Fast Saga” ($173 million domestically), “A Quiet Place Part II” ($160 million domestically) and the Ryan Reynolds sci-fi action comedy “Free Guy” ($121 million domestically). But ultimately, not one, but two new variants of COVID-19 managed to spread across the globe and contribute to general uneasiness about going to the movies.
“It’s been a tale of superheroes, franchise and family films,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore, of 2021 at the box office.
Box office analysts didn’t expect a return to normalcy in 2021, especially since vaccines weren’t widely distributed until a few months into the year. However, studio executives and industry experts hope 2022 will be the time in which audiences tire of watching movies at home and will be eager to return to the big screen. Pending any release date reshuffles, promising future attractions of the blockbuster variety include the Warner Bros. comic book adaptation “The Batman” starring Robert Pattinson, Disney and Marvel’s superhero sequel “Black Panther 2,” Universal’s dino adventure “Jurassic World: Dominion” and Sony’s animated “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: Part 1.”
“If content is king, then 2022 should be a terrific — if not yet ‘normal’ year — at the box office,” says Dergarabedian.