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Theatrical box office in Hong Kong more than doubled in 2021, but the outlook remains unstable, according to local trade body, the Motion Picture Industry Association.

Gross revenues reached HK$1.21 billion in 2021, compared with just HK$536 million in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, last year’s total remained some 37% below the pre-COVID total of HK$1.92 billion in 2019, according to data supplied by Hong Kong Box Office Ltd, a company controlled by the MPIA and the Hong Kong Theaters Association.

Hong Kong has significantly recovered from the coronavirus, but the government continues to operate a zero-COVID policy which means strict border and quarantine controls and ongoing local restrictions concerning businesses and social distancing.

Cinemas in Hong Kong were closed for the first 48 days of 2021, including the calendar new year period and the major Chinese New Year festivities. They reopened with a surge in mid-February and have not been shuttered since.

The government enforced 50% seating capacity limits (Feb. 18- March 31, 2021), easing them to 75% capacity (April 1 to July 7, 2021) and 85% capacity (July 8, 2021 to the present). Food and drink restrictions remain in place, denting the cinema operators’ ability to earn concessions revenue. The prolonged closures and restrictions were partly responsible for the collapse of the UA cinema chain in March

The top grossing film of the year was “Spider Man: No Way Home,” with HK$111 million ($14.2 million), ahead of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” with HK$63.0 million ($8.08 million) and locally-made biopic “Anita” with HK$61.3 million ($7.86 million).

Rounding out the top ten were “No Time to Die,” “Eternals,” “Black Widow,” “Godzilla Vs Kong,” “F9,” “Soul,” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.”

While many aspects of Hong Kong society are being aligned more closely with those of mainland China, including the introduction of national security concerns into Hong Kong’s film censorship regulations, cinema box office in Hong Kong remains on a different track. The local top ten features four films which have been barred in mainland China (“Shang-Chi,” “Eternals,” Black Widow” and “Venom 2”) and one that does not yet have a China release date (“Spider-Man”).

The trade organizations reported that the number of local films released increased from 34 in 2020 to 46 in 2021, but was still short of the 49 released in 2019. Similarly, the number of foreign titles released in Hong Kong increased from 184 in 2020 to 232 in 2021, compared with 280 released in 2019.