European cinema admissions rose an estimated 38% in 2021, with over 590 million total tickets sold, generating a 42% rise in box office to €3.7 billion ($4.2 billion) compared with the all-time low year of 2020.

The preliminary figures were released on Monday by the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the trade org representing European cinema associations. It comprises cinema exhibitors and their national trade associations across 39 European territories, some of which do not belong to the European Union.

At a EU level — which covers the U.K. despite the nation parting ways with the EU last year — over 400 million tickets were sold in cinemas, worth an estimated €2.9 billion at the box office ($3.3 billion), according to a UNIC statement. It noted that this intake was generated while “most screens across the region were shut for the first half of the year and operating for the following six months under limited occupancy and additional restrictions.”  

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European cinema industry remains significant,” UNIC pointed out. Though sounding an upbeat note, the org underlined that compared to results for Europe in 2019 –– which was a particularly successful year for the theatrical market –– admissions in 2021 “were still lagging 56% behind, while box office was down by an estimated 57%.”

Comparing results for the second half of 2019 with the same period in 2021, box office revenues for territories where data was available were on average 35% below pre-pandemic levels.

UNIC underlined that encouraging box office results in major territories such as France, which bounced back during the last quarter of 2021; the UK, which was down 26%; Russia, down 29.5%; or Poland, minus 24.3%, “nevertheless serve to demonstrate the strength of the sector’s recovery in recent months.”

As in past years, European box office was mainly driven by major Hollywood blockbusters including “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “No Time to Die,” “F9: The Fast Saga,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “Dune.” 

“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” with an over $1.77 billion haul at the global box office and counting, stood out as evidence that movie theaters can continue to attract audiences “and create global events even during challenging times,” UNIC said. 

Concurrently, local titles have also played a key role in the ongoing recovery process of European cinemagoing. Serbian biopic “Toma,” for example, managed to outperform “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” dominating at the box office in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The market shares for homegrown movies were higher than normal years across the region, UNIC underlined — most notably in France, where in 2021 they accounted for 40.8% of admissions; 38.3% in the Czech Republic and 37% in Denmark.

UNIC is expecting 2022 to be a pivotal year for the European industry. The org cites Gower Street Analytics’ forecast of a tentative estimated intake of $7.8 billion (plus 75% on 2021) for 2022 box office in the European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.