Europe’s movie production levels bounced back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. The continent’s box office, however, lagged way behind, gross revenues coming in at less than half those before COVID-19, according to the 2022 edition of Focus – World Film Market Trends.  

A reference for much of the film industry in Europe, the annual report is prepared for Cannes Marché du Film by the European Audiovisual Observatory. The full report will be made available on May 17 at the beginning of this year’s Cannes Festival.  

First details released from the report focus on a disconnect whose repercussions will play over Europe this year. Europe’s production halt in March 2020 was dramatic, but “comparatively brief,” the Focus report argues. Measuring productions in terms of films starting principal photography, receiving public funding or being certified, 2021 production activity often exceeded its pre-pandemic levels, the report announces. 

One question is whether such levels will prove sustainable as long as cinema attendance lags behind pre-pandemic levels, it adds.

This limited box office recovery is stark. Gross box office in the European Union and the U.K. only increased moderately in 2021, from €2.1 billion ($2.21 billion) to €2.9 billion ($3.0 billion) , accounting for 42% of pre-pandemic levels. One good reason for the plunge is that cinemas remained closed for a substantial part of 2021 – four months in the U.K, through July in Germany.

Other factors, however, take in “the negative effect of attendance restrictions, possible hesitancy among audiences to return to cinemas, the return of U.S. studio blockbusters and the differing strength of local films,” the report argues. 

That hesitancy to go back to theaters is unlikely to have disappeared overnight on Dec. 31. The Cannes Festival may give guidance as to how cinema attendance has improved, or not, in the first quarter of 2022. 

One market feature did signal a broad return to normal in 2021. U.S. movies not only drove the box office recovery, such as it was, but monopolized Europe’s Top 20 of most-watched movies in cinema theaters, headed by “No Time To Die” (34.3 million admissions in the E.U. and U.K.), “Spider Man: No Way Home” (26.8 million), “Dune” (14.3 million), “F9” (12.1 million), and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (10.5 million). (Three Top 20 players, led by “No Time To Die,” are classed as both U.S. and U.K. films by the report). 

Top performing European movies in Europe were led by “No Time To Die,” France’s “Kaamelott: First Instalment” (2.8 million admissions), “The Father” (2.4 million), “BAC Nord” (2.2 million) and “Another Round” (2.0 million).

The European Audiovisual Observatory will be back on-site at Cannes’ Marché du Film this year with a stand at the market and two conferences. 

Taking place on Thursday, May 19, a first, just 45-minute session, Focus 2022: Key Trends in the Film Sector, will provide a snap-shot of key factors driving  Europe’s film sector. 

A second, on Saturday, May 21, will see industry representatives ask how European films can be seen by bigger audiences.

Speakers take in Sabine Chemaly, executive VP for international distribution at TF1 Studio and a board member of Europa International; Edith Sepp, VP of EFAD; Mathilde Fiquet, secretary general, European Audiovisual Production Association (CEPI); Giuseppe Abbamonte, director of the Media and Data Directorate, European Commission;  Marc Smit, co-CEO of Cinйart; and Joan Sala, head of programming at SVOD platform Filmin and festival manager at the Atlаntida Film Fest.