2020 was a disheartening year in general, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe and hit every industry in different ways. Hollywood was no exception as theaters remained closed down for much of the year and many major releases went straight to VOD and streaming. But in 2021, we went back to the movies, especially for event films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, No Time To Die and F9: The Fast Saga.
As the year comes to a close, box office numbers are being added up and there’s a mix of good and bad news.
The Good News
Let’s start with what we can celebrate about the past year at the box office. With just a few days left in the year, it looks like the final domestic box office numbers for 2021 will be around $4.4 billion, according to Variety. The biggest player in that number comes from Spider-Man: No Way Home, which hit theaters less than two weeks ago and has already become the highest-grossing movie to come out since the pandemic. No Way Home is close to a half a billion domestically and crossed $1 billion worldwide.
Other major winners this past year were other superhero movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Black Widow and Eternals, which are at No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 respectively on the domestic charts. Non-comic book movies that made up the top 10 were F9: The Fast Saga, Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond with No Time To Die, A Quiet Place Part II, Free Guy and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Overall, the good news here is audiences showed up for big movies again in 2021 amidst the pandemic, and a number of key films sold droves of tickets, aiding in theater recovery after a rough 2020.
The Bad News
The glass half-empty element of the 2021 box office numbers coming in is when you look at it in comparison to 2019. In the year before COVID-19, the domestic total was $11.39 billion. 2021’s projected $4.4 billion means that the box office is down 61 percent from 2019. In other words, Hollywood was still very much dealing with the effects of the pandemic in the year 2021, and a significant amount of people are skipping going out to theaters nowadays due to the state of the world.
What Happens Next
That being said, we’ve come a long way, and it would be unrealistic to expect numbers close to that of 2019’s. The 2020 domestic box office came out to $2.2 billion – an 80 percent drop from 2019 and a 40-year low for the industry. Additionally, 2019 was a record year for the box office, with Avengers: Endgame becoming the second highest grossing movie of all time behind Avatar.
2021 was a year of progress and compromise for Hollywood. The industry juggled releasing its films in theaters only with massive releases going to streaming on the same day, or such as with Black Widow, being available to rent for a premium fee. Going forward, studios are going back to exclusive theatrical release windows (notably Warner Bros) and there’s a number of heavy hitters like The Batman, Jurassic World: Dominion and Black Panther 2 that could catalyze more progress (and bigger box office numbers) this time next year.