While movie ticket sales in 2021 certainly improved over 2020 — when cinemas were shut for much of the year — global box office revenue was still down a hefty 50 percent from pre-pandemic times as the movie business struggled to emerge from the COVID-19 era and grapple with a new landscape dominated by streaming.
According to the Motion Picture Association’s annual THEME report, combined ticket sales worldwide reached $21.3 billion in 2021, an 81 percent jump over 2020 ($11.8 billion). However, they were 50 percent behind 2019’s $42.3 billion.
The MPA report confirms that domestic revenue came in at $4.5 billion, a number Comscore released at the end of the year, while international ticket sales climbed to $16.8 billion, a significant jump over 2020’s $9.6 billion, but lagging far behind the record set in 2019 with $30.9 billion. In other words, the box office recovery is a work in progress.
The report tried to paint a positive picture by touting strong home entertainment numbers, including streaming.
Combined global theatrical and home/mobile entertainment revenue reached $99.7 billion in 2021, a growth of 24 percent over 2020, but more importantly, surpassing 2019’s record high $98.1 billion. And the number rose to $328.2 billion — the same as 2019 — when throwing in pay TV (the MPA report hasn’t traditionally included pay TV, which includes cable).
“These figures underscore that our industry is rapidly recovering around the world. For example, the digital content streaming marketplace in 2021 accounted for 72 percent of the combined theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market, up from 46 percent in 2019,” noted MPA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin, whose tenure has seen Netflix become a member of the trade organization alongside the legacy Hollywood studios.
In the US, the combined theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market in 2021 was $36.8 billion, a 14 percent increase compared to 2020 and also overtaking 2019.
Streaming subscribers in the US also continued to boom, growing 14 percent to 1.3 billion after crossing the one billion mark for the first time in 2020.
Fun fact: 179 original films were exclusive to online streaming in 2021, compared to 113 in 2019 and 93 in 2013.
In regards to the cinematic experience, the 67-page document confirmed that men are fueling the box office recovery, whereas the gender breakdown was previously more balanced. The top five films of 2021 all skewed heavily male: F9: The Fast Saga (67%), Venom: Let There Be Carnage (60%), Spider-Man: No Way Home (59%) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (57%).
Throughout last year, movie studio executives grappled with the fact that older moviegoers, ie, those over the age of 40, were more reluctant to return, and particularly older females. The MPA report shows that the age groups 12-17, 18-24 and 25-39, were over-represented in terms of tickets sold relative to their share of the population.
Many families also opted to avoid returning the multiplex, helping to explain why nine of the top 10 streaming movies cited in the MPA report were kid friendly, led by Disney+’s Luca, Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon and Frozen II. Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson’s Red Notice, an original Netflix movie, was an exception, coming in at No. 5, but was quickly followed by three more Disney+ titles; Frozen, Soul and cruel. Netflix’s animated entry Mitchells vs. The Machines and Disney’s Jungle Cruise rounded out the top 10.
All told, only 387 new movies were released in theaters in 2021, compared to 987 in 2019.
On a brighter note, the number of films going into production in 2021 — whether for streamers or cinemas — rocketed to 943, up 111 percent from 443 in 2020 and more than in 2019 (814).
And the recent success of Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which received an exclusive theatrical release, has provided a boost for theaters. The superhero pic has earned nearly $800 million domestically — the third best showing of all time — and more than $1.8 billion globally.
And the first major release of 2022, batmanis also posting strong numbers at the box office, nearing nearly $500 million worldwide in its first two weeks.
“This report clearly demonstrates that our industry is powerful and resilient, and I am proud to see that production and releases of new shows and movies continue to skyrocket. Last year alone, more than 940 films entered production, almost 560 original scripted series were released to US audiences (up 13 percent from 2020), and more than 1,800 total original series were released, including children’s programming, daytime dramas and unscripted shows. This kind of pace of creativity is testament to how successful our industry’s health and safety protocols have been during the COVID-19 era,” Rivkin writes in the report.
“We have navigated a century’s worth of challenges, and yet we continue to re-emerge as vibrant and creative as ever. Our members are the most dynamic and innovative companies on earth,” he continues. “Their capacity to bring people together through the timeless magic of extraordinary stories, well told, will continue to amaze, inspire, and captivate billions of viewers over the next 100 years.”