European Box Office Drops $7.5 Billion in 2020 Due to COVID-19

Odeon Cinema
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

The UGC Odeon cinema on Dec. 15, 2020 in Paris.

European cinemas saw a 70.6 percent box-office decline as COVID-19 lockdowns wiped $7.5 billion off theatrical revenues.

European cinemas were battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with box office falling across the continent, resulting in billions in lost revenue. 

Figures released Thursday by the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), a cinema industry body, showed a box office drop of 70.6 percent across Europe in 2020, with theatrical revenues plunging a total of $7.5 billion (€6.2 billion) across 38 European territories. 

The declines comes after a strong 2019, which saw admissions top 1.34 billion across Europe—the highest figure in 15 years — and box-office figures hit $10.65 billion (€8.8 billion). 

Although government response to the coronavirus pandemic varied widely between European countries — nations like Italy and Spain introducing a swift and severe lockdown early while others, including Sweden and the Netherlands, opting for less restrictive measures — that difference is not reflected in box-office results. Revenues fell everywhere and, with few exceptions, by similar amounts. Italy, the first European nation to go into COVID lockdown, saw a 71 percent fall in box office revenue for 2020. In Sweden, which has yet to introduce a formal lockdown, and has introduced capacity restrictions but not ordered cinemas to close, theatrical sales fell 65 percent.

Denmark, where box office fell "just" 47 percent year-on-year, was an outlier. But that was largely due to a single film: Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen, which bowed in between national lockdowns and was a huge hit, selling more than 800,000 tickets, making it one of the most successful releases of all time in the country. 

UNIC noted that several factors contributed to the 2020 box-office crash. Even in territories where theaters remained opened or were allowed to reopen, there was a lack of top film titles, with most U.S. studios postponing or canceling the theatrical release of their blockbusters.

National titles could only partially fill that gap. Several European countries saw the box office share for local titles hit new heights. Danish films accounted for 49.4 percent of theater admissions in 2020. In France, the figure was 44.9 percent. In Italy, more than half — 56.6  percent — of cinema admissions last year were for local films.  

That's little consolation, however, for Europe's hard-hit cinema owners. 

"The crisis is far from over, with most European cinemas still closed," the UNIC noted. "[We urge] policy-makers at the local, national and European level to enforce strong recovery strategies to ensure that European cinemas—of all sizes and all locations — can survive this challenging period and be once again the vibrant home of culture, freedom, and community that they always have been."