It's Official: 2020 Domestic Box Office Fell 80 Percent to $2.3B Behind China's $2.7B

The Eight Hundred-Publicity still-H 2019
Courtesy of the Shanghai Film Festival

'The Eight Hundred'

For the first time ever, China supplanted North America as the world's top moviegoing market. Yet no country was spared as global box office revenue likely tumbled more than 72 percent, including a 70 percent dip in the Middle Kingdom.

It's official: North American box office revenue plummeted 80 percent in 2020 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented theater closures, while global revenue tumbled more than 70 percent.

As predicted, domestic movie tickets sold between Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 came generated an estimated $2.3 billion (or $2.28 billion) compared to $11.4 billion in 2019, according to Comscore estimates. That's the lowest showing in at least 40 years. The dramatic fall-off was expected, considering that many cinemas have been closed for more than nine months in the U.S.

Globally, 2020 movie ticket sales are expected to come in between $11.5 billion and $12 billion, compared to 2019's $42.5 billion.

In a first, China supplanted North America as the world's moviegoing market in 2020, generating an estimated $2.7 billion in ticket sales, per Comscore.

In another first, a Chinese movie — the World War II epic The Eight Hundred — topped the worldwide box office chart with nearly $440 million. A number of other Chinese films, including My People, My Homeland, populated the upper reaches of the chart, as did Japan's hit Demon Slayer. In non-pandemic times, Hollywood blockbusters generally dominate.

No country was spared from the impact of the virus, however. The China box office was still down 70 percent from 2019's haul of roughly $9 billion even while it rebounded more quickly than the U.S. and much of Europe.

Hollywood's biggest global earner in 2020 was Sony's Bad Boys for Life, which opened in mid-January on its way to grossing $413 million, according to Comscore. Sam Mendes' 1917, which opened nationwide on Jan. 10, earned roughly $385 million. Christopher Nolan's Tenet — the first Hollywood tentpole to brave opening on the big screen amid the pandemic — made its way to an estimated $362 million globally after launching in late summer.

The vast majority of Hollywood's 2020 tentpoles were delayed to 2021 and beyond, or sent/sold to streamers — Hollywood's next big frontier.

COVID-19 has marked a moment of reckoning for both studios and exhibitors, and alters the-once sacrosanct theatrical window.

WarnerMedia, whose empire includes Warner Bros., is opening its 2021 movies day and date on HBO Max and in cinemas, much as Wonder Woman 1984 did over Christmas. And Universal struck a historic deal with major theater chains that will make its titles available on premium VOD 17 days or more after they open in cinemas.

"The movie business will be forever changed no doubt, but movie theaters will be ready for their closeup and as things slowly return to some semblance of normal, they will star in an uplifting sequel of their own," says Comscore's Paul Dergarabedian. "2021 will be arguably the most important year in the history of the big screen, and one that will bridge the gap between a devastating 2020 that tragically affected so many people and impacted so profoundly many brick and mortar businesses."