'Silver Lining' Shines Through as North American Box Office Suffers 40-Year-Low Revenues


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact everyone’s daily life, even Hollywood has discovered it isn’t immune to the economic consequences of the virus.

According to Comscore data cited by The Associated Press, the North American box office suffered a 40-year low in 2020. Domestic ticket sales generated about $2.3 billion, compared with the previous five  years, in which annual revenue exceeded $11 billion each year.

According to estimates, global movie ticket sales will be down as well, coming in between $11 billion and $12 billion. This is significantly lower than 2019’s $42.5 billion.

With many theaters forced to close in compliance with state lockdown restrictions, these numbers aren’t unexpected.

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Many theaters also missed out on the summer movie season’s lucrative profits, as that time of year typically accounts for about 40 percent of annual earnings.

In 2018 and 2019, summer films netted over $4.3 billion in profits each year. In the summer of 2020, however, an abysmal $176.5 million was brought in, much of it from drive-in theaters.

“The drive-in became the hero of the summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore.

As NBCUniversal reported, another way Hollywood sought to keep money coming in last year was to make movies available to watch at home on the same day as their worldwide theatrical releases.

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Universal was the first studio to do this by making “Emma,” “The Hunt,” and “The Invisible Man” available for a 48-hour rental period at a suggested price of $19.99 through on-demand streaming services.

According to Deadline, however, most studios have opted to delay major film release dates until the traditional movie-going experience returns.

While theaters in New York and Los Angeles remained closed, other states did start to reopen them late in the summer, albeit with limited capacity and screenings.

As Box Office Mojo reported, this has added a lot of variety to 2020’s list of box office rankings.

Two of three movies released before the shutdowns were at the top — “Bad Boys for Life,” released on Jan. 17 ,was No. 1 — but a few post-shutdown and even some retro releases ranked high on the list.

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To media analysts such as Dergarabedian, this is a positive sign for the movie industry.

“The silver lining for movie theaters is even though people had unlimited options at home, people still sought out the movie theater,” Dergarabedian told The Associated Press. “People have a desire to go outside the home and be entertained. That desire hasn’t changed, but the ability to do that was profoundly limited.”

Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures, however, noted this might make it difficult to determine whether audiences attended openings as a result of film quality or simply the desire to leave home.

“The instant gratification that we used to be able to deliver on Sunday mornings after opening on a Friday?” Orr said. “It’s probably not going to happen again for quite some time.”

Orr remains optimistic that, as vaccine rollouts continue, the general public will return to the theater, ensuring long-term survival for the movie industry.

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Samantha Kamman is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. She has been published in several media outlets, including Live Action News and the Washington Examiner.
Samantha Kamman is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. She has been published in several media outlets, including Live Action News and the Washington Examiner.