Domestic Box Office Up 91% Compared To 2020, But Still Down Sharply From 2019

We are mere days away from putting another year in pandemic land behind us. Admittedly, 2021 was less horrific and isolating than 2020 for many of us, but it was not exactly the miracle turnaround year that everyone hoped it would be going into it. Particularly as it relates to the movie business, as the box office has certainly rebounded in a big way compared to last year, though it is nowhere near where it was in 2019 before the world was upended. For now, it's a mixed bag of taking the good with bad.

As reported by Variety, Comscore is estimating that the domestic box office will finish at $4.4 billion. It currently sits at $4.3 billion, so we're looking at another $100 million or so in ticket sales before the clock rolls to midnight on December 31. That number could fluctuate slightly, but this is more or less what we're looking at for 2021. The good news is that represents a 91% increase (give or take) compared to 2020, where the box office topped out at $2.2 billion. The other good news is this tops projections from earlier in the year, which pegged the yearly increase to be around 80% compared to 2020. That's the good news.

The bad news is, compared to 2019, we're still a long way from normal. The box office will finish around 61% lower than 2019, where ticket sales topped $11.3 billion domestically. Though, as I noted not long ago, far fewer movies have been released in theaters in 2021 (currently 429) when compared to 2019 (911 movies). So there are still areas in which the industry is adapting to the change, and it's not an apples-to-apples situation. But the trend is up, especially with "Spider-Man: No Way Home" shattering box office records right now. There is more good than bad, if one chooses to look at it that way.

A Slower Recovery

The big takeaway is that the recovery, overall, has been slower than expected this year. Yes, movies like "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "F9," "Godzilla vs. Kong," and "Venom: Let The Be Carnage," among other franchise titles, pulled in big bucks at the box office this year. But many, many big movies such as "West Side Story," "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City," "Space Jam: A New Legacy," "The Last Duel," and "Nightmare Alley," among many others, bombed in a big, bad way. Can all of these bombs be blamed on the pandemic? No, but it remains a gigantic factor.

Studios pivoted to streaming, releasing brand new movies on premium VOD, or just directly to major streaming services. This, quite quickly, seemed to reshape consumer habits. Even before Omicron emerged and it became far safer to return to movie theaters, many moviegoers were choosing to stay at home. Consumers are being far more selective about moviegoing now, which is something the industry will need to contend with in the long run, well beyond the pandemic. But 2022 has a lot to offer movie fans and it hopefully will continue to trend upward. The theatrical experience isn't dead, but it is evolving.