2021’s U.S. box office trails 2019’s movie ticket sales by 70%

Just two months before the end of the year, the coronavirus pandemic still looms large over the film industry.

Ticket sales in 2021 have already surpassed the paltry box office of 2020. But sales are still 70% behind the 2019 sales of $11.4 billion. As of Sunday, the domestic box office has generated $2.84 billion in ticket sales, according to data from Comscore.

Box office revenue improved steadily throughout the year, as new films became available on the big screen and audiences became more comfortable going outside. Theatrical exclusives like Disney’s “Free Guy,” Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” prove that there is a future for movie theaters, even if total attendance and tickets are Sales are lower than pre-pandemic times.

These films had strong opening weekends. The sequel to “Venom,” which debuted the first weekend in October, currently holds the record for best opening during the health crisis, with ticket sales reaching nearly $90 million. Even better, these titles continued to entice moviegoers in the weeks since their debut.

This pattern suggests that as the coronavirus threat dissipates and blockbuster titles continue to enter the market, the box office will return to more normal levels.

“To say the box office has taken a turn would be an understatement at this point,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.

With two weeks of sales so far, October’s box office is the second highest-grossing month of the year. Theaters already posted $415.6 million in ticket sales in the first half of the month, putting it behind July, which raked in $583.8 million in sales, according to Comscore. July saw the release of “Black Widow” as well as the continued sale of tickets for “F9,” which debuted in the last week of June.

“The industry is still working to overcome certain hurdles, such as being vigilant among older audiences and anticipating vaccinations for children, but a significant proportion of the movie audience has returned in staggered waves over the past six months,” Robbins said. He added that it’s a promising sign for theaters coming into the festive season.

“October has been a period of renewal for Hollywood, and it’s something that studios and models have been patiently waiting for,” said Jeff Bock, Senior Analyst for Model Relations. “The outlook for the fall has the industry heading in the right direction, as evidenced by the frequent strong debuts.”

Before the pandemic, the fall movie season — which includes October, November, and December — represented about 25% of ticket sales each year. In 2019, that three-month period was nearly $3 billion.

Box office analysts don’t expect the fall 2021 slate to match that, but they’re confident titles like Disney’s “Eternals,” “Encanto” and Warner Bros. Sony and Marvel’s “The Matrix Resurrections” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” would be tempting enough to help the 2021 box office hit nearly $4 billion.

“Recovery has always been a multi-tiered process, and as much as 2021 seems to be coming to an end, 2022 has what it takes to elevate the box office recovery to an even higher level,” Robbins said.

But Bock expects the first part of next year to be “daunting” because there are few major releases going into the year. However, summer is looking “as strong as ever,” he said, likening it to the trendy 2019 squad. The summer roster includes new releases from major franchises such as Marvel, DC, Jurassic World, Top Gun, Fantastic Beasts, Minions, and Transformers.

However, audiences have been less predictable during the pandemic, and the availability of some popular features on broadcasts at the same time as in theaters has broken up ticket sales.

“One of the most interesting aspects of restarting theater during the pandemic is the fact that young audiences are showing up in large numbers and on a consistent basis,” Robbins said. “Before the pandemic, there were various accounts of how young consumers were moving away from so-called traditional habits rather than a series of platforms for distributing content via social media and live streaming.”

It appears that the older generations, many of whom have children who cannot be vaccinated, are now less inclined to go out to theaters. However, with vaccines becoming more widely available to those under the age of 11, this could change again.

“Films appealing to younger demographics have thrived, while films aimed at more mature movie-goers have been more difficult to gain traction,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “At least for now.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal has distributed “F9” and “Halloween Kills” and “No Time To Die” worldwide.

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