Global cinema box office reached $21.4 billion in 2021, according to calculations by researcher Gower Street Analytics. Powered by a “Spider-Man: No Way Home” surge in the last month, the annual total is a 78% gain on 2020. But last year’s cumulative was less than half of the $41.3 billion average of the three pre-pandemic years 2017-2019.
Gower Street estimates that the Asia-Pacific region accounted for $11.3 billion of the total. Within that figure, China accounted for $7.4 billion, confirming its position as the largest single box office territory for the second consecutive year.
The North American (aka “domestic”) market weighed in at an estimated $4.5 billion. Europe, the Middle East and Africa counted for a combined $4.4 billion and Latin America $1.1 billion.
The performance meant that Asia-Pacific (including China) grew from 50.2% in 2020 to 52.8% of global box office in 2021, and that China alone grew its share from 28% to over a third (34%).
But the drive of local content in China and the exclusion of some high-profile U.S. titles from the market, raises questions about how much Hollywood can capitalize on China’s strength. Three Chinese mega-hits — “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” “Hi, Mom” and “Detective Chinatown 3” — together accounted for34% of China’s box office.
Other Asian territories shrank in importance last year as their markets recovered more slowly. Japan’s share of the global total fell to 6.2% (previously 12.2%), South Korea weighed in at just 1.8% (previously 4.1%) and Australia 0.6% (down from 2.7%).
EMEA’s share of the box office fell to 20.7% (from 23.1%) due to prolonged lockdowns in many territories in the early part of 2021.
In 2021, the U.K. and Ireland represented 3.7% of global market share, down from 4.2% in 2020. But Gower Street notes that the U.K. and Ireland market has regained its position as the fourth biggest global box office market, behind China, North America and Japan. France is estimated to have accounted for 3.2% of global box office in 2021, down from 4.4% in 2020.
In a temporal analysis, Gower Street notes that January 2021 was the weakest month of last year, reflecting cinema closures and a lack of product. Chinese New Year launches of the big Chinese-made hits lifted February. That month, China alone accounted for 84% of the entire global box office.
That was followed by four months of stagnation until the release of “Fast and Furious 9” in June, when the North American market beat China for the first time on a monthly basis since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Free Guy” drove growth through the northern hemisphere’s late summer.
“No Time to Die,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “The Battle at Lake Changjin” meant that October totaled $3.1 billion, the biggest month of the 2020-21 pandemic era. The release of “Spider-Man” in most major territories (but not China or Japan) ensured that December weighed in at $2.9 billion.
Gower Street’s analysis of cinema coverage shows that in the first week of 2021, 56% of theaters (by revenue) were open. That figure was just 24% in the EMEA region.
The year ended with 90% of cinemas by market share open globally, with North America lagging with an 85% open rate.