James Bond Ruled as U.K. Box Office Soared 85% in 2021 to $811 Million, But Remained Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

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Total box office revenues in the U.K. and Ireland in 2021 rose 85% to £596.9 million ($811.1 million) from 2020’s total of £323.2 million ($439.3 million), according to the annual box office review released by Comscore. However, these numbers remain far below pre-pandemic levels when annual box office exceeded £1.3 billion in each of the five years up to 2019.

Cinemas were closed for the first 19 weeks of 2021 and allowed to reopen from May 17, but unlike 2020, which had repeated closures, 2021 did not witness any enforced closures since reopening.

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The report reveals that 497 new titles were released in cinemas in 2021, up from 444 in 2020. Looking only at the period when cinemas were able to open, 2021 had just 20% fewer titles released mid-May to December than 2019, which had 625 releases in the equivalent period. Comscore expects 2022 to return to the usual volume, which peaked in 2019 at 938 new releases.

2020 saw a resurgence in drive-in cinemas, with 31 opened. Eight of these sites continued to operate and were joined by six new openers in 2021. These 14 drive-ins contributed over £1 million to the box office in 2021, down from £1.6 million in 2020.

While final 2021 admission numbers are not yet available, Comscore expects the U.K. total to be around 74 million and some six million in Ireland, almost 70% up from 2020’s total admissions of 47.6 million for the U.K. and Ireland combined, which represented a steep fall from 2019’s total of 191.1 million.

The year’s box office was led by James Bond film “No Time to Die,” which is the no. 3 film of all time with £96.5 million, behind “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (£123.2 million) and “Skyfall” (£103.2 million). December release “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is still in cinemas, is no.10 in the all-time chart with £74.8 million and is expected to overtake 2019’s “The Lion King” (£76 million) and will then challenge Titanic (£80.2 million) for eighth position.

Universal was the top distributor in 2021, taking £180.8 million — 30.3% of the total market — from 25 new releases and 27 pre-2021 releases. While the performance was led by “No Time To Die,” other films contributed almost half of their total including “Fast & Furious 9,” “The Addams Family 2,” “The Croods 2: A New Age” and “House Of Gucci.” Sony and Disney had a 21.9% and 21.0% share respectively. The other top distributors were Warner Bros (14.2%) and Paramount (3.6%).

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the U.K. Cinema Association said: “While the challenges presented to the sector by COVID during 2021 were still all too apparent, the extraordinarily positive public response to the return of cinema going in the second half of the year, and in particular their recognition of the huge efforts made by cinema operators to ensure the continuing safety and comfort of audiences and team members alike, augur extremely well for a strong and continued recovery in 2022 and beyond.”

Andy Leyshon, CEO at the Film Distributors’ Association, added: “Once cinemas were permitted to reopen their doors, it was heartening to see audiences return in good numbers and cinema going reaffirm its position as the nation’s favorite out-of-home entertainment choice. 2021 delivered some terrific titles and stellar big screen successes, and in 2022 the recovery story is set to continue with an even more diverse slate of films and something on offer for every taste.”

Top 10 films in U.K. and Ireland in 2021:

1. “No Time To Die” (Universal): £96.5 million
2. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony): £74.8 million – still on release
3. “Dune” (Warner Bros): £21.8 million
4. “Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings” (Disney): £21.2 million
5. “Peter Rabbit 2” (Sony): £20.4 million
6. “Black Widow” (Disney): £18.8 million
7. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Sony): £18 million
8. “Free Guy” (Disney): £16.8 million
9. “Fast & Furious 9” (Universal): £16.4 million
10. “Eternals” (Disney): £14.8 million

Top 10 British films in U.K. and Ireland in 2021:

1. “No Time To Die” (Universal): £96.5 million
2. “The King’s Man” (Disney): £4.4 million – still on release
3. “Spencer” (STXfilms): £2.8 million
4. “People Just Do Nothing: Big In Japan” (Universal): £2.3 million
5. “Last Night In Soho” (Universal): £2.3 million
6. “The Father” (Lionsgate): £2.1 million
7. “The Courier” (Lionsgate): £2 million
8. “Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone” (20th Anniversary) (Warner Bros): £1.3 million
9. “The Night House” (Disney): £977,000
10. “A Boy Called Christmas” (Sky Cinema): £830,000

(Data from Jan 1, 2021 – Jan. 6 2022)

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