Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe catapulted Disney to the top of the domestic box office in 2021.
As the pandemic continues to weigh on the cinema business, movie theaters in the United States and Canada have raked in $ 4.58 billion in ticket sales, more than double what it saw in 2020.
A whopping 25.5% of that was generated by Disney, which grossed $ 1.17 billion with films like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, “Black Widow” and “The Eternals”. The company, which released films from studios such as Disney Animation, 20th Century, and Searchlight, had the highest payout of the year.
Sony ranks just a little second, raising $ 1.05 billion over the course of the year, more than half of which was delivered by Spider-Man: No Way Home in the last two weeks of the year. The film, a collaboration between Disney and Sony, is the top grossing film of 2021.
“In an unusual year 2021, it took a village to rebuild the box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The big studios showed their confidence in and understanding of the value of big-screen release for their top-class titles and were greeted by enthusiastic moviegoers who were hungry for the cinematic experience.”
Since reopening to the public, cinemas have seen colossal ups and downs in ticket sales. The domestic box office has bounced back from all-time lows in 2020 but has yet to match the consistency seen before the pandemic.
Franchise movies have always been popular, and during the pandemic era, they were the main draw for cinemas. In fact, only one of the top ten top grossing films, Disney’s “Free Guy”, was not based on existing intellectual property.
In 2021, only 13 films topped the $ 100 million mark, an feat that was typically matched by around 30 films before the pandemic. Still, the fact that more than a dozen films top that number is a positive sign for the domestic box office.
“The results have been impressive and a welcome factor of confidence for a resilient industry facing challenges in 2022,” he said.
While these blockbuster features have rekindled box office confidence, concerns about new flavors of Covid and lackluster ticket sales for non-franchise films could mean a slower recovery for the industry.
Films aimed at an older audience, such as House of Gucci, The Last Duel, and West Side Story, have had a hard time attracting large crowds since theaters reopened. While adult films are often less monetary than large tentpoles, they are still vitally important to the overall box office. Together, these so-called “mid-level” features contribute billions to the total annual transport.
This has led many box office analysts to expect the domestic box office to hit around $ 8 billion in 2022, instead of the $ 11 billion before the pandemic.
If you look at the three top-grossing studios this year, it becomes clear which films and genres have been the most successful and which we can expect to do well in 2022 as well.
Disney’s three top-grossing films were tied to its Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Black Widow,” and “Eternals” each grossed more than $ 100 million at the domestic box office.
Disney will release three more high profile MCU films next year, including Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If current box office trends persist, these films should be discontinued for strong ticket sales.
Disney’s 2021 domestic box office figures also show how double releases in theaters and on Disney + resulted in lower box office figures for films such as Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella. While these films were released early on the calendar, when audiences were just returning to theaters, it quickly became apparent that availability in the home market was hurting box office revenues.
With older audiences reluctant to return to theaters, West Side Story generated just $ 28 million in ticket sales on a production budget of around $ 100 million, excluding marketing costs. And that despite a 93% “Fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
Families are also slow to return. Encanto, which received rave reviews, ended the year with ticket sales of around $ 90 million in the US and Canada.
Thanks to its partnership with Disney, Sony generated more than half of its $ 1.05 billion in funding in the final weeks of 2021. Spider-Man: No Way Home grossed $ 572.9 million domestically, the most of all films released in 2021.
The studio also enjoyed success with Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which grossed $ 212 million in the United States and Canada, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which grossed $ 122 million. Like Disney, Sony has benefited from popular franchises that have drawn audiences back to theaters.
Still, not all of his follow-ups were successful. Smaller budget films based on existing IP such as “Don’t Breathe 2”, “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” and “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” failed to attract significant audience numbers.
Sony also sold a number of films to streamers over the past year including Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, Happiest Season, Fatherhood, Greyhound, Cinderella and American Pickle. It’s not guaranteed that any of these films would have generated significant ticket sales for the studio, but they are titles that could have boosted Sony’s overall box office success for 2021.
The third highest grossing studio was Universal, which grossed approximately $ 715 million domestically from films such as “F9”, “Halloween Kills” and “Sing 2”.
Like Sony and Disney, Universal’s franchise films are well positioned to thrive in 2022. The studio will release Jurassic World: Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and an as-yet untitled Mario Bros. animated film. If families are more comfortable bringing vaccinated children to theaters, kid-friendly studio prices could bounce back.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.