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The early 2020 box office success of Sam Mendes’ “1917” was one of the few bright sparks in a U.K. and Ireland box office shattered by the impact of coronavirus, according to Comscore’s annual report.
The report notes that after five consecutive years when the cinema box office for the territory exceeded £1.3 billion ($1.76 billion), widespread lockdowns in 2020 resulted in a 76% drop in revenues. The total box office was £322.9 million ($438.9 million), down from 2019’s £1.35 billion ($1.83 billion).
The year began promisingly enough with revenues up 20% year-on-year, and “1917” booming to £44 million ($59.7 million). Come March, the number of cinemas open remained below normal levels for the rest of the year. A full national closure was in effect throughout the second quarter (April-June), followed by regional closures through the fourth quarter (October-December). Even when all regions were permitted to open in the third quarter (July-September), some cinemas opted to remain closed due to health concerns and the limited pipeline of new films being released.
Going into 2021, all cinemas are again closed with various local Tiered restrictions expected to last until February.
Overall, 441 new titles were released in cinemas in 2020, down from 938 in 2019. Another positive note was the opening of 31 drive-in cinemas across the U.K. and Ireland, contributing over £1.6 million ($2.1 million) to the box office.
While final 2020 admission figures are not yet available, the total is expected to be in the region of 42–43 million in the U.K. and 3–4 million in Ireland. This is less than one visit per person on average, around one-third of the usual frequency. The previous U.K. low was 54 million in 1984. Total admissions in 2019 were 191.1 million for U.K. and Ireland combined.
Smaller venues fared better overall than the larger multiplexes, with the continued availability of arthouse/independent British titles, event cinema, catalogue and short-windowed titles being a major factor, and multiplexes being more reliant on the pipeline of major Hollywood blockbusters.
In the second half of 2020, the highest-grossing titles at sites with 1-3 screens included “The Secret Garden” and “On The Rocks,” “Saint Maud” and “Rocks,” “Trolls World Tour” and “Onward,” and events “Michael Ball & Alfie Boe” and “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet,” alongside “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” which performed well across all venue types.
Based on admissions in the first eleven months of 2020, the average price paid for a ticket will be around £7.60 ($10.31) this year, the highest figure ever seen and significantly up from 2019’s £7.06 ($9.57).
According to a Comscore survey, 95% of cinema attendees said that having experienced the safety precautions, they were very likely or quite likely to return. The main barriers are the lack of new blockbusters and cinema closures rather than audience desire.
Following four years of Disney dominance, eOne was the top distributor in 2020, taking £49.3 million ($66.9 million), around 15.3% of the total market, despite releasing only five new films in the year. Revenue was more evenly shared across the studios this year, with five distributors taking a share of over 10%, up from three in 2019 when Disney achieved 36.2% of revenues. Alongside eOne, the other top five distributors were Sony (15.0%), Disney (13.7%), Universal (12.1%) and Warner Bros (11.3%).
Top 10 films in U.K. & Ireland in 2020
1. “1917” (eOne): £44 million ($59.7 million)
2. “Sonic The Hedgehog” (Paramount): £19.3 million ($26.1 million)
3. “Tenet” (Warner Bros): £17.4 million ($23.6 million)
4. “Bad Boys For Life” (Sony): £16.2 million ($22 million)
5. “Dolittle” (Universal): £15.9 million ($21.5 million)
6. “Little Women” (Sony): £15.3 million ($20.7 million) – released 2019, £22.1 million ($30 million) lifetime
7. “The Gentlemen” (Entertainment): £12.2 million ($16.5 million)
8. “Parasite” (Studiocanal): £12.1 million ($16.4 million)
9. “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” (Disney): £11.3 million ($15.3 million) – released 2019, £58.2 million ($79 million) lifetime
10. “Jumanji: The Next Level” (Sony): £11 million ($14.9 million) – released 2019, £36.8 million ($49.9 million) lifetime