The studio with the highest box office haul last year was one that delayed most of its film slate to 2021. After combing data from Comscore, Sony emerged as the top earner in a year marred by a global pandemic. The studio represented 22.2% of the domestic film market, with just under $500 million in ticket sales.
“If you need a symbol of just how unusual 2020 was at the box office, you need look no further than the fact that Sony’s ‘Bad Boys For Life,’ a mid-January release would remain at the top of the box office chart for the entire year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
The film garnered $206.3 million, a far cry from the $858.3 million in sales that “Avengers: Endgame,” the top-grossing film in 2019, scored. Sony’s market share was bolstered by ticket sales from “Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Little Women,” which were both released in 2019. The “Jumanji” sequel was the fourth-highest grossing film of the year, while “Little Women” was the eighth.
In fact, if you only look at the box office from when the pandemic forced theaters to close through the end of the year, Sony only garnered around $29 million after March 20. “The box office year of 2020 had a split personality,” Dergarabedian said. “It boasted a strong performing pre-pandemic marketplace, but its trajectory was severely impacted in mid-March when theaters were sidelined. It then struggled through spring, summer and fall with a severely limited number of open theaters and a striking dearth of new movies.”
The global coronavirus pandemic has crippled the domestic box office, forcing studios to postpone blockbusters and place other major feature films on premium video on-demand or branded streaming services. Studios that were able to release films before the pandemic shut down movie theaters in March, held onto their box office gains and remained top earners for the year, according to data from Comscore.
These studios’ box office totals were also boosted by films that had been released in 2019, but continued to play in cinemas in early 2020. In fact, the lion’s share of $2.2 billion 2020 box office was generated during the first three months of the year. From Jan. 1 through March 19, the U.S. and Canadian box office tallied $1.8 billion in ticket sales, Comscore data revealed. The remaining $400 million was collected between April and December.
“The pandemic profoundly changed the fortunes of studios and their films that were either cutoff in midstream back in March or were rescheduled for 2021,” Dergarabedian said. “That unforeseen and unfortunate turn of events took what started off as a promising and potentially record-breaking year at the multiplex and turned it into one of the toughest ever for the business.”
Universal was the second-highest grossing studio in 2020, garnering 21.9% of the market share. The box office difference between Sony and Universal was only $5.8 million. Universal delayed the majority of its movies until late 2020 or early 2021. However, as theaters began to reopen and it became more clear that audiences weren’t returning en masse, the studio shifted its strategy.
It struck deals with several major theater chains in the U.S. and Canada that would allow it to shorten the length of time its films needed to be in cinemas. This allowed the studio to place its films on premium video on-demand or on its streaming service Peacock sooner and monetize its film among consumers that were not willing to leave their homes.
The bulk of the Comcast-owned studio’s box office share came from the war drama “1917,” which was released in late 2019. The film received a best picture Academy Award nod in February 2020, which lured moviegoers to see it in droves. The film collected $158 million in 2020, making it the studio’s highest-grossing film and the domestic box office’s second-highest grossing film for the year.
Universal had two major releases prior to the theater shutdown, “Dolittle,” which took in $78 million, and “The Invisible Man,” which brought in $70 million. The company also had a handful of films come to theaters during the pandemic including “Trolls World Tour,” “Freaky” and “The Croods: A New Age.” Together, those film garnered just under $50 million.
The studio also benefitted from the rereleases of “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park,” which added around $10 million in ticket sales to the company’s total. These films, which originally debuted in 1975 and 1993, were among the top-20 highest-grossing films that were played in theaters between the end of March and December 2020.