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The Pandemic Has Changed Movies, But There’s Still Big Bucks in Blockbusters

Movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home prove that for big franchises, the communal utopia of the cineplex is still unbeatable

blockbuster movies 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with a deep dive into how COVID-19 has changed “event” movies. As December rolls along, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.


    Spider-Man: No Way Home, which hit theaters in the US on December 16th, is poised to shatter box office records. One of the most anticipated blockbuster films of 2021 (maybe even of the last five years), all eyes are on Peter Parker and Co. to rake in the kind of cash that superheroes typically did in the Before Times. Of course, the film is about to smash said records in a very different world than when pre-production on it began in 2017.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has done astronomical damage to countless businesses, and the movie industry was not spared. After all, dozens of major films — from Marvel’s Black Widow, Eternals, and No Way Home to The Batman, No Time to Die, West Side Story, Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Uncharted — were pushed back anywhere from a few months to roughly a year-and-a-half.

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    In the meantime, 2020’s domestic and worldwide box office totals were down about 81.5% and 71% (respectively) compared to 2019, and combined with other setbacks, theaters and studios cumulatively lost billions in revenue. The first half of 2021 didn’t fare much better, leading many cinema aficionados to wonder if it’s even possible to restore blockbuster hype and financial hegemony in an ongoing pandemic.

    With 2021’s box office up about 80% from 2020 in the United States, though, industry experts are hopeful. While the projected $4 billion year-end domestic gross and $20-plus billion global gross are a far cry from 2019’s aggregates, it’s still a very promising sign that 2022 — and beyond — will finally see a return to relatively normal levels of audience attendance and anticipation, at least when it comes to the blockbuster.


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