2021: A Year (Not) at the Box Office
Issue: October-November-December 2021

2021: A Year (Not) at the Box Office

We all remember the scenario in 2020 when the world was in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Theaters closed their doors, and studios had to make a decision on what to do with their finished films. Do they wait out the pandemic, which could last who-knows how long, to get more audience? Do they team up with a streaming service or, in the case of some, utilize their own service? And if so, do they offer it as part of the service or charge a premium price? Or, do they bank on audience hunger for the theatrical experience?

We entered 2021 with high hopes. Hopes that the vaccines would put an end to this virus. Hopes that the public once again would feel safe enough to patronize theaters and other businesses. Here we are, at the end of the year, and looking back, there was some positive progress at the box office, but not nearly as much as expected at this time last year.

Domestically, some films have not shown big box-office numbers due to a simultaneous release on a streaming platform. Also, especially in the first half of the year, the reluctance to return to the theater no doubt impacted certain titles. Even now, with COVID variants threatening, some films are making an impact in theaters. As of this writing, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings — which had an initial theatrical-only release — remains at the top of the domestic box office. At number 3, Black Widow, which was first released both in theaters and at a premium streaming price. 

The long-awaited Bond film No Time to Die finally rolled out in theaters, followed by Eternals, another theater-only film, at least for a short time. Also, the long-anticipated Dune, which currently is in the top 15 at the domestic box office, had a theatrical debut, as WB opted against a simultaneous theater/streaming option (on HBO Max) for the first 45 days. 

While many of those films experienced delayed releases, others are looking at 2022 instead. For those dinosaur seekers, the long, long-awaited Jurassic World: Dominion is now planned for June 2022. Also, Top Gun Maverick is expected to take off in May 2022 after cooling its jets due to COVID delays, as will Mission: Impossible 7, with a planned theater release followed a very short time later with a streaming release. Meanwhile, we wait patiently for the next installment of The Matrix Resurrections, which made the 2021 cut-off and will hit theaters and HBO Max at the end of this year. 

Of course, plans change, and sometimes rather quickly. 

Without question, it has been another unusual year at the theater; and surely there are some newly converted home-theatergoers. So, what will all this mean during awards season, especially the Oscars? Will the decision of when and how to release titles have an effect on voters? That is something we will just have to wait to discover.

Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of CGW.