2019 seems a long time ago, right? Back then, it was smooth sailing for the movie industry: audience numbers were up, records were getting smashed at the box office, and fresh content was being greenlit left, right and centre.
Then a certain virus came on the scene and caused all sorts of trouble. Cinemas shut, productions stopped, and delays ensued. The world of movies – from creation to release to consumption – was turned upside-down.
Fast forward to today, some two-ish years later: where are we? Has the industry recovered, or is it stuck in the doldrums? Have any new trends emerged? What’s changed, and what’s stayed the same? Let’s take a look.
The return of the blockbuster
2019 was a big one for blockbusters. Here are the top 10 performers at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. What a time it was: nine titles broke the billion-dollar barrier, and the top two, Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King, are currently the 2nd and 8th highest-grossing films of all time.
As Variety reported here, the global box office return was a monstrous US$42.5 billion – a new record that, I suspect, will last for some time.
Compare this to 2020
The best-performing Hollywood title, Bad Boys For Life, brought in US$42.5 million – less than a sixth of what the previous year’s number one (Avengers: Endgame) accrued. Tenet‘s return amounted to US$36.3 million: Chris Nolan’s lowest since 2006’s The Prestige.
Overall, as per Deadline, the global gross dropped 71% to US$12.4 billion from its 2019 heights. Ouch.
And 2021? The data certainly makes for interesting reading
The year’s story was, of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home. The 6th highest-grossing movie ever (this could still improve), it outperformed its predecessor, Spider-man: Far From Home, by nearly US$700K – despite the restrictions around the world. Excellent work, Spidey.
No Time to Die did very well too. The oft-delayed conclusion to Daniel Craig’s Bond stint was met with near-universal praise, and brought in the second-highest gross for an English language title.
Overall, it says something when the 9th best performing title of 2021 (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) brings in more than 2020’s number one. That “something” being: the movie industry is gradually recovering, audiences are hungry for movies, and the pull of the Hollywood blockbuster remains strong.
Marvel’s enduring popularity
According to the 2021 data, four of the year’s top 10 performers were part of the Marvel canon: Spider-Man: No Way Home, Venom: Let There be Carnage, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals.
And then there’s the aforementioned Black Widow, which just missed out. Combined, the total gross for all five amounted to a princely sum of around US$3.5 billion.
Evidently, 14 years after Iron Man, the MCU still has immense pulling power worldwide.
And, looking at the Marvel movies in 2022, this isn’t going to change anytime soon: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are all on the way, with more in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.
A lot has changed over the last two years, but then again, some things have stayed the same: like our love of explosions, guns and car chases.
Action is, by some distance, the most popular genre globally. Nine out of ten of 2021’s best performers were action-orientated, and the likes of Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Matrix: Resurrections all made the top 30.
It’s a similar story in 2022. Chinese blockbuster Water Gate Bridge leads the way, with a hefty gross of US$480 million. Bucking the trend of video game movies underachieving at the box office, Unchartered has a gross of US$140 million (so far), while The 355 sits comfortably in the top ten too.
Onto animation, 2019 was an incredible year for the genre: seven made the overall top 20, and two (The Lion King and Frozen II) accrued the 2nd and 3rd top grosses of the year.
2020 was challenging, but things are getting better. Raya and the Last Dragon, Encanto and Sing 2 did well in 2021, and with Lightyear, Sonic 2, Spider-man: Across the Spiderverse, Minions: The Rise of Kru, and Pinocchio on the horizon, 2022 could – whisper it – see a return to 2019 levels.
And what of the music biopic? It does seem that demand has cooled lately. The Aretha Franklin movie, Respect, did decent business, but overall 2020 and 2021 were barren years for the subgenre. The heady days of Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody seem a while ago now.
However, there’s some in the pipeline for 2022: Austin Butler’s Elvis looks promising, and word is there’s an Ozzy Osboure movie on the way too. So you never know. Like Queen at Live Aid, a comeback could be on the cards.
Last but not least – horror
With the likes of A Quiet Place, Midsommar, Get Out! and Hereditary, it’s been a vintage few years for the genre, both with the movie-going public and the critics.
The trend continued in 2021: A Quiet Place: Part 2 was the 14th highest-grossing movie of that year, and Halloween Kills exceeded expectations, bringing in US$132 million.
However, most impressive (and perhaps surprising) of all is the confusingly-titled Scream: the 5th installment in the self-referential slasher series, it’s the second best performing Hollywood film of 2022 so far.
The rise of the non-English movie
When Parasite won the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe in 2020, director Bong Joon-ho memorably said this: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
So, two years on, did we, as an audience, get over the barrier? Was Parasite the watershed cultural moment that many thought it would be?
Well, sort of.
On the one hand, there’s little argument that Hollywood titles still dominate the global box office. For instance, in 2021, just three of the top ten weren’t in English. Still, it’s an upswing when you consider that, in 2018 and 2019, every title was an English-language one.
Also, as mentioned, the Mandarin movie Water Gate Bridge currently sits atop this year’s box office rankings, while behind it in 2nd is another from China – Too Cool to Kill.
The signs for independent features are encouraging too.
Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers and Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari outperformed a number of big-budget Hollywood titles, while Das perfekte Geheimnis was the second highest-grosser in Germany, surpassing F9: The Fast Saga and Dune.
All positive signs, for sure. We mightn’t have clambered over the one-inch barrier just yet, but we’re getting there.
So, strange and exciting times in the movie world.
Some things have changed, like the increased popularity of non-English titles, while others have stayed the same: the dominance of the action genre and the demand for Marvel titles, for instance.
Also, although numbers aren’t what they were in 2018 and 2019, it’s still encouraging to see grosses recover significantly in 2021 from the miserable lows of 2020.
And there are more reasons for optimism in 2022.
Scream and Unchartered‘s unexpected box office triumphs are a welcome boost, and there are so many big hitters still to come: The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion and Lightyear, to name a few.
Whatever happens, one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be interesting!
Jane Boland, Inflight Dublin