With a COVID-19 vaccination rollout slowly underway, consumers are expected to return to movie theaters in bigger numbers in the second half of this year, jumpstarting an industry perilously close to extinction in 2020.
Initial estimates call for the domestic box office to reach $3.3 billion in 2021 from $2 billion in 2020.
“We now expect 2021 box office to end up 158% over 2020, or down 52% over 2019,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles wrote in a note.
By contrast, in 2019 the domestic box office gross was $11.3 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
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The analyst maintains that most moviegoers will remain reluctant to attend the theater until they receive their vaccine, or in the case that the transmission rate significantly falls. Pachter doesn’t expect attendance levels to begin to normalize until July at the earliest.
“We estimate that domestic box office is trending down 95.4% through the first 10 days of 2021 vs. 2020,” he wrote.
While studios cautiously produce content in 2021, plenty of programming originally slated for 2020 will fill the immediate gap. Wedbush contends that with streaming services competing at the highest levels for content to bolster their platforms in an extremely competitive environment driven by heightened levels of consumer demand, the shortage of new original content should continue throughout the first half of 2021.
Pachter said there are about 131 movies that have been moved or pulled from their original release slate, worth an estimated $9.9 billion. Of these films, 20 have been relegated to streaming platforms, worth an estimated $900 million in box office dollars. There are 24 that have yet to be rescheduled or slated for streaming, worth an estimated $963 million in box office dollars. Most of these will likely be moved to streaming platforms, in our view.
“Taken together, we think the overall negative impact to 2020 domestic box office was $3.4 billion, only partially offset by a positive impact to 2021 domestic box office of $289 million and another $1.8 billion in 2022,” Pachter wrote.