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U.S. Box Office Drops 80 Percent in 2020 as Worldwide Streamers Top 1 Billion

AMC Theatres Bankruptcy Looming
Orlando, FL/USA-2/29/20: An AMC Dine-In Theatre at an outdoor mall in Orlando, Florida.

According to the Motion Picture Association, the U.S. box office dropped a shocking 80 percent in 2020. Before you let out the world’s biggest groan or audible “DUHHH!”, however, understand that the angle I’m taking is that the shocking part remains that the box office ONLY dropped 80 percent, and not more.

To put this into perspective, my entire existence revolves around movies. Watching them, reviewing them, writing news articles about them, and everything in-between. Meanwhile, I haven’t been to a movie theater IN A YEAR. ONE FULL YEAR!!!

Half the reason is because I live in New York and theaters have simply been closed for most of that time. No point in heading to my local Alamo Drafthouse if the furthest I can go is the front sidewalk. The other half of the reason is due to safety concerns and not wanting to put myself or others at risk of infection. The only thing more important to me than movies is the health of myself and those around me.

However, other states dealt with the pandemic in a different manner, as did other individuals. Accordingly, the MPA reported that the U.S. box office fell to $2.2 billion in 2020, representing the 80 percent year-over-year decline. The global box office fell to $12 billion, representing a 72 percent year-over-year decline.

“The past year was challenging for the global economy, and for virtually every aspect of our daily lives: the staggering loss of life, the toll on our frontline workers, the devastating and widespread loss of jobs and businesses, and the almost complete shutdown of many industries,” MPA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin said in his letter introducing the 60 page-plus report.

The total number of films entering production also fell by 46 percent compared to 2019, which is not quite as much as one might assume given the perception of a prolonged worldwide production shutdown.

Streaming services, naturally, filled in the box office void. For the first time ever, subscribers of online streaming services crossed the one billion threshold, totaling more than 1.1 billion. The figure represents a 26 percent gain over 2019.

All told, the 2020 MPA report paints a challenging picture for the movie theater industry, but not for the entertainment industry at large. Indeed, movie exhibitors got hammered in 2020, with chains such as AMC desperately needing to raise money and others such Alamo Drafthouse declaring bankruptcy. However, the global mobile/home entertainment market generated revenue of $68.8 billion in 2020, a 23 percent jump over 2019, meaning people are still paying for entertainment, they are just doing so from home.