France has just had its best weekend returns since the start of COVID, with 3.5 million tickets sold from Wednesday June 30 to Sunday July 4. The result – double from the previous weekend and tied with equivalent figures from 2019 – was helped by Frenchman La Fête. Cinema promotional event, which sees cinemas across the country offering discounted tickets to kick off the summer season.
Spain also had its biggest box office weekend since the start of COVID, with 612,000 admissions and a take of $ 5 million (€ 4.15 million), driven by the local release of F9, which took a 65 percent market share.
F9 helped the UK box office come back to life last weekend and continued to run business, with three-day Friday-Sunday returns in the UK and Ireland reaching $ 3.7 million for a total of $ 15 million over two weeks.
“These are pre-pandemic figures, and they could only be achieved if many cinemas are at full capacity, or at the capacity allowed to them at the moment,” said Phil Clapp, CEO of the UK Cinema Association. “So I have no doubt that there is money left on the table, that if the theaters had been able to accommodate more visitors, we would have generated more box office than even these very high numbers.”
Germany saw 830,000 tickets sold for the period July 1-4 as cinemas reopened for the first time since November. The five best films – Godzilla vs. Kong, Peter Rabbit 2, The Conjuration 3 and local comedy Catweazle – each sold over 100,000 tickets, which is impressive considering social distancing requirements that limited capacity to 25% for most theaters.
“With these restrictions in place, we didn’t expect an opening weekend with four films hitting six-figure admissions numbers,” said Johannes Klingsporn, managing director of the German distributor association VdF. “This is a good start to the 2021 cinema year, and in the coming months we will be offering a veritable fireworks display of great films.”
This fireworks display will include Disney’s Black Widow, which tilts across most of the world, including all of Europe, July 7-9, and F9, of which Universal benefits from a more staggered deployment, losing on July 14 in France (after its French premiere in Cannes), in Germany on July 15 and August 18 in Italy.
With its rebound, the French box office is significantly stronger than at the same time last year, with a million more admissions than between June 24 and June 28, 2020 – the first “weekend of reopening ”after the first COVID-19 containment in France.
“Everyone is very, very happy with what we saw in France, these images of people lining up at eight in the morning to watch a film,” notes Laura Houlgatte Abbott, CEO of the European cinema group UNIC. “But we also saw some big numbers from Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Poland and Spain. Overall it has been a real wellness story.
The news outside France was particularly encouraging for independent distributors. While the studio rate – Disney’s Cruel, Paramount A quiet place 2, Warner Bros. ‘ The Conjuration 3 – worked well, the French comedy too (Goodbye morons, A tour of my daughter), and more arthouse dishes, including Oscar winners Nomadic country, The father and Another round.
“What surprised me, even shocked me, is the diversity of films that have worked well,” says Marti. “Everyone has come back: older, younger, all demographics. “
With the reopening of European cinemas, distributors face a new challenge: finding niches in the middle of a suddenly crowded release list.
“There are landmines everywhere, it gets extremely complicated,” says Jeffery Greenstein, president of Millennium Films, whose action comedy The hitman’s bodyguard wife is deployed all over the world. “For each film, each distributor in each territory has their own strategy for when and how to release the film.”
While the European market is showing signs of green shoots, the global box office picture is more complicated. China remains strong but dominated by local tariffs. Propaganda film 1921 took in $ 21.4 million over the weekend, nearly half of the territory’s $ 44.9 million. In South Korea, local crime thriller Hard blow was the number one film last weekend, opening $ 2.07 million, out of a total of $ 6.63 million, but Korean audiences have embraced studio blockbusters as well. F9 was the biggest film in the territory since the start of the year, earning $ 19.4 million to date.
While the Chinese box office total in 2021 is $ 4.3 billion, down just 11.8% from the 2019 total of $ 4.88 billion in the same period, the results Koreans to date – at $ 174.4 million for the first half of this year – are significantly behind the pre-pandemic pace of 2019, when the total for the year was $ 1.61 billion.
Much of the rest of Asia is closed, including India, Malaysia, and Taiwan, where all theaters are closed; Thailand, where a significant portion remains closed amid a stubbornly high number of COVID-19 cases and a slow rollout of vaccination; Vietnam (partial closure) and Indonesia, where all cinemas in Java, home to Jakarta and other major population centers, are currently closed.
All eyes are now on Disney Black Widow and whether the studio’s release day and date – the Marvel Mast will have a PVOD release on Disney + alongside its theatrical arc – will impact its theatrical take.
“We are witnessing a renewed look at the duration of the [theatrical] window and the feeling that a period of theatrical exclusivity creates value, ”says Clapp. “I think what we’re likely to see in the UK and other territories is a shorter window than the one we saw before COVID, but also a clear and distinct feeling that having a period of exclusivity in theaters and on other platforms makes the most sense for a significant number of films, and in particular larger films.
Few people expect the European box office to quickly return to pre-COVID levels, but as the Cannes Film Festival kicks off, admission numbers give the industry hope that cinema is truly back for good.
“There are still capacity limitations in place in many jurisdictions, so the mathematical effects will make it difficult for theaters to reach the numbers seen before the pandemic,” admits UNIC’s Abbott. “But we’re confident because we have the content – the right mix of Hollywood and local content, and we have audiences, like in France, who are eager to go back to the movies. This, to be honest, can’t wait to get out of the house again. We are convinced that we are going to have a great summer.
Patrick Brzeski contributed to this report.