Box Office 2020: China tops world, even though ticket sales were down 70%

Business & Technology

China's box office was devastated by lockdowns during the first wave of COVID-19, but surged back to claim the top spot in 2020 as American cinemas remained dark for most of the year.

Roughly a year ago, when China ordered nearly 70,000 movie theaters to shutter in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire film industry braced for devastation. Now, the numbers are in — and they are as disastrous as many people predicted.

  • According to China’s National Film Bureau (in Chinese), the country’s domestic box office earnings fell a staggering 70 percent last year as a direct result of the months-long closures of movie theaters.
  • The domestic tally stood at 20.4 billion yuan ($3.1 billion), while in 2019 the box office totalled 64 billion yuan ($9.9 billion).
  • Since the reopening of movie theaters in low-risk areas on July 20, China’s box office slowly crawled back to profitability thanks to a string of big-budget blockbusters, such as war epic The Eight Hundred, which was the world’s top-earning movie of 2020 at nearly 2.6 billion yuan ($440 million).

As many movie screens in the U.S. remained dark, 2020 marked the first time that China overtook North America as the top-ranked box office market, the Hollywood Reporter noted. And things are looking up for the industry in China in 2021.

  • Sixth Tone reported that China’s box-office takings on January 1 climbed to 600 million yuan ($92.8 million), surpassing its previous record set in 2018.
  • Maoyan, a major Chinese online ticketing platform, said (in Chinese) in its annual report that by the end of 2020, more than 94.8% of Chinese cinemas had reopened with limited capacity. To make the most out of the situation, many movie theaters have significantly reduced screenings on weekdays.