No Time To Die is the hit of 2021 but cinema-going is still well down on pre-pandemic levels
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Last modified on Fri 31 Dec 2021 07.02 EST
James Bond has seen off a late challenge from Spider-Man to emerge as the biggest cinema hit of the year, as UK box office earnings almost double from the record lows of 2020 – but the overall popularity of cinema-going still remains well down on pre-pandemic levels.
When the final ticket stubs are officially counted, it is forecast that the UK box office will reach £557m this year, almost double the £297m recorded last year, which was the lowest take since 1992.
James Bond: No Time To Die provided cinema owners with the pandemic-busting blockbuster they have been waiting for as Bondmania brought film fans back to venues in numbers not seen since before the coronavirus pandemic.
Daniel Craig’s final outing as the superspy 007 has made more than £96m at the UK box office this year, making it the third-highest-grossing film of all-time, after the franchise stablemate Skyfall, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The top earner at the UK box office is also the fourth biggest film of the year globally, taking $774m to date.
The emergence and rapid spread of the Omicron variant has failed to dent the popularity of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home, which has raced to more than £64m at the UK box office in its first two weeks in cinemas.
Already the second biggest film in the UK this year, Spider-Man is the first movie to break $1bn at the global box office since 2019, giving cinema chain owners hope that film-going can permanently return to pre-pandemic levels.
“While cinema-going levels are moving upwards, a ‘draw’ movie will push attendance up to previous levels and beyond,” said David Hancock, a film analyst at Omdia. “Most screens are now able to open but some engrained customer hesitancy is affecting overall grosses. Bond brought back the older demographic to cinemas, and also brought back the more hesitant.”
Bond, and now Spider-Man, have provided tangible proof to financially stretched cinema owners that the enduring popularity of movie-going has not seen a permanent shift to home streaming during extended periods of closure throughout the pandemic.
“Streaming can’t kill cinema,” Hancock said. “Only cinema can kill cinema by not continually investing in its environment to stay ahead of other leisure and film-watching options.”
The latest Bond film provided the best October for UK admissions in a decade, with attendance up 130% compared with the same month in 2019. Overall admissions for the year are forecast to top 78 million, well above the 44 million seen in 2020, the lowest level since records began in 1928.
Despite the promising signs of a revival, there is a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic levels, in 2019 the UK box office hit £1.25bn and cinema attendance reached 176 million.
Omdia is forecasting that in 2023 the UK box office will return to 99% of that level, with attendance at 97% of pre-pandemic popularity.
However, the long and financially uncertain road to reach that point, as well as the urban-to-rural shift in living the pandemic-fuelled move to flexible working has created, will result in cinema owners staging a strategic rethink of the viability of locations of sites.
“Under-pressure exhibitors will seek to keep alive their most profitable venues, trimming their less-profitable sites or closing down individual screens within sites,” Hancock said. “The move to working from home and the rush for extra space into rural, coastal, and suburban areas will create opportunities for new sites in historically low–cinema-provision areas.”
Top grossing films of 2021 (UK & Ireland)
1) James Bond: No Time To Die – £96.5m
2) Spider-Man: No Way Home – £63.7m
3) Dune – £21.8m
4) Shang-Chi And the Legend Of the Ten Rings – £21.3m
5) Peter Rabbit 2 – £20.5m
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