Cinemas throughout most of Europe had to close in response to Covid restrictions in March 2020. While most theatres were allowed to reopen from mid-May / June onwards, they could only operate under strict restrictions including capacity limits and had to close again during the second wave in late autumn.
On top of this, most blockbuster films planned for release in 2020 rescheduled their theatrical release or – in some cases – were directly released on premium VoD. As a result, the theatrical market collapsed in 2020 with cinema attendance in the EU and the UK plummeting by 70.2 per cent to an estimated 300 million tickets, down from over one billion admissions in 2019 (the highest level since 2004), according to the 2021 edition of FOCUS – World Film Market Trends, a report prepared each year for the Cannes Marché du Film by the European Audiovisual Observatory.
Gross box office earnings dropped correspondingly from €7.2 billion to €2.13 billion, down by 70.4 per cent from 2019, as the average ticket price in the EU remained stable at €7.10.
While admissions dropped sharply in every European country, there were differences in the magnitude of the box office catastrophe. The lowest year-on-year decrease was registered in Denmark (-44 per cent), Estonia (-51 per cent), Finland (-54 per cent) and the Netherlands (-56 per cent). In contrast admissions declined by over 75 per cent in six markets: Cyprus (-79 per cent), Romania (-77 per cent), Slovenia (-76 per cent), Portugal (/-76 per cent), Ireland (-75 per cent) and the UK (-75 per cent). Outside the EU and the UK, theatrical markets suffered comparatively less in Norway (-57.5 per cent), Russia (-59.5 per cent) and Iceland (-59.9 per cent).
While US titles continued to dominate the charts in the European Union and the UK accounting for 17 out of the top 20 titles in 2020, they were almost exclusively films released either in 2019 or in in the first quarter of 2020 before the first lockdown. In fact, only two films among the top 20 films – Tenet (US/GB) and After We Collided (US) – were released later in the year. Not only was there a lack of US tentpole releases after the first lockdown, the top grossing films also sold significantly fewer tickets than in previous years. World war I drama 1917 (EUR]/US) became the most successful film selling 15.6 million tickets in the EU and the UK. In comparison, The Lion King (US/GB) which topped the charts in 2019 sold 51.6 million admissions. While a total of 18 films sold more than 10 million tickets in 2019, only three films managed to do so in 2020: apart from 1917, these were Tenet (11.6 million) and Bad Boys for Life (10.5 million).
In contrast to previous years, 2020 saw a comparatively low number of film franchises with only seven titles out of the top 20 being sequels, prequels, spin-offs or reboots, compared to 18 in 2019. Apart from the EUR inc. production 1917 refers to films produced in Europe with incoming investments from US studios), the Italian comedy Tolo Tolo was the only European film to feature among the top 20 titles, generating 6.7 million admissions.
Other successful European films included the Spanish family comedy sequel Padre no hay más que uno 2: La llegada de la suegra (1.9 million), Polish erotic thriller 365 dni (365 Days) (1.7 million) and French family comedy sequel Ducobo 3 (1.6 million).
The lack of US blockbuster releases in 2020 is clearly reflected in the breakdown of admissions in the EU and the UK by origin. While admissions to US films fell by an estimated 78 per cent, admissions to European films dropped by “only” 55 per cent and admissions to European films produced in Europe with incoming US investment (EUR inc.) and films from other parts of the world decreased by “only” 41 per cent. The market share of European films hence reached a record high of almost 40 per cent of total admissions, mostly driven by often exceptionally high market shares of national films in the respective markets.
This compares to 26.3 per cent in 2019. US market share on the other hand dropped from 68.2 per cent to 49.4 per cent, the lowest level registered in recent history. EUR inc. films captured 6 per cent (compared to 3 per cent) of total admissions in 2020 and films from other parts of the world represented 4.9 per cent (compared to 2.5 per cent).
On a national level, local European films reached record levels in several markets which were marked by the lack of US tentpoles.
Within the EU and the UK it was Italy which registered the highest national market share with an incredible 55.6 per cent, followed by Denmark (50.4 per cent), the Czech Republic (48.3 per cent), the United Kingdom (46.5 per cent), France (44.9 per cent), Finland (40.8 per cent) and Germany (35.1 per cent). Outside the EU, Turkey was once again the European territory with highest national market share reaching an unparalleled 80 per cent. Russian films also capture a record market share of 47.9 per cent.