A little-noticed milestone was achieved at the theatrical box office this weekend: $2 billion in North American ticket sales.
For the prior three years, the $2 billion threshold was reached in early-to-mid March. In 2019 it came in mid-March, on the coattails of Captain Marvel, Us, and Aquaman. In 2018 it came in early March, from the successes of Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. In 2017 it also came in early March, led by Get Out, Logan, Hidden Figures, and The Lego Batman Movie.
2020 originally looked like it was going to reach the $2 billion mark in mid-to-late March, perhaps a week or two behind recent years, but still in the same general range. Year-to-date box office stood at $1.69 billion through the March 6-8 weekend, the last “fully open” frame in the U.S. It rose to $1.78 billion after the March 13-15 weekend, which was something of a “partially open” frame. After that, though, cinemas were forced to shut down completely for months.
The planned release of Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II on March 20 almost certainly would have lifted total box office past $2 billion. Or, if the total still fell just shy of the $2 billion mark at that point, the planned release of Disney’s Mulan on March 27 surely would have blown past it. Without those titles, though, box office slowed to a crawl, inching forward largely on the basis of rerun classic films at drive-in theaters for months.
After stalling at $1.78 billion in mid-March, the year’s box office finally surpassed $1.8 billion on the August 7-9 weekend. Then it reached $1.9 billion on the September 18-20 weekend, thanks largely to Tenet as the first major studio tentpole released since the pandemic. The $2 billion point was achieved this past weekend, the November 20-22 frame, led by titles like Universal’s horror comedy Freaky and Focus Features’ drama thriller Let Him Go.
Theatrical box office is coming off its second-highest year ever domestically at $11.4 billion, the fifth consecutive year it crossed $11 billion.
Due to the pandemic, though, this year’s $2 billion is now running behind recent years: down about -79 and -81 percent relative to the year-to-date box office in 2019 and 2018, respectively.