A Cinemark employee serves popcorn to a customer at a concession booth in Cinemark's Century 16 at the South Point Hotel & Casino on August 14, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Just days before the end of the year, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the film industry in 2020 are clear and devastating.
According to data from Comscore, ticket sales fell 80% to $ 2.28 billion, a far cry from the second-best box office ever of $ 11.4 billion in 2019.
"To say this has been a challenging year for cinemas is an understatement," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
The year got off to a strong start: the industry raised more than $ 900 million in January, an increase of 10% over the same month last year. Much of its success was thanks to films like "Jumanji: The Next Level" and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which released in December 2019 and are still in theaters in January.
Ticket sales in February were over $ 651 million, up 4% year over year.
However, in March the film industry entered a period of forced hibernation when the US was locked down to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
In March 2019, the domestic box office achieved sales of 967 million US dollars thanks to blockbuster titles such as "Captain Marvel", "Us" and "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World". With theaters suddenly closing, the box office dropped 73% to just $ 258 million in March 2020.
Even after the cinemas reopened, the largest chains remained closed until the end of August. As a result, the domestic box office has not seen more than $ 100 million in revenue in any month since March.
"The full year North American cash register numbers will obviously be a fraction of the pre-pandemic market, but the fact that it had over $ 2 billion in sales in 2020 is certainly impressive," Dergarabedian said.
Ticket sales of nearly $ 2.3 billion in 2020 is an estimate and could change slightly before January 1. However, analysts do not expect this number to fluctuate much as less than 40% of domestic and international cinemas are open to the public which are capable of operating must do so with limited capacity. Not to mention that there are no more weekends in the year. This is the most popular time for moviegoers to go to the theater.
Assuming this number is correct, it will be the lowest number the domestic box office has collected in nearly 40 years, according to Comscore. According to Dergarabedian, it wasn't until the early 1980s that cash tracking became coherent, making it difficult to trace the data any further.
On the way into 2021, analysts and cinema operators are more optimistic about the box office. While there won't be any major movie releases through March, the recent Wonder Woman 1984 opening in the US and Canada is building confidence in an industry-wide recovery.
"We are cautiously optimistic as long as needles go into our arms," said a cinema operator with locations in the southern US about the introduction of vaccines in the country.
The hope for these companies is that enough people will be vaccinated by mid-2021 so that the cinemas will be fully occupied again and moviegoers will feel good again when they return to big blockbusters.
The list of films is especially robust considering how many films have been postponed as of 2020. These include Marvel's "Black Widow", the ninth "Fast and Furious" film, "Jungle Cruise", a new "Minions" film and the James Bond film "No Time to Die."
"Wonder Woman 1984 showed that the power and excitement of cinema still exists amid a pandemic, and that's at least some good news in a year the industry would like to take a back seat "so Dergarabedian said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the studio behind the "Fast and Furious" films and has international distribution rights for "No Time to Die".