LOS ANGELES, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- As moviegoers begin to brave the persistent COVID-19 threat, the North American box office rose to an estimated 4.5 billion US dollars in 2021, up more than 100 percent from 2020's bleak performance of 2.2 billion dollars, according to studio figures released by measurement firm Comscore.
Though still a far cry from 2019's high of 11.4 billion dollars, the US film industry appears to be on the mend.
Experts note that box office recovery around the world has been plagued in fits and starts by inconsistent COVID safety protocols, new variants, the proliferation of streaming platforms, politics and other economic factors. Normally, older moviegoers and families drive much of the US box office, but this time, younger audiences are pushing up the numbers.
Senior movie analyst Paul Dergarabedian at Comscore told Xinhua that in his 30 years of experience, the last year and a half have been the most challenging for the whole industry.
"It was an incredible year of ups and downs for movie theaters with 2021 offering a host of lessons learned as the marketplace adapted to challenges that would've been unimaginable just two years ago," he told Xinhua.
He cited the acceleration of new business models, the shortening of theatrical windows, varying day-and-date release strategies, and the proliferation of streaming as being responsible for packing 10 years of change into a short period of two years as the industry struggles to reinvent itself.
Dergarabedian also pointed out that young men are leading the North American ticket-buying surge, so their preferences will dominate, skewing toward superhero, action and horror movies.
"That's an audience we thought we had lost," Dergarabedian said. "Now they are driving the box office, so things change."
Five of the top ten films on the North American box office chart in 2021 are superhero movies, with Sony's latest installment of their lucrative Spider-Man franchise, "Spider-Man: No Way Home," in first place. The film has grossed a massive 572 million dollars in North America so far.
Shockingly, not a single animated picture made the top ten cut, since not even Disney could lure families back into theaters as children were unable to be vaccinated.
Older audiences, more susceptible to the virus, are still not returning to North American theaters in any significant numbers, making it harder for dramas and older-skewing films, like Steven Spielberg's "Westside Story," to prosper in the box office.
"One look at the Top 40 films of 2021 and it's clear that those films with youth appeal are the ones that have fared best in theaters with the once elusive demographic group of 18- to 24-year-olds showing a clear willingness to hit the multiplex," said Dergarabedian. "Hopefully over time, we will see the more mature demographic returning to cinemas."
Box office totals worldwide are not yet available, but Comscore is projecting global revenues at about 21 billion dollars.
China's box office revenue exceeded 47 billion yuan (about 7.37 billion US dollars) in 2021, continuing to lead the global box-office market, the China Film Administration said Saturday.
Optimistic industry analysts feel that when all is said and done, watching great films in a theater environment is a one-of-a-kind experience that can't be wholly supplanted by streaming or TV.
"If we've learned anything, it's that the movie theater experience as a sought after and cherished pastime, despite facing continued headwinds in the new year, will remain an essential part of the entertainment diet for movie fans around the globe in 2022 and beyond," said Dergarabedian.