Cinema attendance in the EU and the UK increased by 31.5% from 299 million in 2020 to 394 million in 2021. But 2021’s level accounts for only 40% of the average pre-pandemic admission level registered between 2017 and 2019, according to provisional figures taken from the 2022 edition of FOCUS – World Film Market Trends.
The report, prepped each year for Cannes’ Marché du Film attendees and published by the Council of Europe’s European Audiovisual Observatory, notes cinema attendance in 2021 rose slowly amid another difficult year for cinema going in Europe.
Gross box office mirrored the footfall figures, growing by 38.2% from €2.1 billion to an estimated €2.9 billion, accounting for only 42% of pre-pandemic box office levels.
The report also highlights significant differences in box office across the individual European markets: All experienced unique and differing degrees of collapse in 2020 as well as differences in cinema closures and lockdowns.
Overall admissions in 2021 increased in 17 territories, decreased in eight and stagnated in two out of the 26 EU member states and the UK for which 2021 data were available.
The highest year-on-year increase was posted in Bulgaria (+91%), Croatia (+77%), the UK (+68%), Cyprus (+57%), Ireland (+56%), Poland (+55%), Spain (+53%) and Romania (+53%).
In contrast admissions declined particularly in Estonia (-23%), the Netherlands (-15%), Slovakia (-14%), Lithuania (-13%), Italy (-12%) and Finland (11%).
Outside the EU member states and the UK, theatrical markets grew strongly on a year-to-year basis in Bosnia-Herzegovina (+186%), Montenegro (+125%), the Russian Federation (+64%) and Iceland (+51%). But cinema attendance continued to drop by -28% in Turkey, which registered the lowest admissions level in recent history.
European titles struggle
While the return of US studio titles to European cinemas screens in 2021 bolstered admissions and set box office tills ringing, European film titles suffered a downturn in market share.
US films are estimated to have sold around 230 million tickets in 2021, 82 million more than in 2020, while admissions to European films fell from an estimated 118 million in 2020 to 104 million in 2021. (Pre-pandemic averages of 644 million and 271 million tickets sold to US and European films, respectively.)
The market share of European films fell from 2020’s record high of 39.5% to 26.5%, which is well within its normal range. In contrast US market share recovered from its record low of 49.5% in 2020 to 58.6%, which is still below its pre-pandemic levels.
European films with incoming investment from US studios and films from the rest of the world, captured above average market shares of 9.3% and 5.7%, respectively.
After reaching exceptional record highs in several European countries in 2020, market share of national films fell again in most European markets. But within Europe’s 28 territories, a quartet of countries stood out in terms of national market share: the UK (No Time To Die was at the root of it) and the Czech Republic which registered the highest national market share with 42% of total admissions, marginally ahead of Denmark and France (both 41%).
Outside the EU, Turkey’s national market share plummeted from 80% in 2020 to 23%, the lowest level in recent history. With 30%, Norway registered the highest national market share outside the EU member states, ahead of Russia (27%).
US studio titles accounted for all the top 20 titles in terms of admissions in the EU and the UK, with No Time To Die and Spider Man: No Way Home leading the charge for eyeballs.
Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond in No Time To Die topped the charts and was the only film to sell more than 30 million tickets in the EU and the UK. It was followed by Tom Holland’s webslinger turn in Spider Man: No Way Home which sold 27 million tickets in 2021.
Only three other films managed to sell more than 10 million tickets: Dune ($14.3 million), Fast And Furious 9 ($ 12.1 million) and Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($10.5 million). In 2019, 18 films beat the 10 million ticket sales mark compared to 2021’s famous five.
The report notes film franchise titles dominated the European box office, with 17 out of the top 20 films being sequels, prequels, spin-offs or reboots, compared to only seven in 2020 and 18 in 2019. Aside from the ‘EUR inc’ production No Time To Die (EUR inc refers to films produced in Europe with incoming investments from US studios), no European film featured among the top 20 titles
The French comedy Kaamelott - First Installment secured the crown of most successful European film selling 2.8 million tickets, ahead of psychological drama The Father (2.4 million) and French crime thriller BAC Nord (2.2 million).
Production on the upswing
The report also casts an eye over film production levels in the EU and the UK, noting they have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Having reached a comparatively brief temporary standstill due to the lockdown measures taken all over Europe in March 2020, film production never collapsed in the same manner as box office did.
The figures show that in 2021 a total of 1,836 feature films were produced in the EU and the UK, up 426 films (+30%) from 2020.
Trends differ widely between countries because of the different ways of recording and counting productions. In markets where film production is measured as films actually released, cinema closures had a direct negative impact on film productions and 2021 figures still remained well below pre-pandemic figures. But in markets where film production is measured in terms of films starting principal photography, receiving public funding or being certified, the 2021 production activity often exceeded its pre-pandemic levels.
It remains to be seen whether the increase in production activity indicates a sustainable return to previous production levels or rather it represents a catch-up in 2021 of films whose production was interrupted or halted during the crisis.