London cinemas closed in March last year, reopened in July and August, closed again, reopened briefly in December, and then shuttered finally two weeks later. That, by any standards, is an annus horribilis – as borne out by new figures for the year’s box office released by the BFI, which reveal that takings dropped massively over the twelve months.
Those closures – and socially distancing measures during the open phases – meant that UK cinema admissions fell to 44m, 75 percent down on 2019.
Box-office takings were hit even harder, dropping 81 percent from 2019 to £307m.
The biggest movie of the year was ‘1917’, Sam Mendes’s Great War epic, which took a colossal £44m. ‘Tenet’ didn’t quite save cinema but still made a respectable £17.5m at a time when many cinemas were closed and social distancing measures were in place.
Apart from the Christopher Nolan blockbuster, big studio movies were largely postponed and indie movies filled the gap: Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’ was a big hit (£12m), while Autumn de Wilde’s ‘Emma.’ (£7m) and Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ (£6m) were also notable pre-pandemic successes.
On the upside – because we all need some good news – film and TV production is back in something close to full swing. The final three months of 2020 saw £1.19bn spent on film and high-end TV production, the second highest three-month spend on record.
‘After an unbelievably tough year, today’s figures show an incredibly vibrant and positive picture for film and TV in the UK,’ says BFI chief executive Ben Roberts. ‘Last spring, it was hard to imagine that we would be generating £1bn worth of production activity in the final quarter, which has been achieved by industry and government pulling together and the determination of our workforce to get back up and running.’
The next ‘Normal People’ or ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ could be taking shape right now, in other words.
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