Disney became the leader in the box office in 2021

Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi in the Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe took Disney to the top of the domestic box office in 2021.

As the pandemic continues to take its toll on the movie theater business, movie theaters were able to raise $ 4.58 billion in ticket sales in the US and Canada, more than double the 2020 figure.

A whopping 25.5% of that amount came from Disney, which totaled $ 1.17 billion in films such as Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Black Widow and The Eternals. The company, which produced films from studios such as Disney Animation, 20th Century and Searchlight, received the highest trophy of the year.

Sony came in second with $ 1.05 billion in revenue for the year, more than half of which came from Spider-Man: No Way Home in the last two weeks of the year. This film, co-produced by Disney and Sony, became the highest grossing film of 2021.

“It took a village to regain the box office in the most extraordinary year 2021,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The major film studios have demonstrated their confidence and understanding of the value of going to the big screen for their loudest films and have been greeted by enthusiastic moviegoers eager to see them on the big screen.”

Since opening to the public, cinemas have seen colossal ups and downs in ticket sales. Domestic box office receipts have recovered from historic lows in 2020 but have yet to reach the consistency seen before the pandemic.

Franchise films have always been popular, and in the era of the pandemic, they attracted cinemas the most. In fact, of the top ten grossing films, only one, Disney’s Free Guy, was not based on existing intellectual property.

In 2021, only 13 films exceeded $ 100 million, which was usually around 30 films before the pandemic. Nevertheless, the presence of more than a dozen films exceeding this figure is a positive sign for the domestic distribution.

“The results have been impressive and have been a welcome boost to confidence in a resilient industry facing challenges in 2022,” he said.

While these blockbusters have rekindled confidence in a future box office, concerns about new Covid variants, as well as low ticket sales for non-franchise films, could mean a slower industry recovery.

Since cinemas reopened, films aimed at older audiences such as Gucci’s House, The Last Duel and West Side Story have struggled to draw large crowds. While adult films often make less money than large tents, they are still vital to the overall box office. Together, these so-called “mid-range” properties contribute billions to the total annual catch.

This has led many box office analysts to forecast domestic box office receipts in 2022 to surpass about $ 8 billion, up from the $ 11 billion seen before the pandemic.

Looking at the top 3 grossing studios this year, it’s clear which films and genres have been the most successful, and what we can expect to continue to perform well in 2022.


Disney’s three highest-grossing films have been linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Black Widow, and The Eternals have grossed over $ 100 million at home at the box office.

Disney will release three more high-profile MCU films next year, including Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If current box office trends continue, these films should be tuned in to high ticket sales.

Disney’s 2021 domestic box office also shows how dual releases in theaters and on Disney + have driven lower box office returns for films such as Paradise and the Last Dragon and Cruella. Although these films were released early in the calendar, when viewers were just starting to return to theaters, it quickly became clear that domestic availability was cutting theater revenues.

Plus, with older audiences still hesitant to return to theaters, West Side Story generated just $ 28 million in ticket sales on a production budget of around $ 100 million, not counting marketing costs. This despite a 93% Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Families are returning slowly too. The critically acclaimed “Encanto” ended the year with nearly $ 90 million in ticket sales in the US and Canada.


Sony generated more than half of its $ 1.05 billion in revenue in the last few weeks of 2021 from its partnership with Disney. Spider-Man: No Home grossed $ 572.9 million domestically – more than any film released in 2021.

The studio also achieved success with Venom: Let There Be Massacre, which grossed $ 212 million in the US and Canada, and Ghostbusters: Life After Death, which grossed $ 122 million. Like Disney, Sony has benefited from beloved franchises bringing audiences back to theaters.

However, not all of his subsequent actions were successful. Smaller budget films based on existing intellectual property, such as Don’t Breathe 2, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, failed to attract significant audiences.

Sony also sold several films to streamers last year, including Hotel Transylvania: Transformation, The Happiest Season, Fatherhood, Greyhound, Cinderella and American Cucumber. There are no guarantees that any of these films would have generated significant ticket sales for the studio, but these are titles that could boost Sony’s overall box office in 2021.


The third-largest grossing studio was Universal, which raised about $ 715 million domestically for films such as F9, Halloween Kills and Sing 2.

Like Sony and Disney, Universal’s franchised films are well positioned to be successful in 2022. The studio is set to release Jurassic World: Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and an unnamed Mario Bros. If families feel more comfortable bringing vaccinated children to theaters, studios can start to get more kid-friendly meals.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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