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Where is the future of the box office?

People buy movie tickets with self-ticketing machines at Golden Screen Cinemas, as cinemas reopen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Reuters/Lim Huey Teng
The movie theater industry is moving towards Asia.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor

Published Last updated on

2020 was a mess for movie theaters. The pandemic led to a massive decline in global ticket sales due to government-mandated theater closures and people’s fears of contracting the novel coronavirus in enclosed spaces.

But even before Covid-19, the movie theater industry was changing. The North American market, classified as the US and Canada, has been the world’s largest for decades. That was true in 2019, with the two countries netting a combined $11.4 billion in box office revenues (The US and Canada are often analyzed as one market by movie financial analysts). But revenues from North America have shown little growth over the last decade, and the rest of the world is catching up. This means an increasingly globalized theater market, and a Hollywood incentivized to make movies to appeal to the world’s emerging markets, not just Americans.

China, in particular, has been coming on strong. The country’s box office grew to $9.3 billion in 2019 from about $6.8 billion in 2015, according to data from the European Audiovisual Observatory’s annual report (paywall).

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