Disney topped the 2021 domestic box office

Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”


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

While the pandemic continues to weigh on the movie theater business, cinemas were able to collect $4.58 billion in ticket sales in the United States and Canada, more than double what was garnered in 2020.

A whopping 25.5% of that was generated by Disney, which tallied $1.17 billion from films like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Black Widow” and “The Eternals.” The company, which released films from studios, including Disney Animation, 20th Century and Searchlight, had the highest haul of the year.

Sony was a close second, securing $1.05 billion during the year, more than half of which was delivered in the last two weeks of the year from “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The film, a collaboration between Disney and Sony, is the highest-grossing film of 2021.

“It took a village to build back the box office in a most unusual 2021,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The major studios showed their confidence in and understanding of the value of a big screen release for their most high-profile titles and were met by enthusiastic moviegoers hungry for the big screen experience.”

Since reopening to the public, movie theaters have had colossal ups and downs in ticket sales. The domestic box office has rebounded from historic lows in 2020, but has yet to reach the consistency seen prior to the pandemic.

Franchise films have always been popular and during the pandemic era they have been the strongest draw for cinemas. In fact, of the top ten highest-grossing films only one, Disney’s “Free Guy,” was not based on existing intellectual property.

In 2021, only 13 films surpassed $100 million, a feat that was usually reached by around 30 movies prior to the pandemic. Still, having more than a dozen movies top this figure is a positive sign for the domestic box office.

“The results were impressive and a much-welcome confidence booster for an resilient industry that will face challenges in 2022,” he said.

While these blockbuster features have rekindled faith in the future of the box office, concerns over new Covid variants as well as lackluster ticket sales for nonfranchise films could mean a slower recovery for the industry.

Since movie theaters reopened, films aimed at older audiences like “House of Gucci,” “The Last Duel” and “West Side Story” have had a hard time drawing large crowds. While adult-pitched films often make less money than major tentpoles, they are still vitally important to the overall box office. Together, these so-called “mid-level” features contribute billions to the total annual haul.

That has led many box office analysts to foresee the 2022 domestic box office topping out around $8 billion instead of the $11 billion that was seen prior to the pandemic.

Looking at the top three highest-grossing studios this year, it’s clear what films and genres were most successful and what we can expect will continue to perform well in 2022.




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