1917 tops a 2020 UK box office crushed by Covid

It’s been an unprecedented year across all walks of life – all sectors of industry – but the global film and entertainment business has been particularly badly hit – perhaps permanently.

1917 was the highest grossing box-office hit in the UK in a pandemic-hit 2020

Cinema closures have pushed exhibition online, giving the major streamers Netflix and Amazon a big advantage over the key players whose roles they combine; the studios with their blockbusters building up on the shelves and the exhibitors waiting to be able to open and pack rows of seats with enough people to keep the industry alive.

This year’s annual BFI official statistics provide a useful snapshot of where things stand, almost a year into the pandemic.

The first two months of 2020 heralded a positive year for box office, but closures after that led to a 75% fall in admissions over the year, resulting in an 81% drop in ticket sales. 1917 was the strongest performer, with £44 million in receipts.

Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen was the highest grossing independent film at the UK and Irish box office

With major studios holding back the release of their biggest titles – most notably No Time To Die – British independent productions saw their proportion of the total box office takings rise to 14%, with Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen being the highest grossing independent film on £12m, followed by Emma’s £7m and The Personal History of David Copperfield on £6m.

Production also ground to a halt during the first lockdown, until companies agreed Covid-safe working practices, prompting a crash in production spend too; £1.36 billion was spent on film production, 31% down on the previous year. High-end TV spend didn’t fall as much, with outlets available to screen productions; £1.49 billion was spent in the UK last year, an 11% drop on 2019’s figure.

The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the impressive figures showed the resilience and creativity of film and TV sectors in the UK. “We’re getting our screen industries firing on all cylinders again with the Government’s Film and TV Restart Scheme and £1.5bn Cultural Recovery Fund which has awarded £30 million in lifeline grants to independent cinemas.”

The chief executive of the BFI, Ben Roberts, said 2020 had been an unbelievably tough year. “Last spring it was hard to imagine that we would be generating £1 billion 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.”