iStock/RawPixel(LOS ANGELES) — The COVID-19 pandemic took a terrible toll on the bottom line of the movie business. Thousands of theaters closed throughout the year amid lockdown restrictions, and production on untold numbers of films was temporarily delayed, indefinitely postponed or shut down for good.
As a result, 2020's highest-grossing film was Universal's Bad Boys for Life. The Will Smith/Martin Lawrence action comedy, which opened in January, made more than $204 million for the year domestically before movie houses closed. By comparison, 2019's highest-grossing film, Avengers: Endgame, made more than $350 million in the U.S. on its opening weekend alone. The movie went onto become the highest-grossing movie of all time. Compare that to this year, where the combined box office totals for all of the top-ten movies didn't make a third of what Endgame did.
Some theaters re-opened when COVID case numbers briefly declined in late summer, and few drive-in theaters enjoyed a brief renaissance, but theaters quickly closed again when infections surged in the fall. One of the handful of major releases this year, Christopher Nolan's Tenet, had to rely on its overseas take to carry the load and ended up making more than $350 million, the great majority of which came from non-U.S. screenings.
Here are the top 10 movies of 2020 domestically and their total grosses, according to Box Office Mojo:
1. Bad Boys for Life — $204,417,855
2. Sonic the Hedgehog — $146,066,470
3. Birds of Prey — $84,158,461
4. Dolittle — $77,047,065
5. The Invisible Man — $64,914,050
6. The Call of the Wild — $62,342,368
7. Onward — $61,555,145
8. Tenet — $57,800,000
9. The Gentlemen — $36,296,853
10. Fantasy Island — $26,441,782
The story of the year from the movie business became the number of films openings that were bumped in a vain effort to outrun the pandemic. Movies including A Quiet Place Part II, Wonder Woman 1984 and the James Bond film No Time to Die all of which saw their release dates bumped as many as three times before their respective studios shifted their release them to next year or, in what became a game-changing strategy, direct to streaming.
Universal made the first move in the spring by moving its then-brand new films The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma to streaming in March. Its yet-to open Trolls World Tour opened in what theaters it could in April but was then made available to stream on April 10, its debut date.
That move was followed suit by Warner Bros.' deciding to bring its Harley Quinn movie Birds Of Prey to streaming shortly after its February release, and Disney, who brought its Disney/Pixar movie Onward, Artemis Fowl and then its live-action Mulan to Disney+.
Other studios made the switch to streaming, too, like Warner Bros.' Scoob and the sequel to Borat, among dozens of others.
In December, Warner Bros. announced its entire slate of 2021 films — including major titles like Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad, Dune, the fourth Matrix movie, andLin-Manuel Miranda's In The Heights film adaptation — will head directly to HBO Max, a major move that wasn't welcome news to theater chains that still have yet to open in major cities like New York and Los Angeles.
The fates — and release dates — of other major releases are still up in the air. Marvel's Black Widow film was supposed to open May 1;but after several postponements, its new release date now stands as May 7, 2021. That caused a domino reaction with other Marvel movies that were set to open in 2020, into 2022 and beyond, a backlog experienced by many major studios.
In total, domestic revenues for theaters in 2020 were at a 40-year low, with a total that could reach $2.3 billion — the lowest since the late '70s before adjusting for inflation, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
As the year wound down, studios resumed shooting again, many overseas, with strict safety protocols in place. Among the films in production as of Christmas 2020 are Jurassic World: Dominion, the next Avatar movies, the fourth Matrix film and the seventh Mission: Impossible movie.
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