The box office took a plunge globally in 2020, with movie theaters closed for much of the year. The U.S. was hit especially hard and, as a result, China has taken the top spot as the world's largest moviegoing market. Whether or not this becomes a more permanent trend or a temporary setback remains to be seen. Either way, it is yet another indicator of just how dramatically the last year has reshaped the movie business, particularly as it relates to theaters and exhibition.
Between January 1 and December 31, 2020, ticket sales at the U.S. box office totaled an estimated $2.3 billion. That represents a massive 80 percent drop compared to 2019, when ticket sales hit $11.4 billion. Avengers: Endgame led the way, earning $858.3 million domestically, on its way to $2.9 billion globally, becoming the highest-grossing movie ever. In 2020, Bad Boys for Life topped the domestic charts, bringing in $204.4 million domestically and $426.5 million globally.
On the flipside, China saw ticket sales total an estimated $2.7 billion in 2020. That means, for the first time ever, the country has overtaken the U.S. as the world's top moviegoing market. Theaters have started to reopen in China as health and safety restrictions have eased. That has paved the way for massive hits such as The Eight Hundred, which earned $461.3 million, becoming the biggest worldwide box office hit of last year. Things in the States, meanwhile, have continued to be ugly. Tenet, for example, earned just $57.9 million of its $362.6 million total domestically. Wonder Woman 1984 has, similarly, seen larger grosses overseas and suffered a huge week-to-week drop domestically.
There is much to discuss from a larger business standpoint. Worldwide, ticket sales hit $42.5 billion in 2019. In 2020, they will come in at around $12 billion. No matter which country came out on top last year, this represents a huge issue for the industry as a whole, which has largely struggled to adapt. Many studios have turned to streaming as the answer. Though revenues from VOD offerings largely can't match what a big hit can earn at the box office, under ideal circumstances. But if this trend continues, overseas markets will become even more important, and that could affect what types of movies are made and how they are ultimately distributed.
Disney recently reorganized its media business to prioritize streaming, given the success of Disney+. WarnerMedia, meanwhile, rocked the industry to its knees by announcing that its entire 2021 slate would debut on HBO Max and in movie theaters simultaneously in the U.S. The announcement has caused a huge stir, with Legendary Pictures, the studio that co-financed Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, pushing back quite hard against the decision. Plus, AMC, the largest theater chain in the U.S., is desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy. Things are expected to improve in 2021. But we may not be able to simply return to the normal that existed before. These numbers come to us via Box Office Mojo.