For the first time in modern history, October is the highest-grossing month of the year at the domestic box office.
Thanks to Sony’s comic book adventure “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” MGM’s James Bond sequel “No Time to Die,” Universal’s “Halloween Kills” and the Warner Bros. and Legendary tentpole “Dune,” the season that celebrates all things spooky and pumpkin spice has been livelier than most at local multiplexes. Through the 31st, October has generated $637 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Comscore. Those ticket sales were enough to surpass July and its $583 million haul to become the biggest revenue-generating month of 2021.
The milestone isn’t completely surprising because it coincides with the first time since the onset of COVID-19 that Hollywood studios have kept release dates for blockbuster-hopefuls. Through the first half of the year, most big-budgeted movies were regularly delayed and rescheduled, leaving October slated with more major films than usual. Still, it’s a positive indication that the movie theater industry has the potential to rebound after COVID-19 devastated the business.
The North American box office isn’t close to reaching pre-pandemic levels, with ticket sales down 68% from the same period in 2019. However, analysts have been encouraged by the competition in October and anticipate the good fortunes will continue through the holiday season.
“The reshuffled movie release calendar created by the pandemic shifted all the box office puzzle pieces, and October came out a winner with an unusual number of hits,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “Hang onto this moment,” he adds, “because if history tells us anything, it’s that this is an occurrence that is not likely to be repeated any time soon.”
Traditionally, summer is the busiest time of year for movie theaters. But in 2021, the sunny season that stretches from May to August was unusually light due to growing concern about the rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19. The apprehension among moviegoers continued through September, a particularly sluggish period in which Disney and Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rungs” was basically the only movie that month to bring in significant business.
After October and July, the highest-grossing months of the year were August (with the release of “Free Guy,” “The Suicide Squad” and “Candyman”) with $421 million, June (with the release of “F9: The Fast Saga,” “The Forever Purge” and “The Boss Baby: Family Business) with $408 million and May (with the release of “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella”) with $215 million. The first quarter of 2021 was exceptionally slow — January ($64 million), February ($56 million) and March ($116 million) — because everyday Americans were only beginning to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
If all goes according to plan for Hollywood studios and movie theater operators, October won’t hold the box office crown for long. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Marvel’s “Eternals,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “West Side Story” are some of the big movies on the calendar in November and December that hope to cajole customers to the big screen.
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