Analysis News

Indy box office shows signs of recovery in 2021

The ongoing impacts of the pandemic saw the independent film market endure a difficult two years. According to new analysis from Indy Film Library, however, as the global box office doubled its takings, Indy Films similarly managed kept pace, accounting for a larger share of the market than before the coronavirus outbreak.

Two years into the Covid-19 crisis, the situation looks to have dramatically improved for independent filmmakers.

As cinemas re-opened, the huge advertising budgets of studios helped draw vast crowds for blockbusters of note. Spider-Man: No Way Home for example raked in more than $1.5 billion worldwide, while No Time to Die took an impressive $774 million. With people returning to cinemas, so too word-of-mouth became a viable marketing tactic; so even without the same ability to catch attention as blockbusters, the best performing Indy Films made a big impact globally.

The 10 highest grossing independent pictures of 2021 brought in a collective haul of just over $732 million. This was a 114% improvement on the 10 best performing Indy Films of 2020, even though it still paled in comparison to the wider box office. As a result, Indy Film’s share of the overall box office has actually increased amid the pandemic.

Previously it was estimated that independent cinema took a share of around 11% of the global box office in 2019. In 2020, this share actually ‘rose’ to just over 12% – but that was when both segments were heavily impacted by the closure of theatres, and with studio films still taking the lion’s share of screen-time, this impacted them more heavily than Indy films.

With both markets steadily returning to health in the last 12 months, though, even as revenues for the global box office rose by more than 75%, Indy Film more than kept pace. In fact, Indy Film Library estimates that with the reopening of cinemas, independents have actually recouped a larger amount of box office gross than studio filmmakers. If the income of the 10 highest grossing independent films in 2021 was reflected across the Indy Film Industry as a whole, revenues for the last year boomed to $3.26 billion.

According to Indy Film Library’s estimates, this means the Indy Film Industry accounted for just 15.2% of the overall box office (though this varies across different domestic markets, for example, Indy Film only accounts for 7% of the US market still).

As noted previously, while the pandemic’s early phases were a disaster for the studio system, the world’s wealthiest companies were always likely to bounce back in the near future. The same was always going to be a tougher ask for the Indy Film segment – but these figures are based on the feature film market suggest there is hope for the independent sphere.

Beyond this, it should also be noted that these figures only account for feature films with official releases. While short films do make much less money, due to their greater quantity, collectively they likely bring in a sizeable amount of money. In particular, these figures do not include data from the film festival circuit, where shorts make up a much larger portion of ticket sales. As more events re-open to the public over the coming 12 months, or find new digital and hybrid models to supply viewers with independent content, these events could well provide a lifeline to the ailing Indy Film sector.

*This article has been edited as of February 15th to account for new data becoming available.

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