If the figures of the world’s largest film market are taken as representative of the global picture – and there are so many geographical variants at play here that we should be under no illusions that they may not be – then as of 2019, the independent film industry was likely worth around $4.8 billion in annual box office receipts. Of course, that figure is likely to have tumbled dramatically over the course of 2020.
Multiple sources have predicted that the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic will cost the US film industry alone 40% of its annual box office takings. Amid the lockdown months, production ground to a halt across the sector, cinemas have been operating at reduced capacity, or closed their doors altogether. Even when cinemas are able to reopen at full capacity, there is likely to be a high degree of caution among the public regarding their return to enclosed spaces, populated with hundreds of strangers.
Again, while the US market is not the be-all and end-all, if this is replicated across the global market, revenues could be about to hit a decades-long low – including a fall of almost $2 billion for independent films. This could well be a conservative estimate, however. It would be an oversight to simply suggest that independent cinema will suffer proportionally to the studio system, because its system of distribution is entirely different.
Without the media buzz surrounding their productions, or the bottomless pockets of studio-backed productions when it comes to marketing to a mass audience, even the most successful independent films in cinemas in 2020 are being badly hit by the coronavirus crisis.
If the performance of the top selling independent films of each year is taken as representative of the industry’s health, the situation could be dire. The growth of the top 10 has been nothing short of prolific since 2017, where after a two-year dip, revenues rose by 249% to pass $600 million for the 10 largest indy hits of 2019.
However, with diminished attendances even crippling their capacity to be recommended via word-of-mouth, the tip 10 best grossing independent films of the year have only managed to bring in a combined $112 million. Presuming the final third of the year continues at the same rate of the first two, the total haul of the 10 best performing indy films of 2020 will come in at an estimated $168 million.
If this forecast 72% drop in revenues is applied to the global independent film market, then while the segment may have grown proportionally alongside studio films, it is likely to decline in an even more serious manner. Global indy film revenues could drop as low as $1.4 billion by the end of 2020.