After 17 Years of Falling Ticket Sales, Movie Theaters Got Annihilated in 2020

by Wolf Richter
Wolf Street

Americans are watching more movies than ever, but they’re watching at home. The studios are on board in a big way.

Movie theaters have for years been dogged by a structural shift in how Americans increasingly watch movies: at home on a big screen. The whole family can watch for a song, and popcorn is cheap. Box office sales peaked in 2002 at 1.58 billion tickets. By 2019, sales had dropped 22% to 1.23 billion tickets, despite 17 years of population growth. On a per-capita basis, ticket sales plunged by 31%. This was part of the long-running brick-and-mortar meltdown that also sank department stores. Then came the pandemic.

Amid theater closures across the US during parts of the year, and insurmountable reluctance by many potential moviegoers to go to the theaters that were open, box-office ticket sales in 2020 collapsed by 82% to just 224 million tickets, according to movie data provider The Numbers.

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