Time to wrap up 2021 with a look at the box office for the year. As usual, the list comes from Box Office Mojo.
Getting the obvious out of the way first, Marvel superheroes are represented by half the films in the list. Blockbusters are well represented on the list. With theatres opening up in 2021 thanks to vaccines and masking mandates, pandemic precautions were reduced and, in some areas, rescinded. That gave studios a chance to bring out the big guns they had waiting. Of course, the re-opening may have been too soon, with restrictions looming once again.
As can be seen on Box Office Mojo’s domestic yearly box office list, the gross at theatres is up by double over the previous year. That’s a start, but considering that 2020 saw a massive drop in theatre revenues thanks to pandemic lockdowns, double isn’t much. It’ll take time.to get people back in seats.
Back to the list, there’s an original work, Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds. The last time an original work was in the top ten was 2016’s Zootopia. With Free Guy, Reynolds is the draw. He has a charm that comes across easily in a film no matter the role. This time out, he’s playing a nameless NPC in a video game who has managed to get a glitch in his programming.
I’m adding a new category this year, the franchise sequel. The definition is still nebulous, but anything film that is part of a franchise that uses the same characters and/or situations counts as a sequel. F9: The Fast Saga is a good example of a franchise coming from an original work while No Time to Die is part of the 007 franchise. No Time to Die is also continuing the trend in 007 films of using an original story after the franchise has used almost every title it could from Ian Fleming’s works. It could be argued that some of the Marvel movies are now franchise sequels as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken on a life of its own separate from the comics’ continuity.
The two sequels of original works, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and A Quiet Place Part II are almost opposites in the approach. A Quiet Place Part II got delayed thanks to pandemic lockdowns and was kept waiting on the sidelines until things opened up a bit. The delay didn’t hurt the response, with audiences wanting to follow the family from Part I. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, released thirty-two years later.
Taking the above into consideration, superheroes aren’t going anywhere any time soon. While people may be getting tired of the name Marvel, the films are staying fresh by being other genres with superheroes added. Black Widow is a spy thriller with superheroes. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is wuxia with superheroes. If one Marvel movie isn’t interesting, the next one might be. As long as the studio avoids continuity lockout, where an audience needs to have watched all of the previous films for a plot point, Marvel can keep going.
The above shows what 2022 could look like, with lockdown returning early in the year before being lifted once again when the number of COVID-19 cases drops. The real surprise was seeing an original work on the list. Granted, it starred Ryan Reynolds, but with 2021 having less than half the releases that 2019 saw, there was room for an original work to sneak in, leaving the possibility open for an original work to reach top ten in 2022.