Movie attendance in the United States hit its peak in the early to mid 2000s. In 2002, 1.58 billion movie tickets were sold compared to 1.19 billion in 1990 and 1.3 billion in 2018. Total box office revenue has continuously increased, though, mainly due to rising ticket prices: inflation and the introduction of 3D movies brought ticket prices up from $4.23 in 1990 to $9.11 in 2018. The number of movie screens in North America has remained relatively consistent in recent years at around 45 thousand, and while analog screens have all but disappeared, the presence of both digital 3D and digital non-3D has increased dramatically.
The most successful box office movie of all time in terms of box office revenue is Avengers: Endgame, a Marvel film which accumulated around 2.8 billion dollars in revenue around the world. The film just edged out James Cameron’s Avatar, which had remained at the top of the list for around a decade prior to Endgame’s release. Avengers: Endgame also boasts the biggest opening weekend of all time, a metric which is of interest to both critics and casual movie fans, and often provides a strong signal as to the future success of the movie. Another interesting aspect of the film industry is the importance of the summer box office. Total summertime box office revenues often eclipse the values of all three other seasons combined.
While there will always be a huge market for standalone stories in the film industry, producers have begun to notice the advantages of creating franchises that span multiple movies and utilize recurring characters and settings. Some of the highest grossing franchises of all time are the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars franchise, and the Harry Potter films, each of which has grossed billions of U.S. dollars in box offices around the world. In a franchise setting, gaining consumer interest for one film often provides some degree of spillover interest into related films and helps introduce viewers to similar content that they may have otherwise missed.
Despite the fact that film attendance has fallen since the early 2000’s, box office numbers have remained competitive and the recent box office success of various Marvel and Star Wars films has signaled a healthy yet evolving market. Despite growing competition from video streaming platforms and other at-home movie viewing options, people in the United States still seem to value the experience of seeing a film in a theatre.