2021 is going to go down as a very weird year for the Hollywood box office; despite the slow, vaccine-powered recovery of the theater industry, ticket sales for even the biggest movies are still clocking in at a mere fraction of what they would have been in 2019.
Case in point: The fact that the battle for the most successful Hollywood movie of the year—currently being duked out between F9 and long-delayed James Bond installment No Time To Die—is being waged in the $700 millions, rather than the post-billion position the industry has grown accustomed to. (Also weird: The fact that Marvel and Disney, which have dominated these conversations in pre-pandemic years, aren’t even in the race, with the studios’ top performer, Shang-Chi, sitting at a measly $431 million worldwide.)
This week saw an upset in that competition, as Deadline reports that Bond is set to pull ahead of Dom and the Family at last, becoming the most lucrative studio movie of the year to date. (It’s possible No Time To Die might get unseated by West Side Story or No Way Home before year’s end—it rarely pays to bet against either Steven Spielberg or Spider-Man—but those December releases will have a limited window to try to topple Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film.)
In addition to their love of doing very silly spy things with cars, both of these franchises have one major similarity: They do extremely well outside of the domestic box office. If we were only looking at the U.S., the two movies would rank 4th (F9) and 6th (No Time To Die), trailing far behind Shang-Chi.
But No Time To Die spread out its international appeal, pulling in (per Box Office Mojo) $124 million in Bond’s native UK, $69 million in Germany, and $57.9 million in China. F9, unsurprisingly, went all in on the Chinese audience; the film made $203.8 million in the country, beating its U.S. and U.K. box office performance combined.
Which is also probably the point where we should note that neither of these films is going to come even remotely close to being the actual top performer on the planet in 2021; that honor is almost certainly going to go to Chinese nationalistic blockbuster The Battle At Lake Changjin, which has brought in $882 million since opening in the first week of October. Battle’s numbers have slowed significantly in recent weeks, but it’s still the only movie worldwide that might break the billion-dollar mark this year—despite, or maybe because of, accusations that its action sequences of Chinese soldiers fighting Americans during a battle during the Korean War amount to little more than explosive political propaganda.