The Croods: A New Age, Tom & Jerry, and Raya and the Last Dragon all post big numbers as the box office slowly ticks back up.

By Joey Nolfi
Updated April 07, 2021 at 12:30 PM EDT

With nearly 150 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered in the U.S. so far, movie theaters around the country have slowly begun pumping life back into the domestic box office.

Among the top 20 highest-grossing movies between March 2020 and March 2021 are the usual suspects: Titanic action flicks like Tenet, comic book spectacles like Wonder Woman 1984, and animated comedies like The Croods: A New Age. But Hollywood is still recovering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused nearly 12 months of theater closures and billions of dollars in lost ticket sales. In fact, it marked the first yearlong stretch in nearly five decades in which no studio film grossed more than $59 million.

The downturn (coupled with audience tastes shifting to more midrange films in addition to tried-and-true blockbuster titles) has forced the industry to "recalibrate and re-evaluate" what defines success, according to Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian, with pandemic-era box office trends shutting some major doors while opening others.

As theatrical limitations curbed the number of people who could actually see a movie in theaters throughout 2020, most people, understandably, stuck with the action tentpoles and family-friendly fare they're used to, but fewer major releases also allowed moderately budgeted, adult-oriented titles like Unhinged, The Little Things, The Marksman, Honest Thief, News of the World, Let Him Go, and last week's Nobody — which jumped to the No. 18 spot of the last year after only three days in wide release — to squeak into the top 20 in an unorthodox market that probably would've shut them out across any other stretch.

Box Office
Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.; DreamWorks Animation LLC; Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.

"In the early stages of the pandemic when brick-and-mortar theaters were sidelined, consumers were drawn to the good old-fashioned experience of the drive-in movie theater and older, classic films became part of a nostalgia-based wave of consumption that allowed movie fans to get their big screen fix," Dergarabedian adds.

When it came to new titles, family films "became a dominant force" both at theaters and at home, with films like The Croods 2, Tom & Jerry, and Raya and the Last Dragon all posting sturdy numbers at the box office and healthy streams on digital platforms.

While 2021 likely won't catch up to pre-COVID levels of theatrical attendance, Dergarabedian is hopeful that 2022 "will be the year that tells us if there will be the potential for a return to the pre-pandemic levels of movie theater revenues" and, on a more serious note, "moviegoer enthusiasm" for what studios are throwing weight behind in the first place.

"Given the historic resilience of the movie theater, I would not bet against the chance for this important side of the business to return to revenue-generating greatness," he says. "But, like a great Hollywood movie, this is a cliffhanger that has the entire industry on the edge of its seat."

See the top 20 highest-grossing movies of the COVID-19 pandemic era below (last updated April 7, 2021, with numbers from Comscore).

  1. Tenet — $58.2 million
  2. The Croods: A New Age — $56.4 million
  3. Godzilla vs. Kong — $48.1 million
  4. Wonder Woman 1984 — $46.2 million
  5. Tom & Jerry — $39.5 million
  6. Raya and the Last Dragon — $32.4 million
  7. The New Mutants — $23.9 million
  8. The War With Grandpa — $21.1 million
  9. Unhinged — $19.8 million
  10. The Little Things — $15.1 million
  11. The Marksman — $15 million
  12. Monster Hunter — $15 million
  13. Honest Thief — $13.7 million
  14. News of the World — $12.6 million
  15. Chaos Walking — $12.3 million
  16. Nobody — $12.1 million
  17. Come Play — $10.5 million
  18. Let Him Go — $9.4 million
  19. Freaky — $9 million
  20. Fatale — $6.3 million

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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