Local Titles Cushion Nordic Box Office Plunge in 2020

Due to COVID-19 cinema lockdowns or restrictions, box office in the Nordic region plummeted in 2020 year-on-year by 64% in Sweden, 57.6% in Iceland, 57% in Norway, 54% in Finland, and 47% in Denmark.

The dearth of new U.S .tentpoles, combined with strong domestic titles such as “Another Round,” allowed homegrown movies to punch all-time record market shares in Denmark (50.4%), Finland (41.1%) and Norway (35.6%).

The biggest U.S. hit across the Nordics was Disney’s “Frozen 2,” which continued to perform strongly in early 2020 after its Christmas 2019 opening.

Denmark: The Year of ‘Another Round’

Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar contender and 2020 champion “Another Round” figured among a handful of national titles that saved the Danish cinema year and mitigated COVID-19’s impact on cinemagoing.

National box office sank 47% to DKK 630 million ($101 million) off 7.2 million ticket sales in 2020. This compares to 13.2 million admissions for a gross box office value of DKK 1.18 billion ($190 million) in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Danish Film Institute (DFI). Inevitably, the closure of cinemas for more than three months and the absence of U.S. blockbusters -most of them postponed, a few launched straight to VOD – took its toll on cinema attendance, noted Mads Nedergaard, chairman of the Danish Film Distributors’ association FAFID.

Danish movies came to the rescue, however, and posted historical earnings of DKK 311.3 million (nearly $50 million), compared to DKK 280.6 million in 2019 ($45 million). The 3.2 million tickets sales for local fare in 2020 almost equalled 2019’s 3.2 million, which triggered the DFI’s CEO Claus Ladegaard to tag 2020 as a “good year” for Danish movies.

“Even with less competition from Hollywood, 3.2 million admissions to local movies is still impressive, considering that cinemas were closed for three months in the spring and again from December,” said Ladegaard, citing “Another Round”  as “the biggest draw of the year” and saying it was the fourth best-selling Danish movie in 20 years.

Besides Vinterberg’s take on the perils of booze, five Danish titles ranked in the Top 10, including Anders Thomas Jensen’s revenge dark comedy “Riders of Justice,” which resulted in Danish movies conquering 50.4% of the market -approximately twice the average of the last decade. Conversely, U.S. movies’ market share tumbled from 58% in 2019 to 37%. The biggest U.S. hit – Disney’s “Frozen 2” – ranked No. 5.

Top 10 Movies, Denmark, 2020
(Title, distributor, country of origin, admissions, gross, date of release)
1 “Another Round,” Nordisk Film, Denmark, 802,693, DKK69,4 million ($11.3 million), Sept. 29
2 “Riders of Justice,” Nordisk Film, Denmark, 459,773, DKK44.6 million ($7.2 million), Dec. 17
3 “Klovn the Final” Denmark, Nordisk Film, 437,381, DKK44 million ($7.1 million), Jan. 30
4 “Into the Darkness,” Denmark, Scanbox, 370,100,  DKK30 million ($4.9 million), Jan. 9
5 “Frozen 2,” U.S., Disney, 313,902, DKK27.5 million ($4.5 million), Dec. 25, 2019
6 “Father of 4 and the Vikings,” Denmark, Nordisk Film, 310,356, DKK26.4 million ($4.3 million), Oct. 1
7 “Tenet” U.S., SF Studios/Warner, 226,664, DKK27 6 million ($4.5 million), Aug. 13
8 “The Good Traitor,” Denmark, SF Studios, 198,360, DKK13.7 million ($2.2 million), Aug. 13
9 “1917,” U.S., Nordisk Film, 193,581, DKK18.5 million ($3 million), Jan. 2
10 “Bad Boys For Life,” U.S., SF Studios/Sony, 186,670, DKK18.2 million ($2.9 million), Jan. 16

Finland: Finnish Female Directors on Top Form

The year had a very promising start thanks notably to Disney’s “Frozen 2,” released during Christmas 2019 – which sold nearly 200,000 tickets just after New Year and ended up as No. 1 at the Top 10. Four local titles – “Ladies of Steel,” “Helene,” “Hayflower,” “Quiltshoe and & the Feisty First-Grader” – as well as “The Renovation,”also boosted box office earnings. But the admission upswing came to a abrupt halt mid-March as government anti-COVID measures forced venues to shut down.

After an almost three-month closure, cinemas reopened early July, although strict restrictions continued in the second half of the year. This – together with the shortage of new U.S. tentpoles besides “Tenet” – resulted in a 54% plunge of revenues, from €95.8 million in 2019 ($114 million) to an estimated €43,6 million ($52,7 million). In admission terms, less than half the Finns went to the movies in 2020-about 3.9 million compared to 8.41 million in 2019, according to preliminary figures from the Finnish Film Foundation.

As in most Nordic territories, domestic fare gained from the lack of U.S. releases. After a low 2019 market share at 16.8%, Finnish movies climbed to a historical 41.1% in 2020 and more Finns bought a ticket to watch a local movie than in 2019 – 1.6 million against 1.4 million in 2019. Box office earnings climbed 18% from €14.8 million ($17.7 million) in 2019 to an estimated €17.4 million ($20.8 million) in 2020. October saw the most impressive surge in national market share at nearly 72%.

Ilmari Arnkil, the Finnish Film Foundation’s head of distribution pointed out that Finnish female directors were behind four out of six best-selling Finnish movies of the year and had one of the strongest years ever, led by filmmakers such as Pamela Tola with the feel-good sleeper “Ladies of Steel” and Lenka Hellstedt with the kids franchise “Hayflower, Quiltshoe and the Feisty First-Grader.”

Arnkil also noted that “Finnish audiences seemed exceptionally interested in two documentaries”: “Aalto” about the life and work of one of the greatest modern architects, Alvar Aalto, and “Lost Boys,” a follow-up to the 2010 hit “Reinderspotting.” The movies posted 45,000 and 75,000 in ticket sales respectively, which Arnkil described as “phenomenal” results for documentaries, “even under normal conditions.”

The Finnish Oscar nominee “Tove,” about the Moomins creator Tove Jansson, broke the box office record for a Swedish-language movie released in Finland, while the South Korean Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” was the fifth biggest release of 2020.

Meanwhile, U.S. entries, that usually secure more than 60% of tickets sales each year, dropped to a 34.5% market share. “Tenet” was the only 2020 U.S. title in the Top 10, as both Disney movies “Frozen 2” and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opened late 2019.

Top 10 movies in Finland, 2020
(Title, distributor, country of origin, admissions, gross, date of release)
1 “Frozen 2,” Disney, U.S., 277,578, €3 million ($3.7 million), Dec. 12, 2019
2 “Ladies of Steel,” SF,Finland, 246,714, €2.6 million ($3.3 million), Jan. 3
3 “Tenet,” SF, U.S., 181,956, €2.3 million (£2.8 million), Aug. 26
4 “Hayflower, Quiltshoe & the Feisty First-Grader,” SF, Finland, 179,830, €1.7 million ($2.2 mil), Feb 14
5 “Parasite,” Future Film, Korea, 178,905, €2 million ($2.5 million), Jan. 31
6 “The Renovation,” Nordisk Film, Finland, 178,043, €2.1 million ($2.5 million), Feb. 19
7 “Helene,” Nordisk Film, Finland, 177,678, €1.9 million ($2.3 million), Jan. 17
8 “Tove,” Nordisk Film, Finland, 154,705, €1.7 million ($2.1 million), Feb. 10
9 “Ricky Rapper & the Wrong Vincent,” Nordisk Film, Finland, 150,032, €1.5 million ($1.8 mil), Sep. 19
10 “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Disney, U.S., 133,800, €1.7 million ($2.1 mil), Dec. 18, 2019

Iceland: Broad Local Comedies Rule

Box office nose-dived 57.8% in 2020 to ISK 667 million ($5.2 million) while admissions were down nearly 60% from 1.2 million in 2019 to 511,955 in 2020, according to the local association of rights holders FRÍSK.

The six-week cinema closure from March 23 and following restrictions in screen capacity due to COVID-19 had a dramatic effect on moviegoing, as did the shortage of new U.S. studio releases. “What we’ve noticed here in Iceland is that when new movies were launched, the attendance was very good,” said FRÍSK’s managing director Daníel Traustason.

Capturing the need for good laughs in the gloomy pandemic time, the local broad comedy “The Last Fishing Trip” was the biggest hit as 135,306 Icelanders or 10% of the nation’s population, tuned in, despite the pic’s launch just before the national lockdown and ensuing capacity restrictions. The movie was helmed and produced by “Featured Cocaine” documentary filmmakers Þorkell S. Harðarson and Örn Marinó Arnarson- aka the Merkell Brothers – outside the traditional subsidy model. The duo replicated their winning recipe by producing the second biggest grosser in the year, “Grandma Hófí” by Gunnar B. Guðmundsson, which earned around $277,000 from 22,428 admissions.

Local fare closed the year with ISK11.8 million ($984,946) gross box office, up 51.8% from 2019, while admissions increased 30.6%, from 54,005 in 2019 to 70,552. This resulted in an all-time 17% market share in revenue terms, the highest since 2018’s 13.3%.

Hollywood titles, which usually control over 80% of the market, dropped to 71% in 2020. The biggest U.S. grosser was Sam Mendes’ “1917,” ahead of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” and “Trolls World Tour.”

Top 10 Movies in Iceland, 2020
(Title, distributor, country of origin, gross, admissions, date of release)
1 “The Last Fishing Trip”, Myndform,Iceland, kr 61 million ($477,171), 35,306, March 6
2 “Grandma Hófí”, Myndform, Iceland, kr 35.8 million ($277,142), 22,428, Jul. 10
3 “1917, Samfilm, U.S., kr 34 million, ($263,175), 24,671, Jan. 10
4 “Tenet” Samfilm, U.S., kr 32 million ($247,312), 21,895, Aug. 8
5 “Trolls World Tour,” Myndform, U.S., kr 27.4 million ($212,000), Jun. 26
6 “Sonic the Hedgehog,” Samfilm, U.S., kr 26.6 million ($205,686), 23,354, Feb. 14
7 “Bad Boys for Life,” Sena, U.S., kr 22.4 million ($173,253), 16,184, Jan. 16
8 “Onward,” Samfilm, U.S., kr 19.7 million ($152,378), 18,149, March 6
9 “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Samfilm, U.S., kr 18.7 million ($144,706), 13,264, Dec. 19
10 “Dolittle”, Myndform, U.S., kr 16.7 million ($129,423), 16,063, Jan. 17

Norway: Car Chase ‘Børning 3’ Races to the Top

What started as a promising year with a 14.5% rise in admissions in January and 10.5% in February compared to the same period in 2019, ended suddenly March 12 as cinemas closed for seven weeks. The slow recovery of cinemagoing and further screen clampdowns sparked a 57.1% drop in admissions, from 11.3 million to 4.8 million in 2020, worth NOK 557 million ($65.1 million) in gross box office.

“With all kinds of restrictions and temporary closures, we could not expect anything other than a sharp decline,” noted Guttorm Petterson, head of the cinema association Film & Kino. For the exhibition expert, the drop of admissions was exacerbated by lengthy discussions with the government as to whether a meter distance between each visitor should be evaluated based on shoulder to shoulder or face to face, a significant point to define seat occupancy (every other seat or every third seat).

That said, as in the rest of Europe, local movies gained from the shortage of Hollywood fare and posted a record 35.6% market share off 1.72 million tickets sales, worth NOK198 million ($21.8 million) in earnings. The previous high point for Norwegian movies was 25.1% in 2018.

Driven by the local car racing movie “Børning 3,” homegrown titles packed out half of the Top 10, and various genres scored with local audiences, such as the animated “Two Buddies and a Badger 2 – The Great Big Beast,” family period drama “The Crossing,” suspense title “The Tunnel” and kids franchise “Twigson and the Sea Monster.”

Meanwhile, U.S. movies had to settle for 49.1% of the market against 65.6% in 2019. The biggest hit was Disney’s “Frozen 2.”

Top 10 Movies in Norway
(Title, distributor, country of origin, admissions, gross, date of release)
1 “Børning 3,” SF Studios, Norway, 285,904, NOK36.18 million ($4.2 million), Oct. 14
2 “Frozen 2,” Disney, U.S., 283,403, NOK31.4 million ( ($3.6 million), Dec 25, 2019
3 “Two Buddies and a Badger 2,” Norsk Filmdistribusjon, Norway, 214,419, NOK 22.8 million ($2.6 million), Sep. 25
4 “1917,” Nordisk Film, Norway, 191,376, NOK25.7 ($3 million), Jan. 24
5 “Tenet,” SF Norge, U.S., 188,416, NOK28.2 million ($3.2 million), Aug. 28
6 “Parasite,” Arthaus, South Korea, 232,860, NOK 29.5 million ($3.5 million), Jan. 31
7 “The Crossing,” Nordisk Film, Norway, 139,708, NOK13.8 million ($1.6 million), Feb. 14
8 “The Tunnel,” Nordisk Film, Norway, 135,736, NOK 16.7 million ($1.9 million), Dec 25, 2019
9 “Twigson and the Sea Monster,” SF Norge, Norway, 129,950, NOK13.7 million ($1.6 million), Jul. 3
10 “Bad Boys for Life,” SF Norge, U.S., 117,254, NOK15.6 million ($1.8 million ), Jan. 17

Sweden: “Frozen 2” Heats Up Market

The only country in Europe which relied on a herd immunity approach and resisted a full lockdown, Sweden nevertheless suffered in 2020 the biggest drop in cinema attendance in the Nordic region due to the pandemic.

Ticket sales crashed 63% from 15.6 million in 2019 to 5.6 million in 2020, while box office revenues slumped by 64%, from nearly SEK1.9 billion ($225 million) in 2019 to SEK676 million ($80.7 million).
Looking back at 2020, Peter Fornstam, head of the Swedish Cinema Association and managing director of the second largest theater chain, Svenska Bio, noted that “the year got off to a very strong start, better than 2019,” but that checked as anti-COVID social distancing rules were introduced and most cinemas closed by mid-April.

Fornstam says “the cinema sector’s recovery started in July but was dwarfed by the 50 person per screen rule, that was a much lower bar than in the rest of the Nordics.” The second wave, with even stricter rules from December – a maximum 8 persons per screen – and a drying up of movie supply, further compounded the cinema attendance slump.

In such adverse circumstances, U.S. titles that usually drive admissions fell from a high 73.4% share in 2019 to 55.2% last year. Released over Christmas 2019, Disney’s “Frozen 2” still secured the top spot at the Swedish box office in 2020, earning SEK 63 million in gross box office ($7.5 million) from 560,571 ticket sales.

Disney’s second tentpole, “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker,” also launched late 2019 – performed on a par with SF/Warner’s “Tenet,” the only top grosser of the second quarter of 2020.
Swedish films, that had plummeted to a 13.2% market share in 2019 -the lowest level in more than a decade -climbed back to 26% in 2020, the best share since 2009’s 32.7%, with 2.1 million admissions, up 38% from 2019.

The biggest local hit was Edward af Sillén’s feel-good musical “A Piece of My Heart,” released late 2019, which grossed nearly SEK39 million ($3.5 million) from 251,322 admissions. The second Swedish favorite was Rolf Lassgård vehicle, “My Father Marianne”.

Top 10 movies in Sweden, 2020
(Title, distributor, country of origin, admissions, gross, date of release)
1 “Frozen 2”, Disney, U.S., 560,571, SEK63 million ($7.5 million), Dec 25, 2019
2 “A Piece of My Heart,” Nordisk Film, Sweden, 261,322, SEK 29 million ($3.5 million), Dec. 25, 2019
3 “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker,” Disney, U.S., 247,970, SEK38 million ($4.5 million), Dec. 18. 2019
4 “Tenet,” SF/Warner, U.S., 247,854, SEK 38.9 million ($4.6 million), Aug. 26
5 “Bad Boys For Life,” SF/Warner, U.S., 232,860, SEK 29.5 million ($3.5 million), Jan. 17
6 “1917,” Nordisk Film, U.S., 227,143, SEK29.3 million ($3.5 million), Jan. 31
7 “Parasite,” TriArt, Korea, 226,836, SEK26.1 million ($3.1 million), Dec. 20, 2019
8 “My Father Marianne,” Nordisk Film, Sweden, 220,621, SEK24.5 million ($2.9 million), Feb. 21
9 “JerryMaya’s Detective Agency – The Mystery of the Train Robber,” SF Studios, Sweden, 187,105, SEK19.5 million, ($2.3 million), Feb. 7
10 “Sune-Best Man”, Nordisk Film, Sweden, 178,585, SEK19.5 million ($2.3 million), Dec. 20, 2019

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