Locally made films, especially animated titles, dominated the Japanese box office in 2021. The territory is generally the world’s third-largest cinema market, behind China and North America.
Although official figures compiled by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren) won’t be announced until next month, figures from the Pick Scene Movie Rankings and Box Office site show “Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time” as the highest-grossing film of the year with a gross of $90 million after its March 8 release. A sci-fi anime written and directed by Anno Hideaki and produced by Anno’s Studio Khara, it is the fourth and final film in his “Rebuild of Evangelion” film series, part of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise.
All three of the top-grossing films in Japan this year are animations, including number two “Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet” ($67.5 million), the latest iteration of the “Detective Conan” mystery franchise. The third was “Belle” ($58 million), a sci-fi fantasy from anime maestro Hosoda Mamoru. This is only the second time since 2000 that anime titles have topped the top three.
The highest-ranking non-Japanese film, eighth, is “F9: The Fast Saga,” which grossed $32 million for distributor Toho-Towa. Only five Hollywood titles reached the 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) mark, which is the traditional marker of commercial success in Japan, with Disney and Marvel titles turning in disappointing numbers.
Of the top ten films, five were released or co-released by perennial industry leader Toho. Warner Bros. was the top overseas distributor, but with its top ten titles being Japanese productions: “Tokyo Revengers” ($39 million) and “Rurouni Kenshin The Final” ($38 million) ranked fifth.
“Simultaneous releases in theaters and on streaming platforms or shorter gaps between theatrical and streaming releases gave viewers a wider range of choices,” said box office analyst Otaka Hiroo. Variety. “One of the results has been an accelerated decline in interest in seeing not just Disney but all Hollywood movies (in theaters).” This year, Otaka expects the market share of Japanese films to end at 80%, up from 76% last year.
This projection is lower compared to 2020, when three Hollywood films entered the official MPPAJ top ten, and before the 2019 pandemic, when six of the top ten films were Hollywood releases.
According to Otaka, the overall box office for 2021 will be between $1.36 billion and $1.4 billion, which is an increase of perhaps 120% over 2020. This is still only around 60% of the total for 2019 before the pandemic.
“The pandemic had a big impact on the box office this year,” Otaka commented. “But there was no nationwide theater closure like last year, so the effect was slightly less (than in 2020).”
Regarding 2022, Otaka says, “There are more big, attention-grabbing Hollywood movies coming out next year, compared to 2021. I expect a rebound from Hollywood.”