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What were the highest-grossing box office releases of 2020?

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With 2020 set to finally, FINALLY, end, this is usually the time of year where we start to reflect on everything that’s happened in the past year. Unfortunately, we don’t really want to remember anything from 2020 and what we do remember is all a hazy, amorphous blur. It’s almost difficult to remember what “the before times” were like before social distancing, mask-wearing, and general plague. Back when we all were able to go to a movie theater, have a bucket of popcorn with extra butter, and watch the hottest releases. Then on Monday, we film geeks would check the box office numbers and discuss with our co-workers the latest flicks, sharing our opinions and thoughts whether anyone wanted to hear them or not.

Speaking of, remember box office numbers? Remember how every week, when there were still theatrical releases, we would round up just how well movies were doing and see how much money they made? Oh how I miss those! It was always interesting to see which movies were resonating well with audiences and which movies would become glorious bombs that would go down in history. 2019 made history for just how lucrative some films and franchises were, and now 2020 will go down in history as the worst year for the North American box office. There’s not even a guarantee certain theatre distributors will even survive 2020!

But that got me thinking. Since the box office more or less shut down back in March with hardly any major releases coming out in the Fall, what are going to be the Top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2020? For most years you can look at the box office to see the general trends and what audiences are eager to see. Since everything has moved to streaming services and other digital platforms, it’s become even harder to gauge trends and determine what makes a movie financially successful. It’s virtually all guess work. At least the box office gave us cold, hard numbers. So if we were to look back a decade from now for another Decade Decathlon, what kind of movies will stand as being the most profitable movies of 2020?

Here are the Top 10 highest grossing movies as of December 1st, 2020, with most of the numbers based on those reported from Box Office Mojo. Don’t worry, these numbers aren’t going to change much in the next month.

Onward

#10: Onward ($141,585,966)

This is probably one out of two (maybe three) films that almost certainly would have been one of the Top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2020 if this was a normal year. Because of the odd nature of its release, being pushed to Disney+ a few weeks after it debuted, its box office performance was absolutely crippled by the coronavirus. It’s a shame since while this definitely isn’t Pixar at their best, it’s still a very heartfelt film that effectively delivered its concept. Not much else to says besides it’s a Pixar movie. These are almost designed to be some of the highest-grossing movies each year. It’s just surprising to see one barely clawing its way onto this list.

#9: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn ($201,858,461)

Now HERE’s a movie that would have never been on this list! Considered one of the lowest-performing DCEU films, BoPAtFEoOHQ was deemed to have underperformed at the box office. While the film’s budget was around $100 million, not including marketing costs, Warner Bros almost certainly didn’t break even with this film. Excuses were made about it underperforming due it starring a largely female cast, but let’s be honest, the title of the movie is the main culprit. It’s not even titled BoPAtFEoOHQ from most outlets anymore! DC and Warner Bros. quickly changed the title to just Birds of Preythree days after its release, but we here at Flixist will always remember! We always remember. And hey, even if your film has a horrible name, your film can still become one of the highest grossing films of the year… provided there’s a global virus in effect. If not you’re pretty screwed.

Chinaboxoffice

#8: Jiang Yang: Legend of Deification ($240,634,866)

2020 will go down in history as the year that the Chinese market officially overtook the West in box office dominance. Sure, it’s because North American theaters were closed for a vast majority of the year while China was able to gain some control over the spread of the coronavirus, but technicalities still count! Unfortunately, that means that a lot of the films that have come out in China haven’t reached the United States, therefore I can’t really say anything more other than “Yup, Legend of Deification sure is a film that exists!” It’s a very well animated film based on its trailers, so it has that going for it. Maybe I’ll give it a watch when it eventually releases over here.

#7: Dolittle ($245,802,698)

We live in a sick world. I’m not even talking about the virus in this case. We live in a world where Dolittle will close out as one of the most successful movies of 2020. The movie that most critics destroyed back in January. The movie that was mocked for its poor trailers and even worse comic shtick. The movie that was complete and utter January trash. And this is one of the most profitable movies of 2020. We live in a truly horrid world.

Box Office 2020

#6: Demon Slayer: Infinity Train ($280,600,000)

In an absolutely shocking turn of events for 2020, here’s a movie that came out in the last couple of weeks that has actually outperformed expectations! Demon Slayeris an absurdly popular franchise in Japan and the announcement of a sequel film last year left fans, myself included, frothing at the mouth. The film released in mid-October and has surpassed box office goals like nobody’s business in Japan. It is the second highest-grossing Japanese film of all time and it very may well surpass the current holder, Spirited Away, by the end of the year. It only needs to make a little over $20 million to do so, which isn’t that impossible. That’s once you factor in that there are still some restrictions on movie theaters in Japan, so the fact that this movie did so well and continues to do well is just plain astonishing. So regardless of the pandemic, Demon Slayer: Infinity Train has justifiably made history this year. Good for it!

#5: Sonic the Hedgehog ($320,954,026)

Christ, I forgot this movie came out this year. After a wretched original design, the filmmakers held off on releasing it in 2019 in order to deliver a stronger final product and to give it a better shot at the box office. And you know what? It was definitely the right call. The film already has a sequel greenlit for an April 2022 release date that will allegedly begin filming this upcoming March. That all may change, but it’s nice to see that the film did well enough to net itself a franchise. Sonic the Hedgehog was always going to be at least worthy of discussion for its main character alone, but audiences actually flocked to it because it was a fun family film, one that anyone at any age could enjoy. Now would it have been on this list if it wasn’t for the pandemic? Not at all, but let’s just take the success stories when we can.

Tenet Poster

#4: Tenet ($357,800,000)

There will never be a sadder and more apropos story than the one of Tenet and its numerous major hurdles leading up to its release. It’s a story of Christopher Nolan’s ego, excessive budgets, delays, Warner Bros. staunchly refusing to be flexible, and a film that deserved better than it got. Given its astronomical budget and marketing costs, despite being the fourth highest grossing movie of 2020, it’s a box office failure, resulting in Warner Bros. losing $50-100 million. There’s a lesson to be learned here and I want to fully go into what the hell happened to make Tenet such a unique failure, but regardless of the movie’s overall quality, it’d be hard to not call the film the definitive failure of 2020.

#3: Bad Boys for Life ($426,505,244)

Okay, this is just funny to me. Back in January, we were all pleasantly surprised to see that Bad Boys for Life, a pretty good action movie, was doing well. It was a sequel to a franchise that was dormant for nearly two decades and no one thought that it would have much legs. But damn, we all forgot that this film didn’t have any normal legs. It had Will Smith legs! It stayed at the top of the box office for a few weeks, but even when it fell when Sonic came to town it still pulled in enough money to stay in the Top 10. Now, when 2020 mercifully ends, unless Tenet can squeeze another $75 million out of audiences or Wonder Woman 1984 kills it in its one week at the box office, then Bad Boys for Life will be the highest-grossing Hollywood film of 2020. What a world.

box office 2020#2: My People, My Homeland ($428,500,000)

Another Chinese exclusive movie (it’s highly unlikely this film will find its way out West) makes its way into the Top 10. As much as I would like to give some detailed recount of this anthology film starring multiple big-name Chinese movie stars, I just know too little about the film to give an informed opinion of it. I’ve heard from Chinese friends of mine that the film is a smidge away from being considered propaganda from the Chinese government, but don’t quote me on that. Still, for releasing towards the end of the summer, the film did remarkably well given the circumstances.

box office 2020

#1: The Eight Hundred ($461,202,056)

Serving as the highest-grossing film and premiere of 2020, The Eight Hundred is basically a Chinese version of Dunkirk. The film is centered on a conflict in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which predominantly occurred during World War II. Yes, the Japanese were fighting both the US in the Pacific and the Chinese in the West. The film was directed by Guan Hu, who was won numerous awards for his previous films and even directed a segment in My People, My Country, another anthology film in the same vein as My People, My Homeland. This is the film that pushed the Chinese market to finally surpass the United States and while that most likely will not last into 2021, a historic moment is still a historic moment. Could the film have stayed relevant if it had to contend with Black Widow, No Time To Die, or Fast Nine? Who can say?

So what lesson can we learn from all of this? Not a single clue! Just know that the most profitable films of 2020 involved animated elves, a movie that revolved around a BEC, a Chinese animated epic, an embarrassment to film, anime, a blue rat, weebly-wobbly-timey-wimey, Will Smith, propaganda, and a war drama. What a year this was. May we never speak of it again.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.