Home > Entertainment > ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and other highest-grossing pandemic era movies
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and other highest-grossing pandemic era movies

A look at the highest-grossing movies of the pandemic era reveals two unique facts. The first is that most of them were released in 2022. And, the second — quite a few are Chinese productions, pointing to how the pandemic era particularly affected Hollywood films in the three years since 2020.

Indeed, the box office didn’t ring as fervently as it did for years before 2020. However, it is evident — the pandemic did deal a blow to the entertainment industry. Movie theatres remained closed most of the year in many countries of the world. Films had to be postponed, some got shelved and others didn’t exactly do well financially even if they were released. As theatres started reopening over the next two years, new films began drawing crowds, and thereby, returned to making money.

A snapshot of the movies that did well in the pandemic era

Some gems from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) found a place among the highest-grossing films of all time along with a handful of other big-budget franchise films.

Among them are Spider-Man: No Way Home, the highest-grossing movie released in 2021, and Minions: The Rise of Gru, the sixth highest-grossing movie in this list and the highest-grossing animated film of the pandemic era.

Chinese film Hi, Mom is one of the few family films that made money at the box office during the pandemic. But like all other Chinese films, including The Battle at Lake Changjin, the highest-grossing Chinese film of this period, nearly all of its earnings came at the domestic box office.

The overall leader at the worldwide box office is Avatar: The Way of Water. The James Cameron directorial is one of the five highest-grossing films of all time. It is the first film to cross the USD 2 billion mark in the last three years.

Is the current global box office better than before 2020?

The year 2020 was indeed different. The highest-grossing film of that year, when the pandemic began, was the mainland Chinese film The Eight Hundred. Released on 21 August in China, the film told the story of the eight hundred Chinese soldiers who fought the Japanese army from a warehouse in Shanghai in 1937. The film made only USD 461 million at the box office, most of which came from earnings in Hong Kong, China and Australia.

Yet The Eight Hundred ranks 267th on Box Office Mojo’s ‘Top Lifetime Grosses’ list (as on 31 January 2023). By contrast, Avengers: Endgame, the 2019 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, has a lifetime gross of over USD 2.7 billion and ranks second on the list.

This underlines what is well known to trade analysts — there is a massive gap in box office revenue in the period before 2020 and after 2020.

Citing data from global film tech company Gower Street Analytics, Variety reported in January 2023 that the box office revenue for 2022 was USD 26 billion. Though higher than that of the 2021 figure, it was 35 per cent lower than the average of the three years from 2017-2019.

The positive sign here is that the market is becoming better for the film industry. With more franchise films lined up for release through 2023, both stakeholders and film lovers hope to see box office performances match, if not surpass, the pre-pandemic levels.

Here are 15 of the top-grossing pandemic-era movies

(Main image: IMDb; Featured image: Sony Pictures – © 2021 CTMG. All Rights Reserved. MARVEL and all related character names: © & ™ 2021 MARVEL/IMDb)

All figures as per Box Office Mojo as on 31 January 2023

1 /15

Avatar: The Way of Water

Worldwide gross: USD 2,117,086,137

Release date: 16 December 2022

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Kate Winslet

Synopsis: Over a decade after the events of Avatar (2009), Jake Sully (voiced by Worthington) and Neytiri (voiced by Saldaña) are trying to raise their family on Pandora. But their peace is shattered and they must unite the Na’vi people once again when a threat from the past returns with a vengeance.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

2 /15

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Worldwide gross: USD 1,921,847,111

Release date: 17 December 2021

Director: Jon Watts

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire

Synopsis: After his secret identity as Spider-Man is revealed, Peter Parker (Holland) seeks the help of Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch). A spell goes wrong, bringing dangerous foes from other universes into Parker’s world. But with them also appear some beloved allies.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of Matt Kennedy – © 2021 CTMG. All Rights Reserved. MARVEL and all related character names: © & ™ 2021 MARVEL/IMDb

3 /15

Top Gun: Maverick

Worldwide gross: USD 1,488,732,821

Release date: 27 May 2022

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Cast: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and Monica Barbaro

Synopsis: Set 30 years after the events of Top Gun (1986), the film follows Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) as he sets out to train a new batch of young Naval aviators for a dangerous mission. But Maverick is also troubled by his own past, which is directly connected to Lieutenant Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Teller).

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Paramount Pictures – © 2019 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved./IMDb

4 /15

Jurassic World: Dominion

Worldwide gross: USD 1,001,978,080

Release date: 10 June 2022

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise and Isabella Sermon

Synopsis: Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) are trying to raise Maisie Lockwood (Sermon) in a world where dinosaurs and humans are trying to co-exist after the destruction of Isla Nublar. When Maisie is kidnapped, Owen and Claire set out to rescue her. In the process they connect with Ellie Sattler (Dern), Alan Grant (Neill) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), who are trying to expose a world-threatening plan by a genetics company.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of John Wilson/Universal Pictures a – © 2022 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

5 /15

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Worldwide gross: USD 955,775,804

Release date: 6 May 2022

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis: Chased by a mysterious evil, America Chavez (Gomez), who has the power to travel between multiverses, joins hands with Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch). The sorcerer approaches Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) for help and learns about a devastating danger that can destroy the multiverse.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of JAY MAIDMENT/Jay Maidment/IMDb

6 /15

Minions: The Rise of Gru

Worldwide gross: USD 939,628,210

Release date: 1 July 2022

Directors: Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val

Voice cast: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Michelle Yeoh, Taraji P. Henson and Alan Arkin

Synopsis: It is the 1970s, and a young Gru (Carell) aims to join Vicious 6, a gang of supervillains, with the help of the Minions. But his plan goes awry and he finds himself as the target of Vicious 6. As Gru tries to defend himself, he gets unexpected help from the ousted leader of the supervillains named Wild Knuckles (Arkin).

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of Illumination Entertainment and U – © 2021 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

7 /15

The Battle at Lake Changjin

Worldwide gross: USD 902,548,476

Release date: 30 September 2021

Directors: Chen Kaige, Dante Lam and Tsui Hark

Cast: Wu Jing, Jackson Yee and Kevin Lee

Synopsis: The Battle at Lake Changjin is based on true events during the Korean War in the winter of 1950. The nationalist war film is about how soldiers of the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) of China overcame odds to prevent the American advance in the Korean peninsula around the freezing cold region of Lake Changjin.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

8 /15

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Worldwide gross: USD 841,942,934

Release date: 11 November 2022

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Dominique Thorne, Tenoch Huerta Mejía and Angela Bassett

Synopsis: The death of King T’Challa has left the Kingdom of Wakanda in mourning. As they grieve, the Wakandans find themselves in a conflict over vibranium and at the receiving end of an ancient civilisation led by their powerful king, Namor (Mejía). With Black Panther around, it is up to the Wakandans to do all they can to defend themselves.

Image: Courtesy of Annette Brown/Annette Brown – © 2022 MARVEL./IMDb

9 /15

Hi, Mom

Worldwide gross: USD 822,009,764

Release date: 12 February 2021

Director: Jia Ling

Cast: Jia Ling, Shen Teng and Zhang Xiaofei

Synopsis: Hi, Mom, one of the highest-grossing comedy movies of all time, is about Jia Xiaoling (Jia) who is transported back in time to 1981 after her mother is fatally injured in a car accident. Jia meets a younger version of her mother and decides to use this second chance to not only become a better daughter but to also give her mother a better life.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

10 /15

No Time to Die

Worldwide gross: USD 774,153,007

Release date: 8 October 2021

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright and Christoph Waltz

Synopsis: James Bond (Craig) is brought back from retirement after people close to him become the target of a mysterious villain named Lyutsifer Safin (Malek) armed with a highly advanced technology.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

11 /15

The Batman

Worldwide gross: USD 770,945,583

Release date: 4 March 2022

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano and Jeffrey Wright

Synopsis: The Riddler (Dano), one of the greatest villains of Batman , goes on a serial killing spree in Gotham. While trying to protect his city from him, the ‘Caped Crusader’ (Pattinson) uncovers the dark realities of his own family and rampant corruption in Gotham.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

12 /15

Thor: Love and Thunder

Worldwide gross: USD 760,928,081

Release date: 8 July 2022

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Tessa Thompson

Synopsis: Angered by a god’s rejection of his plea to save his daughter, Gorr the God Butcher (Bale) goes on a mission to kill all gods in the known Universe. To prevent him from killing any more gods, Thor (Hemsworth) parts ways with the Guardians of the Galaxy and joins forces with Valkyrie (Thompson) and his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster, who now wields the Mjölnir.

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of Jasin Boland/Jasin Boland – © Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

13 /15

F9: The Fast Saga

Worldwide gross: USD 726,229,501

Release date: 25 June 2021

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, John Cena, Jordana Brewster and Nathalie Emmanuel

Synopsis: The ninth instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise pits Dom and his crew against Jakob Toretto (Cena) — the estranged brother of Dom (Diesel) and Mia (Brewster).

Watch here.

Image: Courtesy of Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures – © 2020 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

14 /15

Detective Chinatown 3

Worldwide gross: USD 686,257,563

Release date: 12 February 2021

Director: Sicheng Chen

Cast: Liu Haoran, Wang Baoqiang, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Tony Jaa and Masami Nagasawa

Synopsis: The mystery-comedy film, the third instalment of the eponymous franchise, sees Tang Ren (Wang) and Qin Feng (Liu) arrive in Tokyo to investigate a murder. Qin, who is tasked with solving the case, engages in a battle of wits with the brilliant Japanese detective Hiroshi Noda (Tsumabuki).

Image: Courtesy of IMDb

15 /15

The Battle at Lake Changjin II (Water Gate Bridge)

Worldwide gross: USD 626,571,697

Release date: 1 February 2022

Directors:  Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam

Cast: Wu Jing, Jackson Yee and Duan Yihong

Synopsis: The sequel to The Battle at Lake Changjin is a dramatised retelling of a battle between People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) soldiers and American forces for control of a crucial bridge during the Korean War around the Lake Changjin region.

Image: Courtesy of IMDb


‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and other highest-grossing pandemic era movies

Manas Sen Gupta writes at the intersection of tech, entertainment and history. His works have appeared in publications such as The Statesman, Myanmar Matters, Hindustan Times and News18/ETV. In his spare time, Manas loves studying interactive charts and topographic maps. When not doing either, he prefers reading detective fiction. Spring is his favourite season and he can happily eat a bowl of noodles any time of the day.


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