BFI statistics for 2020 reveal £2.84bn film and high-end TV production spend in the UK after months of suspended production

£1.19bn upturn in final quarter signals significant recovery in film and high-end TV production, while pandemic closure for cinemas reduce admissions by 75%. 1917 led 2020 UK box office, with The Gentlemen the top grossing independent film.

4 February 2021

1917 (2019)

Official figures published today by the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit reveal strong signs of economic recovery in UK film and high-end TV (HETV) production following months of suspended filming in the wake of the pandemic. The final 3 months have recorded a £1.19bn spend in the final quarter of 2020, the second highest spend ever over a 3-month period.

Despite disrupted production schedules over 5 to 6 months, production spend for the whole of 2022 is just 21% down on 2019’s record levels. Inward investment and co-production films and HETV shows have delivered 76% of the production spend underlining the UK’s global reputation as the world-leading centre for film and TV production.

The spend on film and HETV production in the UK in 2020 reached £2.84bn, a 21% decrease on 2019’s levels. The year started strongly and was heading towards a record production spend for the first quarter, however by the end of March production was suspended. Some post-production, VFX and animation was able to continue, but physical production only started to resume from mid-July. It’s the final quarter of the year that saw a strong resumption in production activity generating a £1.19bn spend, 38% higher than the previous 3 months and the second highest quarterly result on record. 

“These impressive figures show the resilience and creativity of the UK screen industries,” says Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary. “We’re getting our screen industries firing on all cylinders again with the government’s Film and TV Restart Scheme and £1.5bn Cultural Recovery Fund, which has awarded £30m in lifeline grants to independent cinemas. I am pleased that the government’s targeted interventions mean this sector is well placed for future strong growth and job creation.”

“After an unbelievably tough year, today’s figures show an incredibly vibrant and positive picture for film and TV in the UK,” says Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive. “Last spring it was hard to imagine that we would be generating £1bn worth of production activity in the final quarter, which has been achieved by industry and government pulling together and the determination of our workforce to get back up and running. This sector is primed to grow with expansion underway in studios and production hot spots across the UK, delivering more jobs and more to the economy. It’s been a challenging year for cinemas but we remain optimistic for the day when we can welcome back audiences and it’s brilliant to see some of the UK’s  greatest talent making big pictures such as 1917, which topped the box office before the pandemic hit.”

Adrian Wootton OBE, Chief Executive of the British Film Commission, said: “As today’s figures show, production recovery in the UK is well under way and demand for content is not only still there, but in fact greater than ever before. Our sector, like many, has faced unprecedented challenges, but thanks to the sheer talent of our workforce and the creative and technological innovation of our companies and infrastructure, we were swift in developing ways of continuing to produce outstanding content. Film and high-end TV have an important role to play in the UK’s economy, providing UK plc with billions of pounds into the nations and regions and supporting hundreds and thousands of jobs.”

The BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force brought together a coalition of professionals from every part of the film sector to drive forward a recovery programme to enable the industry to restart and recover. Priorities included COVID-safe guidelines for film and TV production, VFX and post-production, guidance for cinemas, the Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas in England and the ground-breaking Film & TV Production Restart Scheme backed by government to support production companies struggling with getting insurance against COVID-related losses. This work has been pivotal to getting film and TV production back up and running, generating jobs and contributing to the UK economy.

Cinemas across the UK faced a difficult year with efforts to tackle the pandemic requiring cinemas to close and when they were open to operate with reduced seating capacity to accommodate social distancing. Distributors were faced with rescheduling their films, uncertain as to when they could move ahead with a confirmed opening date, including major releases the 25th Bond film No Time to Die, Black Widow, Death on the Nile, Fast & Furious 9, Top Gun Maverick, West Side Story and The Witches. Many films, rather than having their cinema releases rescheduled, were instead released or premiered on VOD platforms, eg Trolls World Tour, Scoob!, Artemis Fowl and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. 

The highest grossing film released in 2020 was Sam Mendes’s UK/USA film 1917, with £44m, followed by Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog (£19m) and Christopher Nolan’s UK/USA Tenet (£17m).
Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen was the highest grossing independent UK film of 2020 grossing £12m, followed by Autumn de Wilde’s Emma (£7m) and Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield (£6m). 

Film production in detail

The total spend on feature film production during the year was £1.37bn, 37% lower than the level of activity in 2019. Of this spend, £412.3m was generated in Q4, 30% of the year’s total spend. 

The majority of the total spend, £1.24bn or 91%, was generated by inward investment films generally in the blockbuster budget range, and co-productions, underlining the UK industry’s world-class reputation globally as an international production hub. US-studio backed productions accounted for £1.06bn.

Inward investment films which started production include The Batman (dir. Matt Reeves), Cinderella (dir. Kay Cannon), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (dir. Sam Raimi), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3 (dir. David Yates), Jurassic World: Dominion (dir. Colin Trevorrow), The Little Mermaid (dir. Rob Marshall), Locked Down (dir. Doug Liman), Mission: Impossible 7 (dir. Christopher McQuarrie), The Northman (dir, Robert Eggers) and Text for You (w/t, dir. Jim Strouse).

Inward investment production comes to the UK from a number of different countries. As with 2019, the analysis of inward investment productions reveals 12 Indian films, including Bell Bottom (dir. Ranjit Tewari), The Chef (dir. Ana Sasi) and Paani Ch Madhaani (dir. Vijay Kumar Arora).

Domestic UK films generated spend of £119.5m, £89m less than in 2019 and a 43% decrease on spend from 2019. Films which went into production included Belfast (dir Kenneth Branagh), Benediction (dir. Terence Davies), Boxing Day (dir. Aml Ameen), The Duke (dir. Roger Michell), ear for eye (dir, debbie tucker green), The Fantastic Flitcrofts (dir. Craig Roberts), The Forgiven (dir. John Michael McDonagh), Mothering Sunday (dir. Eva Husson), Pirates (dir. Reggie Yates), Quant (dir. Sadie Frost), True Things about Me (dir. Harry Wootliff), The Score (dir. Malachi Smyth) and What’s Love Got to Do with It? (dir. Shekhar Kapur). Co-productions included Ballywalter (dir. Prasanna Puwanarajah) and My Son (dir. Christian Carion).

High-end television production in detail

The spend on HETV production in the UK in 2020 was £1.49m, just 11% lower than the £1.67m reported for 2019 (updated mid-year to £2.09bn and the highest HETV spend on record). Inward investment and co-production HETV accounted for £1.13bn or 76% of the total HETV spend. Even allowing for the impact of the pandemic on halting production activity, the 2020 spend is the second highest on record. 

Inward investment HETV productions included Anatomy of a Scandal (dir. SJ Clarkson), Andor (dir. Toby Haynes), Becoming Elizabeth (dir. Justin Chadwick), The Girlfriend Experience – series 3 (dir, Anja Marquardt), Godmothered (dir. Sharon Maguire), Hanna – series 3 (dir. Sacha Polak), Pennyworth – series 2 (dir. Danny Cannon), The Pursuit of Love (dir. Emily Mortimer), The Sandman (dir. Jamie Childs), War of the Worlds – series 2 (dir. Richard Clark) and The Witcher – series 2 (dir. Stephen Surjik).  

Domestic HETV productions accounted for £357m, only 4% less than the £372m for 2019 (updated mid-year to £482m). 2019 domestic HETV productions included Bloodlands (dir. Pete Travis), Call the Midwife – series 10, Cobra – series (dirs. Hans Herbots, Al Mackey), Doctor Who – series 13, Finding Alice (dir. Roger Goldby), Grace (dir. John Alexander), Line of Duty – series 6 (dir. Daniel Nettheim), The Pact (dir. Rebecca Johnson), The Pembrokeshire Murders (dir. Marc Evans), My Name Is Lizzie (dir. Niall MacCormick), Roald and Beatrix – The Tail of the Curious Mouse (dir. David Kerr), The Syndicate – series 4 (dir. Kay Mellor) and Worzel Gummidge- Saucy Nancy (dir. Mackenzie Crook).

Film and high-end television production generates local business activity and jobs across the UK. In 2020 production locations included: 

  • London: All the Old Knives, The Batman, Belfast, Bell Bottom, Boxing Day, Daemon Mind, The Duke, ear for eye, The Fantastic Flitcrofts, The Girlfriend Experience, The Great Season, Locked Down, Mission: Impossible 7, Paani Ch Madhaani, Pirates, Suspicion, Text for You (w/t), What’s Love Got to Do with It?
  • East of England: Angela Black, The Batman, Britannia, Close to Me, The Fantastic Flitcrofts, The Great Season, Mission: Impossible 7, Motherland, Pennyworth, Professor T 
  • East Midlands: As Dead as It Gets, The Great Season, Invasion, Unforgotten
  • West Midlands: Brassic, The Last Time You Saw Me, Time
  • North-east: Vera
  • North-west: The Batman, Brassic, Cobra, The Fantastic Flitcrofts, Finding Alice, Invasion, Milo, Munich ’38, Ridley Road, Time, Viewpoint
  • South-east: All the Old Knives, Andor, Belfast, Britannia, Call the Midwife, Cinderella, The Fantastic Flitcrofts, The Girlfriend Experience, The Great Season, Mission: Impossible 7,  Mothering Sunday, My Name Is Lizzie,  Paani Ch Madhaani, Whitstable Pearl
  • South-west: Becoming Elizabeth, Britannia, A Discovery of Witches, Manhunt: The Nightstalker, McDonald & Dodds, Mission: Impossible 7, The Offenders, Robin Robin, Sex Education, Suspicion, Trying, War of the Worlds
  • Yorkshire: Ackley Bridge, Brassic, The Duke, Gentleman Jack, The Great Season, Serena’s Game, The Syndicate
  • Northern Ireland: Awakening, Ballywalter, Belfast, Bloodlands, Frank of Ireland, Line of Duty, Mandrake, The Northmen, Puffin Rock Movie, Stranger with a Camera, Zone 414
  • Scotland: A Castle for Christmas, Annika, The Batman, Bell Bottom, Brassic, Guilt, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, The Origin, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star
  • Wales: Brassic, Doctor Who, A Discovery of Witches, The Pact, Sex Education, War of the Worlds

Animation television in detail

The spend on animation programme production in the UK in 2020 was £61m, which is 55% higher than the total reported in January 2019 (later updated to £65.3m). Of the total spend £16.2m or 26% was generated by domestic productions and £44.8m or 74% by inward investment and co-production programmes. 2019’s overview showed domestic animation contributing the majority share of spend at 51%. Animation titles starting production in 2020 included inward investment and co-production titles Deadlandia – series 1, Chip and Potato – series 2 and Robin Robin. 2020 domestic animation projects included Milo, Quentin Blake’s Clown and The Rubbish World of Dave Spud – series 2.

Box office in 2020 

The year started strongly with January and February with admissions to UK cinemas being 20% up on the previous year driven by the continued performance of the 2019 releases of Little Women, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level, alongside early 2020 new releases such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Bad Boys for Life, and 2020’s highest grossing film, 1917. In March all cinemas were required to close and only started to reopen in July, some 4 months later. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was eagerly awaited by industry and audiences and with other releases, including After We Collided, The New Mutants and Bill and Ted Face the Music, attracted 5m admissions during the July to September Q3. The final 3 months of the year saw cinemas close for periods including all cinemas in England from 5 November, limiting admissions and box office earnings. Cats & Dogs: Paws Unite!, Wonder Woman 1984 and the UK independent film Saint Maud were all released during Q4 helping to attract 3m admissions, 94% down on the same period in 2019.

Collectively, titles on release in UK cinemas in 2020 attracted 44m admissions, a long way off the UK’s consistently annual high admissions levels of between 171m and 177m (2017 to 2019) generated when all cinemas were fully open. Total box office revenue for all titles on release was £307m, again 75% down on 2019’s earnings of £1.254bn.

Out of the new 2020 film releases at the UK and Republic of Ireland box office, 7 of the top 20 box office releases had substantial UK production involvement led by Sam Mendes’s 1917, a UK/USA production, as year’s top grossing film with £44m, Tenet, Dolittle, The Gentlemen and The Personal History of David Copperfield. Also, ranked is the UK films Emma and Military Wives. 

The top 10 grossing UK qualifying independent films released in 2020 were The Gentlemen, Emma, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Military Wives, Saint Maud, The Secret Garden, Misbehaviour, Pixie, The Rhythm Section and Rocks. 
The film market share of newly released independent UK films at the UK and Republic of Ireland box office in 2020 was 14%, a slight increase from 13% in 2019. When UK-made, studio-backed films are added to the picture, eg, 1917, Tenet, Dolittle, The Gentlemen, The Personal History of David Copperfield, the full UK market share increases to 46%.