After a few years of record-breaking growth, Russia’s film industry took a break in 2019. 2020 turned out to be another challenging year for Russian film due to COVID, which analysts say may have cost the industry about 40% of its yearly revenues. There are, however, some hopeful silver linings to the 2020 cloud for Russian film.
The first is that Serf(Холоп) became the highest-grossing Russian film of all time. In fact, the top five Russian films of 2020 grossed about 25% higher than the top five films of 2019. Russia was helped in this by the fact that its big release season is over the long New Year’s holidays, which run from about Jan1 – Jan 11. Thus, the industry had already fired many of its “big guns” before the pandemic hit. As restrictions ease, crowds are smaller and many theaters are still closed, but there is still some room for moderate success as the #5 film, whose release was postponed from April 1 to November 12, shows.
The second silver lining is the widespread praise that Beanpole (Дылда) has won. Although released in May 2019 to coincide with the Cannes Film Festival, this movie seems to have gotten traction this year. It was featured on the December, 2019 short list for Best International Feature Film at the 2019 Academy Awards. The film then won Best Foreign Film at the 2020 Los Angeles Film Critics Awards and was even featured on former US President Barak Obama’s list of favorite films for 2020.
Thus, we see the Russian film industry continuing to reach wide domestic audiences and international critics successfully. The industry could bounce back well if theatres can resume normal operations in 2021’s post-vaccine world.
Outside of this, the list looks much like the past lists that we’ve analyzed; films that make themselves distinctly Russian tend to do better on the market by playing to a niche that international films can’t compete with. The list includes historical conflict dramas (Union of Salvation and Beanpole), a sports film (Ice), and a slapstick comedy based loosely in Russian history (Serf). These are mainstays in Russia’s top film lists. The other two films, Invasion and Straightforwardly Kakha, play up their Russian locations and, especially in Straightforwardly Kakha, local character stereotypes. Invasion also has a Tchaikovsky-inspired soundtrack.
Russia’s five highest-grossing films from 2020 are listed below.
1. Холоп – Serf
$51,511,914 + 12,160,136 viewers across the CIS
An ill-behaved, greedy man wakes up in a 19th century Russian village and finds he is a serf.
In 2020, Холоп became the top grossing Russian movie ever made.
2. Лёд 2 – Ice 2
$24,522,802 + 6,014,864 viewers across the CIS
Following on the success of the first film, which brought in $26 million in 2018 as part of a slew of sports-related movies that did incredibly well during Russia’s Olympic hosting year, this sequal specifically breaks the fairy tale as the two lovers face the pain that life often brings to even good people.
3. Вторжение – Invasion
$16,050,354 + 3,441,119 viewers across the CIS
A woman develops dangerous new abilities after coming in contact with extraterrestrial technology.
4. Союз спасения – Union of Salvation
$11,808,209 + 2,670,790 viewers across the CIS
This historical drama is based on the Decembrist Revolt. It has caused considerable debate in Russia as to whether it is holding up anti-authoritarian revolutionaries as heroes or showing resistance to the state as futile.
5. Непосредственно Каха – Straightforwardly Kakha
$7,394,976 + 2,130,889 viewers across the CIS
Kakha falls in love with beautiful Sofa, but, in order to win her heart, he will first need to win the race against Ruslan’s BMW on his old Russian “Kopeyka”. The task seems impossible – but is it, actually?
Honorable Mention: Дылда – Beanpole
$438,227 + 88,357 viewers across the CIS
Two young women come back from the front to post-WWII Leningrad. The city is in ruins and the people broken physically and emotionally. Together, they attempt to find a “normal” life again…