The cultural charity said there has been “significant” recovery in the film and television industry following disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
1917, directed by Sir Sam Mendes, grossed £44.1 million (€50.3 million), a significant drop from 2019’s biggest film, Angers: Endgame, which made £88.7 million.
Sir Sam’s film, which was released before the pandemic took hold, follows two young soldiers, played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, who venture across enemy lines to deliver a message that could save hundreds of lives.
Sonic The Hedgehog, directed by Jeff Fowler, came second with £19.3 million, while Christopher Nolan’s Tenet ranked third with £17.5 million.
Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen was the biggest independent film of the year, grossing £12.3 million.
The BFI said that after a year of disruption in the film and television industry caused by the pandemic, there were signs of “significant recovery” at the end of 2020.
Money spent on production in the UK last year totalled £2.8 billion, 21% down on 2019, but the last quarter saw a record spend of £1.2 billion.
The BFI also revealed that amid coronavirus restrictions and periods of enforced closures, there were 44 million visits to UK cinemas in 2020 for all titles, a decrease of 75% on 2019.
A number of blockbusters scheduled to come out last year had their release dates pushed back because of disruption caused by Covid-19.
They included James Bond film No Time To Die, Marvel’s Black Widow and and Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Others including Disney films Soul and Artemis Fowl were released straight on to streaming platforms rather than in cinemas.
BFI chief executive Ben Roberts said: “After an unbelievably tough year, today’s figures show an incredibly vibrant and positive picture for film and TV in the UK.
“Last spring it was hard to imagine that we would be generating £1 billion 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 under way in studios and production hot spots across the UK, delivering more jobs and more to the economy.
New @BFI research shows an *extraordinary* bounceback for screen industries 🎥
The Govt’s Film & TV Restart scheme helped get 160 domestic productions back up & running, saving 20k jobs
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) February 4, 2021
“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.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “These impressive figures show the resilience and creativity of the UK screen industries.”