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Chinese film industry beats Hollywood in ticket sales

Xu Fan
Updated: Mar 12,2015 9:54 AM     China Daily

Homegrown blockbusters that did well during the Spring Festival include Dragon Blade, Wolf Totem and The Man from Macao II.[Photo/China Daily]

China has overtaken the United States as the world’s top box office for the first time, but some movie insiders are saying it is too early to celebrate.

Record Chinese Lunar New Year box-office takings saw an overall revenue of 4.05 billion yuan ($647.6 million) in February, making China, the world’s second-largest market, surpass the US for the month for the first time, according to a report from Chinese entertainment research firm Entgroup.

The report, released on March 1, also shows that the North American box office for February grossed $710 million. Without Canada, the US took in $640 million.

The box-office record, most of which came during the Spring Festival period, is mainly because of homegrown blockbusters, with Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat’s The Man from Macao II dominating the top slot taking in 655 million yuan.

The second biggest box-office hit Dragon Blade, a historical action film starring Jackie Chan, took in 596 million yuan. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem was the third-highest earner with total box-office takings of 455 million yuan last month, according to Chinaboxoffice.cn.

Yuan Lin, research director with Entgroup, says the data analysis is based on figures from a film office affiliated to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, and the Portland-based box office research firm Rentrak.

“To be fair, February is regarded as the highest-grossing season thanks to the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, but in the US the same period is a slow season,” says Yuan.

She adds that it will mean more if the US and China are compared to each other in their hot seasons.

Homegrown blockbusters that did well during the Spring Festival include Dragon Blade, Wolf Totem and The Man from Macao II.[Photo/China Daily]

For the US, the most-anticipated box-office season is summer, from late May to August, and the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

“However, China has never surpassed the US at the same time before,” Yuan says, “We estimate that it will take three to five years for China to lead the world’s movie market.”

In 2012, a report from Ernst & Young predicted that China will succeed America as the top cinema-going market in about 2020.

A year later, Entgroup made a more optimistic forecast. It predicted China’s box office will reach $11.3 billion in 2017, overtaking the US for the first time. The forecast was based on China’s fast-expanding market, with an annual growth rate of 25 percent compared to the US slowing to 1 percent.

Although China’s dominance came much sooner than predicted, some industry insiders think the Chinese movie market is not as mature as its US citizen counterpart and it is too early to celebrate.

“The achievement is positive. But it is not entirely accurate to say that China has already beaten the US,” says Cheng Jiaqi, managing director of Fundamental Films, a Shanghai-based firm with close ties to the North American and European markets.

Cheng says that the Chinese market needs more blockbusters tailored for local audiences, and added that many people in small-and medium-sized cities are not yet used to going to see films on the big screen.

The veteran film insider says comedy may become one of the dominant genres at the box office in the coming years.

“Comedy films with dialogue and plots close to normal people’s lives easily strike a chord in third-and fourth-tier cities. It can encourage more moviegoers from these areas to go to the local cinemas. Meanwhile, laughing helps to ease stress and pressure, which is a problem familiar to residents in big cities’,” says Cheng.

“Take Lost in Thailand, it is an inspiring example for domestic moviemakers to recognize the concept of making a production tailored for the market,” Cheng says. “It precisely calculated the timing and number of laughs in the screenplay based on audiences’ reaction.”

The Thailand-travel-themed comedy with a tiny budget of 30 million yuan took in a record-breaking 1.26 billion in 2012, making it one of the highest-grossing homegrown blockbusters.

Some industry insiders credit the February accomplishment to the rise of new cinemas and the booming Internet industry.

“Online ticket sales made up about 50 percent of the entire market in 2014, up from 20 percent the previous year,” says Jiang Chunyang, CEO of the online ticketing service wangpiao.com, one of the earliest of its kind.

“More and more Web surfers, who used to watch blockbusters on streaming-video sites, have changed and started flocking to cinemas. Some even go to the movies as part of their regular weekend or holiday entertainment,” he says. “More cinemas and screens added last year also made it more convenient for people to visit nearby theaters.”

According to figures released by the country’s top regulator of the sector, China added 1,015 cinemas and 5,397 screens in 2014, bringing the total number of screens to 23,600. Last year, In 2014, box office returns in China surged 36 percent, hitting a record of 29.6 billion yuan.

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