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Chinese box office takings look to beat US for first time

Chinese box office takings look to beat US for first time

May 28
23:53 2018

China’s box office takings are on track to surpass those of the US in 2018 to become the largest in the world, driven by a relaxation in censorship and a wider range of films on offer.

Box office monetary earnings in China had already overtaken North America on a quarterly basis, after the US fell for the first time in four years in the first quarter. First quarter takings in China were $3.17bn — up nearly 40 per cent from last year and ahead of analyst expectations.

“Considering box office performance in the first quarter, there is a chance for China’s box office to catch up with the US in 2018,” EntGroup, a Chinese cinema consultancy, told the Financial Times. However, it added that “it might be difficult for 2018 to maintain its overall high growth rate in China”.

EntGroup added that US box office takings are mainly concentrated in the fourth quarter, “so whether China is able to catch up also depends on box office performance in the second half of the year”.

China had originally been predicted to catch up to the US in 2017, but a year of flat growth and lacklustre films slowed growth rates from 49 per cent in 2015 to 3 per cent in 2016. 

Last year China looked set for an annual drop in film revenues for the first time in decades but was saved by Hollywood blockbusters such as The Fate of the Furious and home grown fare like Wolf Warrior 2, produced by Beijing Culture Media, about a Chinese ex-commando fighting US mercenaries in Africa.

China’s traditional quota of foreign films was discreetly widened in 2016 and 2017 to prevent the box office from falling. Traditionally, 34 foreign films are allowed to be shown on lucrative revenue-sharing terms, but this was informally increased to 37 last year. 

The high revenues in 2018 are attributable to films like Operation Red Sea, produced by Bona Film Group which made $579m this year, easily the top-grossing film in China. A patriotic war film about Chinese navy commandos fighting terrorists, Operation Red Sea reflects a more relaxed censorship environment that permits films about warfare set in the present.

The success of Operation Red Sea showed how China’s film establishment is becoming comfortable with genres that were previously forbidden. 

Nancy Wu, head of production for Base Media, a production company, said: “It used to be the growth in screens that was driving the growth of the box office, but now it’s the growth of choice, the growth of genres and quality.” 

As well as contemporary war films, Chinese filmmakers are venturing into other previously banned areas such as science fiction and ghost stories.

August sees the premiere of The Meg, a $150m movie featuring Jason Statham, Li Bingbing and an extinct aquatic dinosaur produced by Warner Bros, Hong Kong’s Flagship Entertainment and a consortium led by Shanghai-based China Media Capital. 

Last year Coco, a popular Disney film about a cartoon ghost, became an instant hit in China. 

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