Hollywood gets wakeup call from China's box office

China Plus Published: 2018-05-11 08:56:02
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Hollywood knew it was coming, just not this soon.

The first quarter of this year marked the first time that China's box office take outpaced that of North America. 

Poster of film Operation Red Sea. [Photo: mtime.com]

Poster of the film Operation Red Sea. [Photo: mtime.com]

China's film market came roaring back in 2017 after a slowdown saw growth fall to a relatively flat 3.5 percent in 2016. But in 2017 China's box office take contributed a hefty 21.5 percent of that year's record-breaking worldwide box office receipts of 39.9 billion U.S. dollars.

Variety magazine reported that China's 2018 first quarterly box office take topped 3.17 billion U.S. dollars, versus the 2.85 billion U.S. dollars for the same period in the North American film market. China's strong results were boosted by the popularity of "Operation Red Sea", a homegrown, patriotic action flick in the vein of "Wolf Warrior 2", which raked in 574 million U.S. dollars. Other leading performers were Disney's "Black Panther", which took in 105 million U.S. dollars, and Legendary/Universal's "Pacific Rim: Uprising" with 85 million U.S. dollars. 

Given China's population stands at 1.4 billion compared to the 325 million in the United States, it was always just a matter of time before this happened, says Li Xian, a Hollywood studio executive and leading expert on the American and Chinese markets. The Chinese movie market is still young and has lots of room for growth, while the American market is more mature and static. "Though this No. 1 ranking represents one isolated quarter at this point, it's going to be permanent before you know it," she predicted.

In 2012, China's domestic box office take reached 2.7 billion U.S. dollars, outpacing Japan to become the world's second largest market. After relatively stagnant growth in 2016, significant growth returned in 2017 and the market saw box office receipts of 8.6 billion U.S. dollars. And the upward trend looks set to continue, with quarter one results for this year showing a year-on-year gain of 39 percent. Analysts in the domestic film industry currently predict that 2018 box office results will grow by 15 to 20 percent over the rest of the year.

Speaking of the move by China into first place in the market in the first quarter, top-grossing indie producer Jeff Most, who is developing a U.S.-China coproduction based on the best-selling comic book "Razor," said "It's a bit of a shock it's finally happened. We all knew the China market was a huge and important one, but this day just came sooner than anticipated."

"It's still the biggest of (foreign) markets where we or any studio does business," said Dave Hollis, Disney's exiting global distribution chief, "and it will still be on pace to displace the U.S. in the box office."

But China still has a way to go to solidify its position as the leading box office market. Last year China's box offices took in 8.6 billion U.S. dollars versus 11.1 billion U.S. dollars recorded in North America. 

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