China’s Cinema Boom Gains Pace With 41% Gain In First Half Of Year
Recording a 41 percent gain in the first half of the year — the kind of growth that a beleaguered Hollywood could only hope for in its native US — China’s booming box office remains a source of strength for domestic and international studios. According to the Los Angeles Times (via the blog chinafilmbiz), China box office revenue for the first six months of 2012 has surpassed US$1.25 billion and could exceed $3 billion over the course of the year. That would mark a nearly $1 billion increase over 2011, which itself was a banner year for the industry.
As usual, Hollywood blockbusters have dominated ticket sales in China this year despite the country’s notorious import quotas, led by Titanic 3D ($154.8 million), “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” ($102.7 million) and “The Avengers” ($90.3 million). Even films that flopped in their home markets have performed well in China, with “Battleship” pulling in more than $50 million this summer. In all, eight Hollywood productions have raked in more than $40 million in China so far this year, putting the first half of 2012 on par with the whole of 2011.
To put that into context, the most successful mainland China-produced feature, the animated “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf,” has only grossed around $26 million nationwide.
Despite the restrictions on film imports, and notoriously heavy-handed censorship on the part of Beijing authorities, the opportunity is clearly there in China’s fast-expanding film market. Last year, the Motion Picture Association of America said that the number of cinema screens in China should rise from around 6,200 in 2011 to over 16,000 in 2015, with box-office receipts in China expected to swell from US$1.5 billion in 2011 to around $5 billion in 2015.
This growth has disproportionately benefited Hollywood studios, particularly in terms of IMAX receipts. The large-format cinema company’s stable of current and upcoming screens in China is now up to 225, with 92 screens already operational. Chinese film-goers are showing a real appetite for the giant film format, despite high ticket prices — a point not lost on Hollywood, which is increasing China co-productions to tap the country’s growing box office. This April, IMAX announced that “Titanic 3D” took in $7 million in China on its opening weekend alone, setting a new record for the country and overtaking previous leader “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” More recently, “Men In Black III” grossed $19.5 million on IMAX screens in its opening weekend in China, surpassing its haul in South Korea and Japan combined.
Despite a lack of depth in terms of the features imported into the country — fans of independent film have only a handful of theater options — China’s appetite for film is expected to see it surpass the US as the world’s largest cinema market by 2020, if not sooner.