Why is China So ‘Furious’?


Paul Walker

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 22, 2015

In the weeks leading up to its April 12th opening day in China, the consensus among box office watchers was that Furious 7 would wind up with a final gross of around $125 million for its PRC run, and that its distributors would be ecstatic about that.

After all, only four Hollywood releases—Transformers 3, Transformers 4, Avatar and the 2012 Titanic re-release—have ever reached that rarefied level in China. The previous Fast & Furious installment had topped out at $68 million in Chinese receipts in 2013, a strong but not spectacular showing.

But from its earliest midnight screenings it was clear that Furious 7 wasn’t going to stick to the driver’s manual. Now, 11 days into its scorching China run, Furious 7 has amassed an incredible total of $280 million in China, and will likely finish up at about $375 million. With a May Day holiday boost and a bit of luck it could even approach $400 million. China is absolutely mad for Furious.

What was unthinkable just a few weeks ago is now a certainty: Furious 7 will not only beat the previous PRC record holder, Transformers 4, by a wide margin, but is also certain to top its own North American total. While it’s not unprecedented for films that do moderately well in North America to perform better in China than in their home territory (e.g., Pacific Rim), never before has a bona fide American smash hit exceeded its own domestic gross in a foreign territory. This is truly uncharted territory.

First 11 days comp F7Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

What happened? Let’s break it down.

Furious 7’s success in the Middle Kingdom can be explained partly by the same factors that made it a winner everywhere: quality marketing, high ‘want-to-see’ factor, and strong word of mouth. But several factors worked especially well in China to drive the film to its world-beating grosses:

  1. Advantageous release date. What first appeared to be a so-so Sunday release slot proved not to be a problem, mainly because Furious faced no Hollywood competition in its opening week, and it has flattened the Chinese films unfortunate enough to stand in its way. Even Chinese megastar Fan BingBing proved no match for Diesel, Walker and company, as her romance Ever Since We Love scored only $11 million this past weekend against nearly $90 million for F7.
  2. Massive release pattern. With an allocation of more than 70 percent of China’s screens, and more than 90,000 showtimes per day, this undoubtedly ranks as one of the widest releases ever seen. It’s only on the film’s third weekend that Furious will control less than half of all PRC screens as DWA’s Home and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sabotage arrive in mainland theaters.
  3. First-class promotion. With the two-year gap since Fast and Furious 6, Universal had plenty of lead time to work with SARFT and China Film Group–an investor in the film–to arrange a smooth release and mount a stellar marketing campaign. With CFG’s clout behind it and with its new China executive team in Beijing, the studio was able to support Furious 7 with more on-the-ground resources than with any past release.
  4. Strong word of mouth. Furious notched a very high 8.5 rating on audience review site Douban.com as word spread like wildfire that Furious 7 is FUN.
  5. The Paul Walker factor. Curiosity to see the final ride into the sunset of the well-liked actor who was in many ways the heart of this franchise drew numerous Fast and Furious newbies to Chinese multiplexes. Granted, this was an important factor in most of the world, but probably more so in China, where social media can instantly make or break a movie. According to a charming Chinese banker friend of mine, Paul Walker was THE trending topic of conversation on WeChat as the film rolled out.
  6. The right movie at the right time. Furious 7 is precisely the sort of big budget, effects-driven, Hollywood action spectacular that Chinese audiences love best. Sure, superhero movies are nice, but as the Transformers franchise has amply demonstrated, what the PRC really wants is machine porn: movies featuring monster machines that race and fly and do gravity defying stunts to save the world. It had been nearly a year since the last such film in this genre, Transformers 4, had graced China’s screens, so there was lots of pent-up demand for a film like F7 when it arrived.

There’s talk around the industry that Universal hasn’t yet decided whether to produce another installment of what is now the 8th highest grossing movie franchise in Hollywood history. That the ensemble of actors may not wish to come back for another film. To this I say, “If you believe that, there’s a Wall in China that I’d like to sell you.”

With all respect to the individuals involved, there is absolutely no way that Universal is going to put this golden goose down.

There are so many options Universal has now that Furious 7 has established its status as a juggernaut franchise in mainland China. They can produce the next installment of Fast and Furious as a co-production there and be reasonably assured of recouping their entire budget in the PRC alone, with the rest of the world, including North America, as gravy. If the cast doesn’t want to come back, re-boot it with a brand new cast. Or do a China spin-off with an all-Chinese cast. Do it with talking cars if necessary, for goodness’ sake! Or call me, I’ve got a script outline and treatment ready to go. But don’t think for a second about trying to stop this mean, green, driving machine.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

“Furious 7” Blows the Doors Off China’s Box Office Records


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Furious 7 poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 13, 2015

Expectations were high among China’s movie biz pundits for Sunday’s opening of Furious 7, but no one came close to predicting the stunning drive-by looting the Universal release would commit at the country’s movie theaters. Prior Chinese box office records weren’t just beaten, they were throttled, smoked and thoroughly lapped by the skydriving thrillfest.

Furious 7’s opening day haul of 391 million RMB, or $63.1 million, doubled the previous opening day record of 194 million RMB set by Transformers 4 back in June of 2014 (Universal and the Hollywood trades are reporting somewhat higher numbers, but I haven’t yet seen these figures confirmed by official Chinese sources).

Furious 7’s midnight screenings likewise trounced the prior Transformers 4 midnight record of 20 million RMB ($3.3 million) with a new benchmark of 50 million RMB ($8.1 million).

The film’s opening day revenue also nearly equaled the Chinese receipts from the entire 4-week run of the franchise’s previous installment, Fast and Furious 6, which revved up 413 million RMB in 2013, good enough to place 11th in China for the year.

Perhaps most impressively, the film sold more than 10 million admissions in a single day, an attendance total that has been matched only a few times by modern day releases in North America, even though China has 40 percent fewer screens and less than half the seating capacity. What this means is that Furious 7 strained the PRC’s theaters to the limit by selling out a huge percentage of its 93,000 opening day screenings. And it completely squashed the competition, seizing a 92 percent share of the day’s box office revenue.

Top 10 single day grosses

Furious 7 should easily race to a $200 million cume by around April 20th. What happens after that, and whether it can break Transformer 4’s all-time Chinese box office record of nearly 2 billion RMB and $320 million, will depend on its ability to hold up against a slew of competing releases in the next few weeks. These include:

  • The April 17th release of the Fan Bingbing and Han Geng romance Ever Since We Love. Fan is China’s biggest female star, so this film could present a major speed bump for Furious.
  • The April 24th releases of the Dreamworks Animation toon Home and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action crime drama Sabotage. Home’s strong global tally so far bodes well for a strong PRC opening, and Arnold’s last few films have performed much better in China than they have stateside, so Sabotage should easily beat its tepid North American results.
  • The April 30th release of Helios starring Nick Cheung and Shawn Yue. Cheung and Yue’s previous outing The Man From Macau 2 grossed $154 million in February, so if their fans show up for them again they’ll put a major dent in Furious 7‘s record-breaking prospects.

Furious 7‘s surprisingly powerful start raises the bar on expectations for Marvel’s May 12th China release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of these movies or the other is likely to be the 2015 China box office champ. Up until last week the consensus for Avengers  was for a $175 million to $200 million cume; now that figure looks relatively unimpressive.

A major question Furious 7‘s box office bonanza brings up is whether the Chinese film authorities at SARFT will deploy their market management tactics to actively crimp the returns of upcoming Hollywood releases, in order to save face for locally made Chinese films. Avengers has what appears to be a big advantage vis a vis Furious in that it faces no major competition for nearly a month after its release. Still, Marvel and Disney should hold off on making any victory laps until SARFT reveals its hand.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

Faster and Furiouser: China’s Q1 Box Office Review


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April 8, 2015

A Formula One race car. A California redwood tree. Superman. China’s box office.

Which one of these is not like the other?

A Formula One car can accelerate to 220 mph but it will eventually run out of gas. A redwood can grow tall and mighty but it will eventually reach its limit and topple to the ground. And Superman can’t keep flying forever—even he needs to take a break once in a while.

But the Chinese box office, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. Two years ago I wrote in astonishment about the gravity-defying growth of the PRC’s movie business, and two years on the story just keeps getting bigger and better.

Fueled by a record-breaking February 2015 revenue haul which exceeded that of the U.S., and a March 2015 total that was 73 percent higher than the same period in 2014, aggregate PRC box office receipts for the first quarter of 2015 reached the unprecedented total of $1.54 billion. This is nearly 40 percent higher than the Q1 total in 2014, and more than China’s entire annual box office revenue of 2010.

If the trends of previous years hold, Q1 will account for about 22 to 24 percent of the year’s total gross. This would mean a year-end total somewhere between $6.4 billion and $7 billion. From there it will be just a few short years before China surpasses North America to become the world’s top box office territory.

Projected Annual Box Office, China vs. N. America, 2014-2020China v N. America box office 2014-2020

Even by China’s extraordinary standards of economic growth, the rise of the movie business has been nothing short of astounding. Just ten years ago China’s moviegoers accounted for barely one in one hundred of all the world’s ticket sales. By 2020 they will purchase more than one in three. China share of WW box office The impact of this massive growth is already being felt in the rest of the film world, with China becoming an increasingly important source of capital for films made in North America, Europe, and Asia. The global movie industry’s center of gravity is rapidly shifting across the Pacific from Hollywood to Beijing, and the key decisions about the types of films that are made, how and where they’re made, and who they’re made for are inevitably going to be heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.

Of the 70 films released during China’s first quarter this year, 23 grossed at least 100 million RMB (US $16 million), and four crossed the $100 million threshold. The revenue leader for the year so far is the Chow Yun-fat starring action-comedy The Man From Macau II, which collected $154 million for Bona Film Group. March’s box office winner was Disney’s animated hit Big Hero 6, which moved into the #2 spot among China’s all-time highest grossing animated features at $85 million, just behind Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which scored $92 million back in 2011. Top grossing films rel Q1 2015 U.S.-made films captured a modest 29.5% of the market in the quarter, the lowest share in several years, though they will begin to make up ground this weekend when Universal’s Furious 7 rolls into PRC multiplexes. Still, given the growing ability of Chinese films to compete on their home turf with Hollywood fare—not to mention SARFT’s careful management of the market—it’s unlikely that American films will ever come close again to taking 50 percent of China’s ticket sales as they did in 2012.

A look at film performance by genre reveals a few noteworthy trends. While action-adventure remains the PRC’s most popular genre, it has given up ground to family and animation films, which have continued to expand their market base over the past several years. As the bulk of China’s new cinema construction shifts away from tier 1 and 2 cities to the hinterlands, and as the market starts to mature, audience tastes will continue to broaden. B.O. share by genre Q1 2015 Coming soon: a look at China’s biggest male stars.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

A Guide to Recognizing Your Stars Part 1: Chinese Female Leads


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Galaxy By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
January 11, 2015

This is the first of a 2-part series.

Who are the kings and queens of the Chinese box office? It’s a pertinent question even if you don’t work in China’s film business, because owing to the size of their domestic market, these individuals are some of the world’s biggest box office draws.

They may not yet rival their Hollywood counterparts in earning power—their films don’t travel well outside the People’s Republic—but they are catching up fast. As China’s box office continues to boom, and as Hollywood studios increasingly cast Chinese stars in their movies to boost their PRC results, many of these actors will enjoy increasing global clout

You may not recognize some of the names mentioned below. Even if you’re familiar with the comings and goings of Chinese cinema, you may find yourself surprised by the names that make the list, and the ones that don’t. But if you’re in any way involved in the global entertainment industry, you’ll want to be acquainted with the who’s who of the Chinese movie scene.

This article will focus on China’s female stars, and a subsequent article will focus on the males. The actors in both articles are ranked by the aggregated mainland box office revenues, calculated in Chinese Yuan, of the films in which they appeared that were released in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

For a film to be counted toward an actor’s total, they must have been billed among the top five leads. If an actor appeared in a film but was not billed among the top five, that film is not counted toward their results. For Hollywood films in which a Chinese actor appeared, only the Chinese box office figure is tallied. Animated films in which an actor voiced a role are counted, including foreign animated films in which the actor provided a Chinese language voice dub (e.g., Deng Chao in Despicable Me 2).

So without further ado, here are the reigning divas of the Chinese film industry:

#1 Fan Bingbing.

female star Fan Bingbing

Chinese Name:  范冰冰
Birthdate:  September 16, 1981
Birthplace: Qingdao, Shandong, China
Education: Shanghai Theater Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.41 billion
(USD): 554 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Iron Man 3 (2013), 753 mm RMB

For more than fifteen years since her 1998 hit TV series My Fair Princess, and then her 2003 breakout film role in director Feng Xiaogang’s thriller Cell Phone, Fan Bingbing has been at the top of the PRC’s A-list. Her acting talents have earned her a prestigious Golden Horse Award, a Hundred Flowers Award, a Huading Award, and other recognition, and Forbes China has ranked her as the number 1 Chinese celebrity for the past two years. She is among the first Chinese females to be featured in Hollywood films, with roles in Iron Man 3, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this coming April’s The Moon and the Sun. Fan is also a successful recording star, a TV producer, and China’s top brand endorsement celebrity.

 

#2 Yang Mi

female star Yang Mi

Chinese name: 杨幂
Birthdate:  September 12, 1986
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.15 billion
(USD): 512 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

The youngest of the actresses on this list, Yang Mi began acting when her parents enrolled her in classes at the China Children’s Film Studio. At just four years old she appeared as young Princess Xianyi in the TV period drama Tang Ming Huang, and by the age of 6 she was winning national acting awards. In an early film role she played Stephen Chow’s daughter in the Hong Kong martial arts comedy King of Beggars. After a stint as a magazine model she went on to star in several popular TV series, most notably as the time traveling lead character in Palace. Her breakout film role came when she played a quirky demon in the box office smash, Painted Skin: The Resurrection. She reached the #2 spot on this list mainly because she starred in the hugely successful Tiny Times romance franchise, which has spawned three sequels, and in the 2014 rom-com hit The Breakup Guru. She also enjoys the distinction of having starred in one of China’s most successful horror films, Mysterious Island. Together with her new husband, TV star Hawick Lau, she is part of one of China’s most famous celebrity couples.

 

#3 “Fanny” Shu Qi

female star Shu Qi

Chinese name: 林立慧 (Lin Lihui)
Birthdate:  April 16, 1976
Birthplace: New Taipei City, Taiwan
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.79 billion
(USD): 454 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demon (2013), 1.25 billion RMB

Taiwan born Shu Qi is the unlikeliest of the actresses to appear in this list. The former porn actress and Playboy model somehow managed to earn the forgiveness of China’s puritan censors for having starred in such racy Hong Kong fare as Viva Erotica, Sex and Zen II and several soft core porn films, and went on to a mainstream career both in Chinese and international cinema. She has appeared opposite Jason Statham in The Transporter, she starred in the Hong Kong horror hit The Eye 2, and she won a Golden Horse best actress award for her multiple-character performance in director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times. In addition to Hou she has worked with several of China’s other top directors, including Stephen Fung, Jackie Chan, Jiang Wen, and Feng Xiaogang.

 

#4 Yuan Quan
female star Yuan Quan

Chinese name: 袁泉
Birthdate:  October 16, 1977
Birthplace: Hubei, China
Education: Central Academy of Drama
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.23 billion
(USD): 362 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Breakup Buddies (2014), 1.16 billion RMB

Actress and singer Yuan Quan had a big year in 2014, appearing in China’s highest grossing comedy, Breakup Buddies, and its highest grossing romance, The Continent. After a 7-year education in opera at the Chinese Opera Institute that began when she was 11 years old, she entered the Central Academy of Drama in an illustrious class that included Zhang Ziyi, Mei Ting, and four other actresses who came to be known as the “Seven Golden Flowers.” Her film career started auspiciously in 1999 with the film Spring Rhapsody, for which she won a Golden Rooster Award for best supporting actress. She has since moved successfully between film, television, and music, winning numerous awards including a 2009 Billboard Music Award for Best Album.

 

#5 “Vicky” Zhao Wei
female star Zhao Wei
Chinese name:
Birthdate:  March 12, 1976
Birthplace: Wuhu, Anhui, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.13 billion
(USD): 346 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

Zhao Wei caught the acting bug at 17 when the film Hua Hun starring Gong Li came to her hometown and she was chosen to appear as an extra. Soon after, she quit her job as a kindergarten teacher and headed to Shanghai to enroll in a new film arts academy founded by legendary director Xie Jin, and then at 20 she earned the highest score in the entrance exam to enroll at the Beijing Film Academy. While still a student there she rose to national prominence when she starred—along with Fan Bingbing—in the smash hit TV drama My Fair Princess. For that role she became the youngest actress to win the Golden Eagle Award. She went on to more awards recognition for a string of film appearances, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff, the epic adventure Warriors of Heaven and Earth and the Painted Skin films. In 2013 she made her directorial debut with the hit romance So Young, which is the fifth highest grossing film in Chinese box office history.

Please look for Part 2 of this series, which will look at China’s leading male stars.

For detailed research reports on China’s movie stars and box office, write us at info@pacificbridgepics.com.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at http://www.pacificbridgepics.com.

China’s Looming Toon Boom


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Boonie Bears one sheetBy Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 30, 2014

Back in the early 1990s, at the request of film critic Michael Medved, I researched and then published a strategic and statistical analysis demonstrating that Hollywood’s studios were distributing too few children’s, family, and animated feature films. My analysis was picked up by the industry trades and the national press, where it attracted quite a bit of attention and stirred up controversy.

In a matter of days I received calls from the heads of Disney, Fox, Sony Pictures, the MPAA and Blockbuster, and within mere months after that most of the major studios had established new family divisions and ramped up their production of animated features and PG-rated family films.  In the years since, these genres have consistently accounted for the studios’ very highest-grossing and most profitable films.

Recently, spurred by intuition, I decided to take a closer look at the situation in China’s film market. After delving into the numbers and the trends, it quickly became clear to me that China’s distributors would profit by distributing more quality films aimed at the family audience.

In fact, if my intuition is correct, family features, and animation in particular, ought to be among the fastest growing segments of the PRC’s film business over the next 3-5 years. Despite heavy investment and rhetorical support from China’s federal and provincial governments, these types of films currently capture a much smaller share of the market in the PRC than they do in North America. But I believe this is beginning to change as the Chinese audience broadens both geographically into the third and fourth tier cities, and demographically to families with children, and as marketing to these audiences improves.Animation Share of B.O. 2009-2013

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Animation is off to a rousing start in the first quarter of 2014, clearing $186 million in revenue in just three months, which puts it on pace to easily beat the previous full-year record of $261 million that was set last year. Given the line-up of animated features still to be released through December, I expect the cumulative gross for animation in 2014 will run to around $400 million. This would put animation’s share of China’s full-year gross at about 8.2 percent, up from 7.3 percent last year.

The first-quarter spoils have gone not just to imported big-budget Hollywood pictures, but increasingly to home-grown fare like The Boonie Bears, ranked third among animated films so far this year with a Chinese record-breaking $40 million gross, and Pleasant Goat: Meet the Pegasus, ranked fourth with $14 million in box office. It’s worth noting that both of these movies are spin-offs of popular Chinese children’s TV series.

Top Grossing Animation Q1 2014

Highlights for the rest of 2014 include the recently opened Dreamworks’ pic Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which is well on its way to a China gross of at least $24 million, Blue Sky and Fox’s Rio 2, opening on April 11, South Korea’s Koala Kid (aka The Outback) opening in early May, and Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, expected to open in August. Mr. Peabody‘s stronger-than-expected results will make it China’s third highest grossing non-sequel, non-spinoff animated release to date after The Croods and Frozen.Average BO per animated film 2009-2014

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Since China’s film authorities allow only 5 or 6 Hollywood animated films to be imported each year as revenue sharing “quota” films, it will fall to locally produced features to drive most of the family market’s future growth. And there are signs that China’s animation houses are getting ready to play their part. Although technical capabilities and story quality have been lacking in prior Chinese releases, the tide is turning with several new films in development based on screenplays by talented American writers, and funding and services from top Chinese animation houses.

Indeed, I’m so convinced of the scale of this opportunity that I have personally initiated two new animated film projects for China, one in partnership with a multiple Oscar winning animation producer and with a theatrical release commitment from a major Chinese distributor, and a second that has attracted Chinese investors even before the treatment is finished.

If, as I expect, animation’s share of the Chinese market rises to match that of North America, by the end of this decade the PRC will become the world’s biggest audience for animated feature films, with $1.5 billion and more in annual revenues. And that’s not kids stuff.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

 

China’s Dismal December Gives Way to Jubilant January and Fantastic February


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 13, 2014

If you were keeping tabs on China’s box office activity back in December you might have concluded that something was seriously wrong. Expected blockbusters like Personal Tailor and Police Story 2013 did fine, but fell short of expectations. Many other pictures failed to click. It seemed that the inexorable rise of cinema-going in China was finally, inevitably, slowing down. Unlike December 2012, which smashed all previously monthly records to become China’s highest grossing month of all time, December 2013 saw a precipitous 12 percent year-on-year drop in ticket revenue, despite a 39 percent increase in operating cinema screens.

If you were following all of this as it happened you might have said to yourself “All good things must come to an end.” Right?

Oh ye of little faith!

Mainland moviegoers shrugged off the December doldrums like they never happened, and halfway through 2014’s first quarter they’ve set a ticket buying pace that’s galloping along like, well, a horse.  A Kentucky Derby winner, that is.

To wit: January 31st, the first day of Chinese New Year, set a new box office record  set as the biggest single day ever in Chinese history, at 258 million RMB ($43.7 million); The Monkey King 3D set a new single-film record for the biggest ever opening day in China at 122 million RMB (besting Iron Man 3’s 121 million), and the ultra low-budget Dad Where are We Going enjoyed the best opening day ever for a 2D film, at 87 million RMB.

For the full week, grosses totaled 1.41 billion RMB, 81 percent higher than last year’s prior New Year’s record. According to Rentrak, Monkey King and Dad ranked #1 and #2 at the worldwide box office during their opening weekend. Almost every day of the week notched a new high water mark in Chinese movie history.New Chinese Box Office Records

Over the first 6 weeks of 2013, Mainland receipts are now a sizzling 70 percent ahead of the same period in 2013, a rate of growth nearly 10 times faster than China’s GDP growth. Right now China’s movie industry is one of the world’s most dynamic businesses.Box office for week ending Feb 9, 2014

In addition to Monkey King and Dad Where Are We Going, other bright spots of the year so far include Despicable Me 2’s very respectable $53 million gross despite a 7 month release delay; The Boonie Bears’ impressive performance as China’s highest-grossing domestically made animated feature ever with a $40+ million tally; and Man From Macau’s extraordinary run, the PRC’s leggiest in recent memory.Macau's leggy run

Dad, Where Are We Going also merits special mention because it is such a surprise hit. Inspired by the popular Chinese reality TV series, which is in turn a format licensed from the hit South Korean TV show, the film is said to have shot for just 5 days in the beginning of December, 2013, with a budget of less than $1 million. Fewer than 8 weeks later it arrived on thousands of Chinese movie screens, to generally poor reviews and word-of-mouth. But never mind all that; in less than two weeks the movie has gone on to become one of China’s biggest grossing films ever.

The big grosses should keep rolling as a raft of new films hit the theaters on Valentine’s Day, including Beijing Love Story, which got off to a solid start in box office pre-sales. Given the tough comps set last week, Valentine’s Day 2014 may not set a new all-time record, but it’s likely that it will come close.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Gravity’ defies ‘Storm’ and Staves Off ‘Hunger’ in China For Second Straight Weekly Win


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 3, 2013

Strong word of mouth helped Gravity to float to a modest 36 percent decline in its second week, enabling it to fend off newcomer The White Storm and land its second straight win at the Chinese box office. Still going strong in its third week, Gravity should have no problem surpassing $70 million, even in the face of heavy competition from new Chinese openers.

This total would lock Gravity’s place as the 3rd biggest foreign release in China this year, behind Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim. But it probably won’t be enough for the film to score a top 10 slot overall, as so many local films have performed well in 2013.

The Benny Chan directed action-crime thriller White Storm debuted to good but not great numbers, eking out a slim lead over Gravity during the past 3-day weekend, when they competed head-to-head. Blue Sky Studios’ animated adventure Epic fell far behind, mustering just $3.65 million in its 3-day weekend debut. The 7-month delay in Epic’s PRC release was undoubtedly a factor in its modest showing.

Box office for week ending Dec 1, 2013

Escape Plan will finish up its PRC run with an impressive $41.5 million, nearly double its U.S. total. Considering all the love China has shown in recent years for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie’s sexagenarian stars, it will be a good idea for Hollywood to dust off its old two-hander action scripts and re-set them in China for this dynamic action duo.

For the first time since early September the weekly box office tally fell short of last year’s comps. Cumulative box office for the week ending December 1st saw a 7 percent decline to $58.5 million from the 63 million total in week 48 of 2012, when Life of Pi reigned.

Today saw the long-awaited debut of director Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, an adventure thriller that has survived two major revisions and six aborted theatrical release dates over the past four years as DMG, CFG, Galloping Horse and the filmmaking team struggled to conform to the SARFT censors’ restrictions. Originally slated to release in 2010, the film stars the hugely popular Huang Bo and Xu Zheng, who co-starred in last year’s megahit Lost in Thailand.

With its excellent $3.5 million opening day, No Man’s Land should easily top Ning Hao’s prior personal record gross of $24.7 million for last year’s Guns ‘n Roses, though the director claims he doesn’t care how much the new film earns.

“If I wanted to make big money, I could have stayed at home (in coal-rich Shanxi province) and mined coal with my classmates, who are now all billionaires,” Mr. Ning said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. I just want to do something that I like.”

Of course, what China’s theater operators would like is a big December for local Chinese pictures. With nearly 18,000 movie theater screens now in operation (35 percent more than at this time last year) and an average of 12 or 13 new ones opening every day, they are increasingly reliant on local films to help them pay off their investments.

November’s box office totaled $250 million, a 36 percent increase over 2012, and cumulative year-to-date box office now stands at $3.22 billion. If December’s revenue merely matches last December’s total—a distinct possibility given the tough comps established in 2012 by Lost in Thailand—then China’s total for 2013 will wind up just shy of $3.6 billion.

If, on the other hand, expected hits No Man’s Land, Personal Tailor and Police Story can each draw $80 million to $100 million in ticket revenue, then the year-end total could, just possibly, reach $3.7 billion.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

Warner Bros’ Stellar Year in China


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 21, 2013

Having already clinched bragging rights as the top-grossing Hollywood studio in China this year, Warner Bros further cemented its lead with the excellent rollout of Gravity on Tuesday.  With nearly $10 million in ticket sales in its first two days of PRC release, and what I’m estimating will be at least a $70 million final tally, Gravity should push Warners’ 2013 total in China to around $325 million.

This will mark the first time I can remember when Warners will have won the China box office crown. It will also reflect an impressive 80 percent revenue boost over Warners’ respectable, albeit distant second-place finish to Fox in 2012. With such box office hits as Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and now Gravity, Warners will average about $54 million in ticket sales per picture.

Second place in the studio derby this year will go to Disney, whose Marvel superhero offerings Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 will account for around $175 million of that studio’s $250 million annual take.

Sony and Fox will finish third and fourth, respectively, with Fox falling off precipitously from its record-holding $376 million China gross in 2012. Sony had only one strong release with Skyfall back in January, but it was able to get more films into China than any other studio and in aggregate managed to cobble together more than $200 million in gross revenue. Although Fox got solid results in 2013 from The Croods (a Dreamworks animated picture) and Wolverine, it couldn’t match the huge numbers of last year’s Titanic 3D, Life of Pi and Ice Age 3 and wound up with less than half of last year’s gross with around $176 million.

Universal and Paramount, the two studios with the least active presence in China, received the fewest import quota slots and grossed the least among the majors, with about $159 million and $129 million respectively.

At last week’s box office, U.S. films captured the top three slots, although two of these were buyout films. Thor: The Dark World and Escape Plan won the top two spots for their second week in a row with $24.9 million and $13.3 million, respectively. New entry Red 2 picked up $5.9 million in its first three days, enough to handily beat the $4.9 million that Red collected during its entire run in 2011. Total nationwide box office was $54 million for the week, a 57 percent increase over the same period last year.

Box Office week ending 11-17-13

U.S. films will see another week or two of relative prosperity before the year-end Chinese tent-poles move in and grab all the spoils in December and January. Look for big results from The White Storm, which releases on November 29th, followed by big December debuts from No Man’s Land, The Four 2, Firestorm, Personal Tailor and Police Story. By year’s end, Hollywood movies will land only 2 of the top 10 spots at China’s box office in 2013, down from 7 last year and 6 in 2011.

In aggregate, U.S. distributors will manage only a meager 5 to 6 percent increase in their China sales this year, a mere fraction of the 60 percent gain that Chinese language films have enjoyed. Hollywood has let yet another year go by doing little more than lobbing movies into China from across the Pacific, and it has paid the price with a precipitous drop in market share.

Meanwhile, aggressive non-Chinese players like Australia’s Village Roadshow and Korea’s CJ Entertainment have stepped into the breach with highly successful Mandarin language co-productions. And local Chinese players are rapidly growing in competitive strength, as exemplified by Huayi Brothers’ massive increase in its stock market capitalization to $5.2 billion from only $1 billion a year ago. Many of these companies have established beachheads in the U.S., and it won’t be long before their growing financial strength in China will enable them to compete effectively with the stodgy U.S. studios and further erode their diminishing dominance of the global film market.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

China’s Monster Summer


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

August 22, 2013

The disturbing drought that plagued Hollywood’s movies in China through the first half of 2013 has been quenched, at least temporarily, by a string of box office successes that began in July. Chief among these has been Pacific Rim, a monsters-meet-robots spectacle that couldn’t have been more perfectly aimed at Chinese moviegoers. In its first three weeks of PRC release (as of Thursday August 22nd) the film has devoured $109 million in receipts, good enough for 2nd place this year among all Hollywood imports, and better by far than the $98.7 million the film has earned in North America.

While some might attribute Pacific Rim’s PRC success to its giant CG robots—the Transformers franchise is after all the highest grossing movie series in China’s history—I’d like to make the case that the film’s massive monsters are at least as responsible for scaring up Chinese ticket sales. Chinese audiences love a good monster movie as much as anyone, but the country’s strict censorship policies have restricted the homegrown monster movie quotient to practically zero. It’s a quirk of the Chinese film administration’s policies that monsters can invade China—or its theaters, anyway—from overseas, but they’re generally prohibited from breeding, hatching, or emerging from slimy lagoons onshore in the Middle Kingdom.

Further proof of my theory can be found in this week’s monster opening of Jurassic Park 3D, Universal’s reissue of the 20-year old Steven Spielberg dinosaurs-gone-wild classic. With almost $17 million in Chinese revenue in its first three days, the film ranks as the fourth biggest foreign opener of 2013 and is is well on its way to becoming the biggest grossing re-release of the past 12 months. Although the grosses for reissues tend to quickly fall off, the pattern so far suggests a final gross in the $30 million to $40 million range, which would make it China’s second highest grossing 3D re-release ever—albeit a far distant second—to 2012’s Titanic 3D.Top-grossing HW rel

The next ‘monster’ movie up is of a more kid-friendly variety, Pixar’s Monsters University, which is scheduled to open on Friday, August 23rd. China’s monster mania may help the film to break the Pixar curse, which has seen most of that animation studio’s films open poorly in the PRC and quickly fade away. With little family-fare competition I expect Monsters U to take at least $25 million in China, which would put it well above Toy Story 3’s $16.7 million gross in 2010, Cars 2’s $11.9 million in 2011, and Brave‘s dismal $4.7 million in 2012.

Last week’s box office saw Pacific Rim win its third week in a row, the first time that’s happened for a Hollywood film in 2013 (the China/Hong Kong co-pro Journey to the West won 5 straight weeks in February and March). Tiny Times 2, the sequel to July’s teen girl-oriented hit Tiny Times, ran up its total to $44 million with a $17 million second place finish. And Fan Bingbing’s romantic comedy One Night Surprise from writer-director Jin Yimeng (Sophie’s Revenge) took third with $15 million, proving the rom-com genre’s continuing strength with Chinese audiences.Box office for week ending Aug 18, 2013

Bona’s boxing flick Unbeatable took fourth place with $9 million on generally positive reviews. Rounding out the top 5 was Wanda Media’s disappointing release  The Palace, which managed just $7.4 million in its first 7 days despite the huge opening screen count allocated by its sister company, theatrical exhibitor Wanda Cinema Line. This marks Wanda’s second flop in a row after Man of Tai Chi. Wanda is new at the feature production game, and with its deep pockets the company presumably has the staying power to get enough at bats to eventually generate some homeruns.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Tiny Times,’ Gargantuan Grosses


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July everyone, it’s America’s Independence Day. As a person who enjoys the uninfringed right to express my thoughts to readers around the world, I’m extremely grateful for the precious freedom America’s founders fought for and bequeathed to their descendants.

On another note, I’m dedicating this post to Dominic Ng, Bennett Pozil, and their superb team at East West Bank. They recently hosted me at two of their events and made invaluable introductions for me to their clients. Dominic was kind enough to publicly recognize my work in a room full of heavy hitters at his “U.S.-China Economic Relations“ summit at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And since Bennett has been after me to keep writing this blog, pleading that in its absence he’s been forced to read trade papers like the Hollywood something-or-other and another thing whose name I forget that starts with the letter “V”, I suppose anyone who gets some use out of this humble publication should thank Bennett for his persistent cajoling.

It has been an eventful month or so since I last wrote about China’s film biz. In recent weeks Iron Man 3 finished its run at $121 million, edging out local romantic drama So Young to become the second highest grossing film of the year so far behind Journey to the West. Dreamworks’ animated movie The Croods defied everyone’s expectations, including my own, running up a magnificent $63 million, which places it among the highest grossing animated films in Chinese history. Legendary East announced a partnership with China Film Group; local film American Dreams in China ran up an $86 million gross; Man of Steel opened on 6,500 screens, the biggest launch to date in China; and Paramount’s World War Z was barred by the censors, despite the producers having made pre-emptive changes to avoid offending them.

Also, the July release schedule was announced, and with four big Hollywood titles opening (After Earth, White House Down, Fast and Furious 6, and Pacific Rim) the U.S. studios might finally get a chance to make up some ground against their Chinese competitors. Finally, the release schedule for December 2013 has been set, and it looks to be a blockbuster holiday, with Tiny Times 1.5, Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013, mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor, and possibly Overheard 3 and the star-studded Monkey King (with Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok) all set to open within a two-week period. My Chinese correspondent Firedeep predicts that four of these five films will wind up out-grossing Iron Man 3.

Which brings us up to the present. China’s exhibitors and producers are enjoying another stellar year so far, with almost $1.7 billion in grosses in the first half, nearly 40 percent ahead of the first half of 2012. Given the patterns of prior years, I expect a $3.7 billion final tally for the year. It’s worth noting that China is now routinely grossing more each month than it did in the entire year of 2006. At the current rate of growth the PRC market will surpass North America as the world’s largest territory in 2017, and even if growth slows considerably the succession will take place in 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

The week ending June 30th was the third biggest so far this year, at $87.5 million. Tiny Times set new records for the opening day of a local film at $12.4 million, and went even wider than Man of Steel, running on nearly 50 percent of China’s 15,000+ screens. Look for the teen female oriented Tiny Times to wind up at around $100 million when its run ends.Box office week ending 6-30-13

Man of Steel continued strong, with $21.1 million in its second week. Heavy competition from Tiny Times will curtail its grosses, and it will likely finish in the $55 million to $60 million range, which is where many recent U.S. blockbusters have settled.

Star Trek Into Darkness finished up its run right in that same range, with $57 million. To the surprise of many observers Star Trek outperformed in China, earning a healthy 13 percent of its worldwide gross in the PRC. Compare this to, say, Skyfall, Oz the Great and Powerful, and The Hobbit, each of which earned only 5 percent of their respective worldwide totals in China.

In the coming days I’ll write more about China’s first half results and the U.S. studios’  performance. Until then, happy independence day!

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.