Chinese Audiences Go Bananas for ‘Apes’


by Robert Cain                                                                                                        November 13, 2011

In an otherwise slow week at the Chinese box office, Rise of the Planet of the Apes grabbed US $13 million in ticket sales—well over half the receipts earned by all films—for a $24 million 10-day cume. Apes climbed past The Tourist and A Chinese Ghost Story and now ranks 20th among theatrical releases so far this year.

Far behind in second place was the newly released Japanese animated feature Detective Conan Quarter of Silence, with $3 million in ticket sales.

Chinese films barely registered, with the lone Chinese opener, Starry Starry Night eking out just $1.6 million in receipts, and holdovers Lost in Panic Cruise and Love on Credit earning $1.5 million between them. Also failing to spark much interest were two newly released U.S. made films, Liam Neeson thriller Unknown and fantasy western The Warrior’s Way, which managed just $1.1 million and $600,000, respectively.

The continuing poor performance of local films underscores a growing problem for Chinese exhibitors. Audiences have grown tired of domestically made movies, which are generally acknowledged to be inferior, and with a cinema construction boom underway exhibitors are increasingly reliant on the limited number of Hollywood films they’re allowed to book. Only one of the top 10 films this year, the propaganda piece Beginning of the Great Revival, is a domestic production, and that film can hardly be counted because its official box office total of $62 million is widely acknowledged to be inflated.

Strict domestic content regulations and a dearth of experienced screenwriters leave domestic films woefully uncompetitive with much higher quality Hollywood fare. Unless China loosens its 20 film quota, or co-production activity ramps up quickly, theater operators will find themselves forced to book more and more local films that audiences don’t want to see.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the 30th film of 2011 to cross the 100mm RMB/15mm USD threshold. Just 17 films reached that level in 2010.  Only 2 years ago $15 million was a lofty target, but with so many films now exceeding that number the bar has been raised for ‘blockbuster’ status, and the $30 million level has become a more appropriate benchmark;13 films have reached that level this year.

Rob Cain is a film producer and entertainment consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be contacted at rob@pacificbridgepics.com.

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