China’s Box Office Still Blazing: Weekly Gross Up 163% Over Same Frame in 2012


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 26, 2013

Although business at China’s movie theaters cooled off a bit last week compared to the prior week’s scorching, record-crushing $135 million gross, attendance was still hot enough to make it the second best week in Chinese cinema history. The $95 million cume for week 8 was 163 percent higher than the total for the same session in 2012.

Journey to the West led the way with $54 million, the second best second-week showing ever for a Chinese film, after Lost in Thailand’s Christmas week bonanza. At $160+ million and going strong as of this writing, Journey to the West looks certain to knock Lost in Thailand off its throne as the highest grossing Chinese film ever.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, took second place with an $18.5 million 3-day weekend. Some have suggested to me that The Hobbit’s underperformance in China is attributable to the fact that few there have read J.R.R Tolkien’s classic Middle Earth novels, but this explanation ignores the fact that The Lord of the Rings was a big hit in China back in 2004, placing fourth among all theatrical releases and first among foreign films that year.

The romance Say Yes came in third with a so-so $8.4 million, off by 56 percent from its first week’s tally. Jack Reacher was just behind with a tad under $8.3 million, bumping its 9-day cume to a modest $13.3 million.

Box office week ending Feb 24, 2013

Cloud Atlas finished the week with $26.3 million , just shy of its final North American gross of $27 million. With just a few more days before its run ends, it will be a close call as to whether the film will gross more in China than stateside. Either way, Cloud Atlas will wind up earning a remarkable 20 percent of its worldwide total in Chinese multiplexes.

Year-to-date, PRC box office receipts are up a scorching 43 percent over the same period last year. U.S. films account for just 16 percent of the total, compared to 47 percent during the same period in 2012. Even more worrisome is Hollywood’s market share tumble from 70 percent in the month of February, 2012, to 15 percent during February of this year. Whereas SARFT and the Chinese film authorities reacted to Hollywood’s dominance last year by imposing an extended summer blackout, they now appear to be loosening their grip a little, reportedly granting a coveted day-and-date release slot in late March to GI Joe: Retaliation.

The next U.S. film to release in China will be multiple Oscar winner Les Miserables, on Thursday the 28th..Musicals don’t usually attract much business in China–so I doubt Universal will be expecting much business here.

The next two major releases after Les Miz, A Good Day to Die Hard and Oz: The Great and Powerful, both set to release in mid-March, will serve as revealing litmus tests. Die Hard would normally be expected to attract China’s huge action fan audience, but as we’ve seen, American action tent-poles have underperformed of late in the Middle Kingdom. As a 3D fantasy, Sam Raimi’s Oz is also of a genre that traditionally excels in China, Hobbit notwithstanding. The classic 1939 MGM favorite is well-known and well-liked there. If any one movie can turn things around for Hollywood, I’m betting Oz will be it.

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.

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“Journey to the West” Smashes China Box Office Records


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JTTW poster

 

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 13, 2013

With its $12.8 million Chinese New Year’s day debut, Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons set a new record last week for the biggest opening day gross ever for a local Chinese film. The Huayi Brothers/Village Roadshow Pictures fantasy-action-comedy ranks second only to Transformers 3 for the all-time biggest opening day in Chinese box office history.

Journey blew past holdovers Cloud Atlas and Skyfall to take first place for the week of February 4-10 even though it had only one day, Sunday, to beat all its competitors for the weekly box office crown. I believe this is the first time such a feat has ever been accomplished in China.

Box office week ending February 10, 2013

Including its results through February 13th the film has now cumed a massive $50 million in its first four days. On Thursday Journey can look forward to a robust Valentine’s Day, a major date night holiday in China, when it could well set a record for the biggest single-day gross ever. If word of mouth doesn’t slow down attendance the picture will match or even surpass Titanic 3D’s $74 million single-week record. A $150 million total cume now looks increasingly likely, and there’s a reasonably good chance at this point that Journey will even surpass Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record gross of $201 million.

At $45 million, aggregate box office for all films last week was down about 8 percent from the same period last year, when Mission Impossible 4 and Journey: The Mysterious Island led the way to a $49 million weekly cume.

Cloud Atlas boosted its cume to a healthy $21.6 million after 11 days, which now puts it in the rare company of only a handful of non-Chinese films that have earned 20 percent or more of their global box office revenue in China. Skyfall notched another $6.4 million to extend its cume to $58 million.

The next Hollywood films to open in China will be Paramount’s Jack Reacher on February 16th and New Line/MGM’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will bow on February 22nd. It will be an interesting test to see how well both films stand up to the Journey in the West juggernaut. Although Hobbit has had an extraordinary global run and is nearing a $1 billion worldwide gross, it is by no means a certainty that it will enjoy equally robust business in the PRC.

Special mention must be made that an international production company, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, played a key role in investing in and supporting Journey to the West‘s success. This kind of strategic engagement in Chinese language feature films is precisely what Hollywood and other foreign players must pursue if they hope to remain relevant in China.

For the past few years I’ve suggested that English language Hollywood films would soon be eclipsed in China by local language productions. That moment has arrived. With relatively few exceptions, Chinese movies will increasingly rule at China’s multiplexes. For those studios that haven’t made a commitment like Village Roadshow and Fox have to local language Chinese productions, the window is closing on their ability to participate meaningfully in China’s rise to its inevitable position of global primacy in the movie business. For those who still wish to enter the Middle Kingdom in a strategic and sustainably competitive manner, my colleagues and I at Pacific Bridge Pictures stand ready to assist.

[Correction: In a previous version of this story I mistakenly attributed the international co-financing and co-producing role in Journey to the West to the wrong company. I had misinterpreted a conversation I had with Fox International Pictures (FIP)–my mistake, not theirs–and cited that company as a financing and producing partner in the film when I should have properly cited Village Roadshow Pictures Asia instead. FIP’s role with the picture is as a distributor in Taiwan and Malaysia. Thanks to Village Roadshow for kindly pointing out my error. It was an honest mistake; rest assured that I have reprimanded my entire research and fact-checking staff, and I am flagellating myself as I write this. Humble apologies all around.]

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.

“Cloud Atlas” Crosses $20 million in China; Stephen Chow’s “Journey” Will Go Big


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 9, 2013

Happy New Year, dear reader! May the Year of the Snake bring you much prosperity and happiness.

Theaters went dark for much of the day on Saturday as China’s population turned its attention to New Year’s fireworks and lion dances.

The multiplexes reopened on Sunday with high expectations—and a massive screen count—for the release of Stephen Chow’s new action comedy, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Based on the Ming dynasty literary classic commonly known as “Monkey” in the west, the film is a silly, slapstick parody with director Chow’s usual collection of rapid-fire gags.

Chow’s prior films Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer were major hits both in Greater China and abroad, due largely to Chow’s zany energy as a leading man. This time, however, Chow will be absent from the on-screen action, leaving a hole that will be difficult to fill. Whether this picture works in pleasing audiences—reviews so far have been mixed—it is sure to open big, as it has reportedly racked up very strong presales.  Early word is that it cracked the $10 million mark on its opening day. Don’t be surprised if it goes well over $100 million in the next few weeks.

To accommodate the opening of Journey and four additional films on Sunday, Cloud Atlas and Skyfall will have to relinquish most of their screens, which will effectively slow the remainder of their China runs down to a trickle. Skyfall, as I previously noted, will wind up with $60 million or a bit more. Cloud Atlas, which crossed the $21 million mark on Saturday, could still possibly surpass its U.S. total of $27 million. While $27 million is only a middling tally for a foreign film in China these days, this would nevertheless represent some 25 percent of the movie’s worldwide gross, which would set a new record for a foreign film release in the PRC. The previous record-holder, The Mechanic, earned roughly 22 percent of its worldwide revenue in China in 2012.

Expect these percentages to keep climbing as China accounts for an ever-increasing share of the global box office. Chinese moviegoers’ tastes, which are proving to be very different than those of American audiences, will exert a steadily increasing influence over what movies get made and whom they target.

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.

“Cloud Atlas” Floats to Top Among New Debuts in China


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 5, 2013

China may not completely save Cloud Atlas from sinking in red ink, but it will definitely keep the $100 million picture alive and afloat for a little longer. In its first four days in the PRC the film has grossed $11 million, a 14 percent boost to its anemic $78 million worldwide total.

Word-of-mouth for the Wachowski/Tykwer directed sci-fi/fantasy flick has been reasonably good in the Middle Kingdom, despite a reported 40 minutes of footage cuts at the hands of the SARFT censors. If it gets a pre-holiday boost, and if it doesn’t get clobbered by the New Year’s day release of Stephen Chow’s highly anticipated Journey to the West, Cloud Atlas’ gross in China could possibly surpass its $27 million North American total.

Overall it was a decent week at the multiplexes, with several family-oriented releases enjoying solid debuts. As I’ve noted previously, Chinese audience tastes appear to be broadening, and for the first time since October nine films grossed 8 million RMB ($1.3 mm) or more in the same week.Box office for week ending February 3, 2013

Still, aggregate weekly revenues of $53 million were down 12 percent from the same frame in 2012, when ticket sales exceeded $60 million. The culprit in the drop-off from last year is Skyfall, which continues to lag far behind last January’s box office champ Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I won’t rebuke those who doubted my accurate call regarding Skyfall’s under-performance after the first day of its release in the PRC, but I will say–to paraphrase Kevin Spacey’s line in the new “House of Cards” TV series–“After 20 years in China’s film biz, I can smell which way the wind is blowing.”

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.