‘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.

China Exhibits Modest Appetite For “Hunger Games”


by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

June 21, 2012

Lionsgate’s Hunger Games debuted last week to a middling $10.4 million box office total over its four-day opening in Chinese theaters, edging out Madagascar 3 ($8.8 million in its second week) for the #1 spot during the week ending June 17th. This marked the 22nd week in a row that a Hollywood film has topped the Chinese box office, and the 7th week in a row in which the top 3 spots were all occupied by American movies.


During the just ended 13-week Spring quarter, U.S.-made films dominated the Chinese market like never before, taking 82 percent of all box office receipts. Domestically made Chinese films barely managed to eke out a 10 percent share, with only one local film, Galloping Horse’s action comedy Guns ‘N Roses, qualifying as a bona fide box office success, ranking 7th among all releases in the quarter with a total gross of $24.4 million.

The rapidity with which homegrown Chinese films have been marginalized in their own market has been truly startling, and has left local producers, financiers and exhibitors confused and nervous for the future. Speaking this week at the Shanghai Film Festival, prominent film director Lu Chuan, (The City of Life and Death) warned that “2012 is a very dangerous year for the Chinese film industry. What if we are defeated in every season by foreign films? Nobody would like to invest in our films anymore.”

The trend should be equally worrisome for foreigners exporting their movies to China. Even though they may be winning the box office battle in the short term, there will be deleterious long-term effects if the domestic Chinese film production industry is suffocated by imports. On the one hand, theatrical revenues will only continue to grow if there is a balanced mix of local films and foreign ones; if there are just 34 imported films each year that draw meaningful business, then revenue will plateau as commercial breadth stagnates.


And on the other hand, backlash from the sensitive state-run government movie administration seems ever more likely as frustration grows over China’s inability to reliably make films that anyone wants to see. State measures designed to crimp the dominance of Hollywood films could be quickly and easily implemented as a way to quell the Communist Party’s persistent concerns about the encroachment of western culture.

Censorship continues to be a major handicap for Chinese filmmakers, who are severely limited in their choices of topics, genres, and overall permission to portray truly human characters and situations that reflect life as audiences recognize it.  In a recent article for China’s “Global Times,” screenwriter Xiao Yezi explains that he often feels he is “dancing in chains” because of the severe restrictions that shadow his choices of story topics. As Xiao puts it, “Without breaking the hidden rules that damage the authority and rights of writers, it’s impossible for Chinese entertainment to satisfy even the domestic audience, let alone become popular elsewhere.”

As of this writing, it has been 8 weeks since a local Chinese film opened with even $2 million in nationwide receipts, and the numbers continue to fall at an alarming rate as Hollywood’s film releases predominate. But far from congratulating themselves, American producers and distributors should be scrambling for ways to help jump start the local Chinese cinema before they find they have completely worn out their welcome.

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.