‘Gravity’ Thrills, ‘Catching Fire’ Chills as China’s Box Office Tops $3 Billion

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 26, 2013

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity scored the PRC’s fifth best opening of the year with a nearly $36 million liftoff, as U.S.-made films grabbed the top four box office spots and six of the top seven in the week ending November 24th.

Gravity, which is performing nearly as well as surprise hit Life of Pi did at this time a year ago, also set records for IMAX, grossing almost $7.5 million, or more than 20 percent of the film’s opening 6-day total, on 123 screens. Gravity‘s marketing campaign benefited nicely from its liberal use of James Cameron’s quote calling it “The best space film ever.”

The fourth quarter has been a good one so far for Hollywood, with American movies capturing a 55 percent share of the market during the period from October 1st through November 24th.  U.S. films are now at their peak market share for 2013 with over 47 percent of all China box office revenue, though that figure will ebb back to about 42 percent as local Chinese releases dominate the calendar throughout December.Top 5 Opening Weeks 2013

One exception to this trend is Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Despite its rare day-and-date release and its huge reception in the U.S., Lionsgate’s sci-fi/action picture failed to stir up much interest in China. Its four-day total of $12.95 million makes it only the 31st best opener of the year, behind even such modestly performing titles as A Good Day to Die Hard and After Earth.  Although Catching Fire’s debut improved by about 16 percent over the opening week of its 2011 predecessor The Hunger Games, it did so in a market that has grown by more than 80 percent in the interim, so the sequel’s performance in the PRC has to be considered a letdown.

Another disappointment was the suspense-thriller Control, a China-Hong Kong-Taiwan co-production starring Daniel Wu that eked out only $3.5 million for the week. The California-born Wu has consistently been one of China’s most bankable stars, so his latest film’s weak opening must have surprised the film’s backers, who include Huayi Brothers, Media Asia and Celestial Pictures.

Box office week ending 11-24-13

Nationwide gross was $69 million, a 49 percent increase over the same period in 2012, and the biggest weekly total since early October, when Young Detective Dee reigned over a $101 million weekly theatrical total. Year-to-date gross has now eclipsed $3 billion, and if last year’s trend holds, the last five weeks of 2013 will generate a $500+ million haul for PRC theater operators, resulting in a final yearly gross of around $3.6 billion to $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.