‘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.

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Post Lunar Holiday Box Office Update: The Official Numbers From China


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 9, 2012

The official numbers from China for the box office week ending September 30th are in, and they confirm the figures I’ve been publishing since last Wednesday, albeit with a couple of minor adjustments. With 6 new high profile releases opening over a 4-day span, it was an extremely tight field with a sharply divided audience and no runaway box office winner.

Taichi 0 took the weekly revenue crown, while Looper led the field in admissions during the Friday-Sunday weekend. With its higher average ticket price due to its strong attendance in IMAX theaters, Taichi edged out Looper in total weekend revenues. Assassins, which ran in theaters for two days longer than Looper, held its lead and grossed more than the latter film did for the week, although Looper’s cume vaulted ahead early in the following week.

Huaxia tried to counter-program against all the male-oriented action films with a romance starring Zhang Ziyi, but Zhang’s appeal has faded over the years and her film, a Chinese take on the 18th century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, barely nosed into the week’s top 5.

Sunday the 30th marked the end of the 3rd quarter, the summer period, which would normally have seen a sequentially higher gross than the 1st and 2nd quarters. But because the SARFT-imposed blackout kept June and July clear of most major Hollywood films, attendance dipped in the summer, with the unusual result that the summer total was about five percent lower than the spring.

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

We’ll Be Right Back After This SARFT Holiday Break


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By Robert D. Cain for China Film Biz

October 8, 2012

More than a week after it was reported in the Hollywood trades and beyond that Looper opened with a record-smashing debut in China, there is still no official word from SARFT as to what actually happened at the PRC’s multiplexes. In a country where the designated president-to-be can disappear for 10 days without feeling the slightest obligation to explain or even acknowledge his absence, I suppose it’s too much to hope that timely box office reports might be delivered during a holiday week.

In the absence of official word, I’ll go out on a limb and offer my best guess as to what did occur in China over the past week and a half. Bear in mind that the figures below are only as accurate as my back-channel sources. Official numbers should be out in the next day or two, at which point I’ll provide an update.

First, Looper did open well in China, but it came nowhere close to the US $25 million figure that was initially reported by the Hollywood trades and picked up by more than 100 news outlets around the world. While the film did set several notable precedents, it didn’t break any box office records, and it now appears that my initial estimate of $4.3 million for Looper’s opening weekend was just about right.

The National Day holiday week of October 1st through 7th saw roughly $60 million in aggregate ticket sales, making it only the 8th best week of the year so far. Given the high expectations exhibitors had coming in to the week, they were likely disappointed by this result.

China’s year-to-date box office tally probably reached, or at least came very close to, the $2 billion mark last weekend. By the third week of October it will surpass last year’s record total of $2.06 billion. Had it not been for the bucket of ice SARFT dumped on the country’s sizzling box office growth by imposing its 2-month summer blackout of Hollywood blockbusters, the year-to-date total would now be more than $2.2 billion and China would have a shot at cracking $3 billion by year’s end. As it stands now I’m projecting a year-end total in the $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion range.

While China’s film bureaucrats continue to revise their priorities and tactics, two North American companies and one partially American one have exhibited great savvy in maneuvering through the ever shifting political sands of the PRC.

The two aforementioned North American companies are IMAX and Twentieth Century Fox. Both companies have made substantial investments in China and have been smart about how they conduct their business there. IMAX picked a winning film and a winning strategy when it decided to back the Huayi Bros action-fantasy film Taichi 0 with a large format theatrical release. IMAX was unquestionably a major factor behind Taichi  0’s winning box office performance. And Fox made the right move when it submitted Europa Corp’s Taken 2 as a French, rather than an American film, enabling that picture to slip through the holiday blackout and open on Sunday. Its estimated $2.3 million opening day bodes well for Taken 2’s China run.

The ‘partially American’ company I’m referring to, DMG, is a Beijing-based Chinese company that has strong American representation among its senior ranks. DMG pulled off several coups with Looper last week, getting a film that was clearly American (with Chinese flavor) released during a blackout week when Hollywood studio films were strictly prohibited. DMG also managed to obtain for Looper the first U.S.-China day-and-date release since Madagascar 3 opened in June. And DMG’s connections enabled it to achieve a strong screen count during an extremely competitive frame, and should enable it to keep the film running longer in China than most other American films. Although Looper’s China gross won’t come close to matching its U.S. total, it will likely wind up as one of the best indexing U.S. films in China this year.

Also of note: Lionsgate’s The Expendables 2 ended its spectacular run on Sunday, winding up at an estimated $53.6 million, which would put it ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man and just behind The Dark Knight Rises for China’s 9th best performance in 2012. Not bad for a film that grossed $84 million in North America.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

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

Not-So-Amazing China Debuts for Spider-Man and Dark Knight


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

August 28, 2012

The hotly anticipated and—in Hollywood, at least—much protested head-to-head box office matchup between Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Rises kicked off on Sunday night in China to good, but not record-breaking, grosses.

After waiting out long delays in July and August for the end of China’s “domestic film protection period” (which was publicly acknowledged for the first time last week by a senior SARFT official), the two superhero movies opened to estimated first day grosses of $5.35 million for Spider-Man and $4.4 million for Batman, according to China.org. These are good numbers for Sunday-Monday debuts, but they fell far short of the $15.9 million first day record set by Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011, and the $11.6 million April, 2012 debut of Titanic 3D.

With the two films saturating the majority of China’s screens in wide release, including nearly all of the country’s IMAX locations, many theater managers were said to be disappointed with the results. Although I expect each picture will ultimately earn at least $50 million in Chinese ticket sales, each will likely under-index in China relative to their massive grosses in the rest of the world ($941 million so far for Dark Knight and $697 million for Spider-Man).

But expectations were high and probably over-inflated to begin with. As I’ve explained in articles in May and also last December, superhero movies simply don’t work as well in China as they do in many other territories. Liu Hui, manager of Beijing’s UME International Cineplex, noted that the previous Spider-Man movies by Sam Raimi also didn’t set any records in China, and Christopher Nolan’s prior ‘Dark Knight’ installments weren’t allowed to screen there. “China doesn’t have that deep tradition and huge die-hard fanbase of American comics. That’s why they didn’t make record money.”

Another key factor behind the less-than-thrilling grosses is the bunched releasing schedule that was forced upon the superhero tent-poles by SARFT’s extended summer blackout on Hollywood films. And with Prometheus opening on September 2nd and The Expendables 2 following on September 4th, the heightened competition for Chinese moviegoers’ attention may not allow for any new records until the logjam of major films is worked through later in the fall.

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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.