Qing Ming Brings Bling to China’s Theater Owners


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By Robert Cain for China FIlm Biz

April 9, 2013

Last week’s arrival of The Qing Ming Festival—a 2,500 year old Chinese holiday when celebrants honor their ancestors by sweeping their gravesites—also brought a big boost in movie going. The holiday ranks as one of China’s top five or six movie revenue periods of the year, along with such holidays as western New Year, Chinese New Year, Valentines Day and National Day. This past week’s national ticket sales totalled $73 million, good enough for the fourth biggest week of the year and an 88 percent increase over the same period in 2012.Box office week ending April 7 2013

Leading the box office once again was the sleeper rom-com hit Finding Mr. Right, which was down a mere 12 percent from last week, and which has only just started to show signs of slowing. I grossly underestimated this picture’s potential at $40 million; it’s now a sure thing to go over $75 million.

Also holding up well was the WWII action comedy The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel, which tallied $18.4 million to extend its total to nearly $31 million.

New openers didn’t fare quite as well. Action/thriller Drug War scored a $12.9 million total in its first six days of release, a bit of a bust relative to expectations but still director Johnnie To’s best debut to date. And the Ronny Yu-directed costume action/war drama Saving General Yang  fizzled at just $5 million, perhaps putting the final nail in the coffin of that moribund genre.

The Qing Ming week capped off a surprisingly potent 8-week period during which China’s theatrical film business nearly doubled the revenues of the same period last year. The 95 percent boost over 2012 was driven mainly by such local language comedy hits as Journey to the West and The Chef the Actor the Scoundrel, and romances Finding Mr. Right and Say Yes. These four films have collectively grossed over $320 million, accounting for more than a third of China’s total box office in 2013.

Hollywood films also contributed, but not at anywhere near the level they did last year. The four biggest non-Chinese films of the past eight weeks were The Hobbit, A Good Day to Die Hard, Resident Evil and Jack Reacher, which collectively pumped $114 million into China’s exhibition coffers.

The 8-week run of hugely favorable year-on-year comparisons will come to an end this week because last April’s enormous $74 million opening of Titanic will be impossible to beat.  I won’t hazard a guess as to how Django Unchained (opening Thursday) and two new Chinese romance pics will do this week, but it’s a safe bet that they won’t pose any threat to Titanic’s record. Look for comps that will be significantly down from last year’s numbers for at least this week and probably next week as well, unless G.I. Joe 2 catches fire.

I’m hard pressed to say whether Hollywood’s relative malaise in China this year is specific to the films that have been imported or is reflective of a larger shift in the market. It’s been suggested to me that market manipulation or fraud are major factors in Hollywood’s rapid decline in China, but I’ve only seen sparse and rather anecdotal evidence of this (I’ll publish an article on this topic in the next few days).

Hollywood hasn’t done very well this year in Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia either, and Chinese manipulation can hardly be blamed in those territories. I’m inclined to credit the rapid rise of Chinese films (at the expense of Hollywood’s movies) to improving stories, good production values, and growing awareness among China’s movie goers that at least some local films are worth the price of admission.

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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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.

No Golden Ring For ‘Hobbit’ in China


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 24, 2013

With its $5.6 million opening day and projected $18 million 3-day weekend gross in China, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has become the third major Hollywood film in a row—after Skyfall and Jack Reacher—to fall short of expectations in its mainland theatrical release. In its first two days Hobbit managed only a distant second place finish behind the Chinese language hit Journey to the West, which has been in release for two weeks, and its attendance pattern over the course of the weekend suggests a relatively soft theatrical run ahead.

To be sure, an $18 million weekend in China is not in and of itself a bad result. Not many pictures, Chinese or foreign, reach that level in their first three days in the PRC. But for a global phenomenon like the Hobbit, which has grossed nearly $1 billion in the rest of the world, this result comes as a surprise to the downside. As the following chart illustrates, several much smaller territories will generate bigger total grosses for the film.Hobbit Gross by Intl TerritoryEven given the context of the picture’s long-delayed opening and marginal post-holiday release slot, one could have reasonably expected Hobbit to at least match Skyfall’s total China gross of $60 million, but this now appears highly unlikely. Hobbit’s Friday-to-Saturday revenue bump was just 26 percent, among the smallest increases I’ve ever seen for a wide release in the PRC. A total gross in the low 40 millions is looking more probable, a figure that won’t even place the film in the top 20 releases in China this year. That number would be on par with the PRC performance of last year’s John Carter, a picture that grossed barely a fourth of what Hobbit did worldwide.

What is particularly troubling about China’s cool reception to The Hobbit is that it is a 3D fantasy film, a genre format that has consistently performed handsomely with Chinese audiences.  Painted Skin 2, a poorly reviewed Chinese fantasy, earned $115 million in its 2012 China release, and Journey to the West has just reached $160 million and could well surpass Avatar‘s record $209 million China gross. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II earned $63 million two years ago, when China’s market was barely half the size that it is now. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island took in $60 million early last year, and Life of Pi grossed $91 million just a few months ago.

What’s impeding the success of The Hobbit may have less to do with the film itself and more to do with the current mood of Chinese moviegoers. During the past few seasons they’ve demonstrated an increasing preference for Chinese faces in Chinese stories, and a growing impatience with Hollywood blockbusters which, rightly or wrongly, have been criticized for being too much alike.

While it is far too early to sound the alarm for Hollywood’s movies in China, the recent trend ought to be cause for concern at the major studios. China will account for 10 percent of the global box office this year, and given that only those select few Hollywood films with the best perceived commercial prospects are allowed to release there, such releases ought to earn around 12 percent or more of their worldwide grosses in China.  But Skyfall earned barely 5 percent of its worldwide gross in the People’s Republic, and The Hobbit will probably wind up at around 4 percent.

If the next three U.S. releases—Les Miserables, A Good Day to Die Hard, and Oz: The Great and Powerful—turn in sub-par performances, then it may be time for the studios to heed the advice I’ve been freely offering for a long time: focus on what Chinese audiences want, and give it to them. Otherwise, the world’s fastest growing and soon to be biggest movie market will get along just fine without them.

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’s Box Office Bests Previous Weekly Record by 61 Percent With Scant Help From Hollywood


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 22, 2013

What a difference a year makes. Last February, Hollywood action pictures like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island dominated China’s multiplexes, seizing a 70 percent share of the market and leaving only crumbs for local Chinese films. Tom Cruise reigned as box office king with his Mission Impossible hitting $100 million, only the fourth film to reach that plateau in Chinese history. Hollywood’s long-term hegemony over the Chinese movie landscape seemed secure.

A year later, the situation could scarcely be more different. So far this month Hollywood’s share of Chinese theatrical revenue is barely 10 percent. Tom Cruise, whose new action flick Jack Reacher debuted to a tepid $5 million last weekend, has been supplanted by a Chinese star named Bo Huang, who has notched three successive breakout hits: Lost in Thailand, Journey to the West, and now the China-Japan co-pro (!) romance Say Yes. Chinese action-comedies are routinely cracking the $100 million threshold, while Hollywood action movies are underperforming to a troubling degree.

One non-Chinese player that has fared exceptionally well in China of late is Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, which nabbed the number one and number two box office rankings last week with its co-pro entries Journey to the West and Say Yes.Box office week ending Feb 17, 2013

Journey to the West broke numerous records, including the biggest single-day gross with nearly $20 million on Valentine’s Day, the biggest weekly gross ever ($93 million) and the fastest arrival at the $100 million mark (8 days). As of Tuesday, its tenth day in release, the film’s cume stood at $122 million. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here in predicting that Journey will break Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record Chinese language film gross of $201 million.

Say Yes, a Chinese-language remake of the hit 1991 Fuji Television drama “101st Marriage Proposal,” debuted to an impressive $19 million. Journey and Say Yes combined gave Village Roadshow and its partners an 83 percent share of the week’s $135 million nationwide gross, also an all-time record. The previous weekly record gross was $84 million.

Year-to-date, China’s aggregate box office is up by 30 percent, while U.S. films are down by 59 percent. Some might blame the U.S. films’ decline on long release delays or on the individual films themselves (Skyfall, Gone and Jack Reacher), and they may be right, but I believe the most important factor is that Chinese audience tastes have shifted.Weekly box office 2012 vs 2013

Not only have several Chinese language films caught on with audiences, but the non-Chinese films that are indexing well now are different than the ones that indexed well a year ago. During the past several months the foreign pictures that have over-indexed in China have been more offbeat or intellectual movies like Life of PiLooper, and Cloud Atlas, or the more quirky action films like Bait and Expendables 2.

The trend could turn again in favor of Hollywood’s tent-poles, with upcoming releases that include The Hobbit on February 22nd, Les Miserables on February 28th, and Oz: The Great and Powerful and a Good Day to Die Hard in mid-March (I had previously been advised that the latter two films might open on the same day, but I’m now told it’s more likely they’ll be spaced at least a few days apart). The only certainty in China is change, and for the moment, anyway, it is trending in favor of China’s local producers and those foreign producers who have committed to serving the Chinese market.

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.

Valentine’s Day Treats Chinese Exhibitors with Love; “Journey” Obliterates Single-Day Record


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 16, 2013

Love was in the air for Chinese exhibitors on Valentine’s Day as date night sweethearts showered local movies with unprecedented affection. Admissions reached a record 4.5 million for the day, resulting in a 190 million RMB ($30.5 million) nationwide gross, a new single-day PRC record that surpassed the previous record of 140 million RMB by 36 percent.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons was also red-hot, shattering Transformer 3’s nearly 18 month-old single-day record of 112 million RMB with a 122 million RMB ($19.6 million) tally.

Journey’s 6-day total stands at approximately $80 million (the 7-day cume will be about $92 million), which means it has sunk Titanic 3D’s single-week record opening gross of $74.7 million. If its momentum continues Journey could conceivably surpass the Chinese language film record of $201 million set recently by Lost in Thailand, and even the all-time record of $209 million that has been held by Avatar since early 2010.

The resurgence of Chinese language films at PRC multiplexes is a trend that warrants close scrutiny. In the past two months three Chinese films have exceeded $100 million in revenue, but it has been nearly a year since a Hollywood film did so. During the past six months the top of the box office chart has been dominated by local films.

Top 10, Aug 12 - Feb 13

*Estimate as of Feb 15, 2013; total projected gross to exceed $175 mm

Compare this to the chart for the first six months of 2012:Top 10 First Half 2012

*Still in release as of July 1, 2012; final gross was $115 mm

Chinese audiences have clearly shifted their attention—and their RMB—toward locally made films, and they have become more selective about the foreign films they attend. It’s not that Hollywood movies aren’t performing well in China, it’s just that the billion dollar global blockbusters that dominated China’s cineplexes last year have been underperforming of late.

I’ll explore this topic in more detail next week, after we see how well Jack Reacher performs over the weekend.

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.