Faster and Furiouser: China’s Q1 Box Office Review


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Man From Macau 2 By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 8, 2015

A Formula One race car. A California redwood tree. Superman. China’s box office.

Which one of these is not like the other?

A Formula One car can accelerate to 220 mph but it will eventually run out of gas. A redwood can grow tall and mighty but it will eventually reach its limit and topple to the ground. And Superman can’t keep flying forever—even he needs to take a break once in a while.

But the Chinese box office, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. Two years ago I wrote in astonishment about the gravity-defying growth of the PRC’s movie business, and two years on the story just keeps getting bigger and better.

Fueled by a record-breaking February 2015 revenue haul which exceeded that of the U.S., and a March 2015 total that was 73 percent higher than the same period in 2014, aggregate PRC box office receipts for the first quarter of 2015 reached the unprecedented total of $1.54 billion. This is nearly 40 percent higher than the Q1 total in 2014, and more than China’s entire annual box office revenue of 2010.

If the trends of previous years hold, Q1 will account for about 22 to 24 percent of the year’s total gross. This would mean a year-end total somewhere between $6.4 billion and $7 billion. From there it will be just a few short years before China surpasses North America to become the world’s top box office territory.

Projected Annual Box Office, China vs. N. America, 2014-2020China v N. America box office 2014-2020

Even by China’s extraordinary standards of economic growth, the rise of the movie business has been nothing short of astounding. Just ten years ago China’s moviegoers accounted for barely one in one hundred of all the world’s ticket sales. By 2020 they will purchase more than one in three. China share of WW box office The impact of this massive growth is already being felt in the rest of the film world, with China becoming an increasingly important source of capital for films made in North America, Europe, and Asia. The global movie industry’s center of gravity is rapidly shifting across the Pacific from Hollywood to Beijing, and the key decisions about the types of films that are made, how and where they’re made, and who they’re made for are inevitably going to be heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.

Of the 70 films released during China’s first quarter this year, 23 grossed at least 100 million RMB (US $16 million), and four crossed the $100 million threshold. The revenue leader for the year so far is the Chow Yun-fat starring action-comedy The Man From Macau II, which collected $154 million for Bona Film Group. March’s box office winner was Disney’s animated hit Big Hero 6, which moved into the #2 spot among China’s all-time highest grossing animated features at $85 million, just behind Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which scored $92 million back in 2011. Top grossing films rel Q1 2015 U.S.-made films captured a modest 29.5% of the market in the quarter, the lowest share in several years, though they will begin to make up ground this weekend when Universal’s Furious 7 rolls into PRC multiplexes. Still, given the growing ability of Chinese films to compete on their home turf with Hollywood fare—not to mention SARFT’s careful management of the market—it’s unlikely that American films will ever come close again to taking 50 percent of China’s ticket sales as they did in 2012.

A look at film performance by genre reveals a few noteworthy trends. While action-adventure remains the PRC’s most popular genre, it has given up ground to family and animation films, which have continued to expand their market base over the past several years. As the bulk of China’s new cinema construction shifts away from tier 1 and 2 cities to the hinterlands, and as the market starts to mature, audience tastes will continue to broaden. B.O. share by genre Q1 2015 Coming soon: a look at China’s biggest male stars.

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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Pixar’s Persistent China Drought


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 3, 2012

Pixar’s newest release, Brave, the tale of a rebellious princess who turns her mother into a bear, had a bear of a time at the Chinese box office last week, clawing out just $3.1 million during its first 6 days of release ending June 24th.

While other studios’ animated feature films have prospered in China’s theaters, Pixar’s films have consistently underperformed there. Brave earned 60 percent less in its first week than Madagascar 3 did in its third, and the Pixar film also trailed far behind a poorly reviewed Taiwanese action film, Black and White Episode I, that opened against it last week.

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While non-Pixar animated films during the past 2 years have taken in an average of about 7 percent of their worldwide box office grosses from China, Pixar’s films have earned less than 2 percent of their worldwide grosses there during the same period. Every one of Pixar’s recent releases has lagged far behind other U.S. animated films.

 

Pixar’s poor performance cannot be explained by inferior distribution or marketing, since virtually all major Hollywood animated films are handled in China by the same two companies, China Film Group and Huaxia, often working together. Rather, there seems to be something about the Pixar stories, and the way audiences perceive them, that leaves Chinese audiences cold. Whatever the reasons, the performance gap is so striking, and so consistent, that Pixar and Disney will want to address their shortcomings in China if they are to compete effectively against their rivals.

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 Passes Japan and is Now the World’s #2 Film Territory


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 2, 2012

You heard it here first: China has surpassed Japan and is now the world’s biggest film territory outside the United States, as measured by total box office revenue.

For the past several months China has handily beaten Japan’s national box office take, and the gap is widening as China’s torrid pace of revenue growth continues.  Although China’s annual total of $2.05 billion for 2011 fell slightly behind Japan’s $2.29 billion, the last few months of 2011 and January of 2012 saw China surge ahead. 2012 will undoubtedly be the year in which China solidifies its position as the world’s number 2 market behind the United States.

.                    Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

.             Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Now it is just a matter of time—about 6-7 years if current trends continue—before China overtakes the United States to permanently become the world’s biggest and perhaps most important movie territory.

For Japan, the lingering effects of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country last March have certainly been a factor in its descent to #3. Hobbled by the damage to northeastern Japan’s infrastructure, and by a dampened national mood, box office dropped by 10 percent (nearly 18 percent in local Yen currency) from the record-breaking tally of $2.66 billion in 2010.

But even had there been no earthquake, Japan would have inevitably yielded the number two spot to China by 2013. Japan, like the U.S., has been a mature market for some time; even if we dismiss 2011 as an aberration, the annualized box office growth rate there has been in the low single digits for years. China, by contrast, has been growing by nearly 40 percent per year for a decade.

And aside from total box office, China outperforms Japan in other key measures. As a market for Hollywood films, China has the clear edge over Japan. Of the 26 Hollywood films that were released in both territories in 2011, 19 grossed more in China than they did in Japan, many by a very wide margin. Transformers 3 and Kung Fu Panda 2, for example, each grossed 3 times as much in China as they did in Japan. Had China allowed more American films into its theaters last year, it would have undoubtedly surpassed Japan in total box office in 2011.

.       Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

China also offers better upside for its domestic films than Japan does for its films. The top grossing Chinese films of the past year—The Flowers of War, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Let the Bullets Fly and Aftershock—have all earned more than $85 million in their domestic Chinese releases. During the same period, not one Japanese-made film cracked even $60 million in Japan.

The implications of China’s rapid ascension are enormous for the global entertainment business. As China’s theatrical business grows, so will its television and home video industries. In the coming years China’s global share of the entertainment pie will expand from the low single digits to 20 percent and higher, and China’s buyers will rapidly gain clout in deciding which films get made, and how and where they are produced. The flows of capital for production and marketing of movies will increasingly come from China. By simple attrition, U.S. tastes will become less dominant, and Chinese tastes will become more influential.

Hollywood’s major studios have been extraordinarily slow to respond to China’s emergence. It is no longer reasonable for them to expect that China will play by their rules, or that Hollywood will remain the world entertainment industry’s center of gravity for much longer. Any of us who hope to enjoy career longevity in the global film business had better start thinking and acting more with China firmly in mind.

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: Zhang Yimou’s ‘Flowers’ Still Smell Sweet


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 27, 2011

For the week ending December 25th, 2011, Flowers of War and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate once again held the first and second spots in what was a very good but not great weekend at the Chinese box office.

The $71 million cumulative box office total may look good at first glance—indeed, it was the second best week of 2011 after Transformers 3’s opening week in July, and Flowers set a new single-week record for a Chinese film. But the total box office was actually up only 4 percent on a Chinese RMB basis compared with the same week last year. And considering that there are 45 percent more movie screens operating across China now than at this time last year, the past week’s box office looks downright unimpressive by comparison.

The problem may have been the oversaturation of Flowers and Flying Swords. Those two pictures grabbed up more than 80 percent of China’s 9,000 screens, leaving little else in the theaters for moviegoers who might have wished to see a different film. The strongest new opener, China Film Group’s romance Dear Enemy, managed just $6.5 million in sales, and the second best, The Allure of Tears, brought in $3.8 million. The rest of the field, a mix of 3 holdovers and 3 new releases, every one of them Chinese, brought in a grand total of $600,000.

Flowers of War will pass Beginning of the Great Revival this week to become the highest grossing Chinese film of 2011. With a couple more strong weekends it could possibly challenge Kung Fu Panda 2’s  $92 million China gross for the number two spot among all films released this year. But even if it does reach that lofty height, Flowers will only recoup a third or so of its negative cost in China. In order to break into the black it will have to gross, at minimum, $120 million in the international marketplace. This has only happened once before for a Chinese film, when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became a breakout hit in the United States back in 2001. Flowers of War lacks the compelling narrative, the exotic appeal, and the universally resonant themes that Crouching Tiger offered, so the possibility that Flowers might replicate those numbers seems remote.

The most important box office news this week is that China’s cumulative gross for the year has definitely crossed $2 billion, making it only the third country in history, after the U.S. and Japan, to reach that mark. Even more remarkably, it was only last year that China crossed the $1 billion mark for the first time ever. The above analysis notwithstanding, a $71 million box office haul in one week would be extraordinary anywhere in the world outside North America; it’s indicative of China’s incredible growth that the number fails to impress only by comparison against last year’s numbers.

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.