‘Tiny Times,’ Gargantuan Grosses


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Tiny Times

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July everyone, it’s America’s Independence Day. As a person who enjoys the uninfringed right to express my thoughts to readers around the world, I’m extremely grateful for the precious freedom America’s founders fought for and bequeathed to their descendants.

On another note, I’m dedicating this post to Dominic Ng, Bennett Pozil, and their superb team at East West Bank. They recently hosted me at two of their events and made invaluable introductions for me to their clients. Dominic was kind enough to publicly recognize my work in a room full of heavy hitters at his “U.S.-China Economic Relations“ summit at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And since Bennett has been after me to keep writing this blog, pleading that in its absence he’s been forced to read trade papers like the Hollywood something-or-other and another thing whose name I forget that starts with the letter “V”, I suppose anyone who gets some use out of this humble publication should thank Bennett for his persistent cajoling.

It has been an eventful month or so since I last wrote about China’s film biz. In recent weeks Iron Man 3 finished its run at $121 million, edging out local romantic drama So Young to become the second highest grossing film of the year so far behind Journey to the West. Dreamworks’ animated movie The Croods defied everyone’s expectations, including my own, running up a magnificent $63 million, which places it among the highest grossing animated films in Chinese history. Legendary East announced a partnership with China Film Group; local film American Dreams in China ran up an $86 million gross; Man of Steel opened on 6,500 screens, the biggest launch to date in China; and Paramount’s World War Z was barred by the censors, despite the producers having made pre-emptive changes to avoid offending them.

Also, the July release schedule was announced, and with four big Hollywood titles opening (After Earth, White House Down, Fast and Furious 6, and Pacific Rim) the U.S. studios might finally get a chance to make up some ground against their Chinese competitors. Finally, the release schedule for December 2013 has been set, and it looks to be a blockbuster holiday, with Tiny Times 1.5, Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013, mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor, and possibly Overheard 3 and the star-studded Monkey King (with Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok) all set to open within a two-week period. My Chinese correspondent Firedeep predicts that four of these five films will wind up out-grossing Iron Man 3.

Which brings us up to the present. China’s exhibitors and producers are enjoying another stellar year so far, with almost $1.7 billion in grosses in the first half, nearly 40 percent ahead of the first half of 2012. Given the patterns of prior years, I expect a $3.7 billion final tally for the year. It’s worth noting that China is now routinely grossing more each month than it did in the entire year of 2006. At the current rate of growth the PRC market will surpass North America as the world’s largest territory in 2017, and even if growth slows considerably the succession will take place in 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

The week ending June 30th was the third biggest so far this year, at $87.5 million. Tiny Times set new records for the opening day of a local film at $12.4 million, and went even wider than Man of Steel, running on nearly 50 percent of China’s 15,000+ screens. Look for the teen female oriented Tiny Times to wind up at around $100 million when its run ends.Box office week ending 6-30-13

Man of Steel continued strong, with $21.1 million in its second week. Heavy competition from Tiny Times will curtail its grosses, and it will likely finish in the $55 million to $60 million range, which is where many recent U.S. blockbusters have settled.

Star Trek Into Darkness finished up its run right in that same range, with $57 million. To the surprise of many observers Star Trek outperformed in China, earning a healthy 13 percent of its worldwide gross in the PRC. Compare this to, say, Skyfall, Oz the Great and Powerful, and The Hobbit, each of which earned only 5 percent of their respective worldwide totals in China.

In the coming days I’ll write more about China’s first half results and the U.S. studios’  performance. Until then, happy independence day!

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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Romance is in the Air For Chinese Moviegoers


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedInA Wedding Invitation poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 16, 2013

When spring arrives in China, romance blossoms not only between lovers, but also at the multiplex.

In 2011 it was Eternal Moment and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart that enticed moviegoers to heart-warming grosses of $31 million (2011’s 8th biggest Chinese language release) and $15 million, respectively.

Last year audiences were smitten with Titanic 3D, which seduced them into a hearty $74 million opening week and a lusty ultimate $154 million gross.

And this spring, romance has been in bloom for a full month, with Finding Mr. Right leading the box office for three straight weeks (grossing $77 million so far as of Tuesday) before it handed off the torch to A Wedding Invitation (分手合约), which led all comers with a $9.8 million score over the weekend.

The Chinese-Korean co-production A Wedding Invitation was directed by Korean comedy master Oh Ki Hwan and stars Eddie Peng (Cold War, Taichi 0) and Bai Baihe (Love is Not Blind) as a pair of star-crossed lovers who, after five years of pursuing divergent lives and careers, finally reunite. Look for Wedding Invitation to gross in the low- to mid-20 millions over the next ten days, until Iron Man 3 grabs many of China’s available screens.

In the mean time there’s lots more romance on the way, with four new Chinese language romances and romantic comedies set to open on the mainland in the next week and a half. These include the youth romance Sweet Eighteen, the romantic comedy Lemon, the China/Taiwan co-pro Ripples of Desire, and most significantly, So Young, the highly anticipated directorial debut of actress and pop singer Vicky Zhao. I expect So Young to give Iron Man 3 some stiff competition when the two films open against each other on April 26th.

Although action remains China’s most popular film genre, romance has been a steady second best in recent years, holding a 17 percent market share in 2012 and roughly the same so far in 2013. Domestic Chinese romances and romantic comedies have been especially potent this year, and because these films are inexpensive and logistically easier to produce than action movies, and because films like Finding Mr. Right are making enormous profits, we can look for many more such pictures to come.Box office week ending 4-14-13

Chinese language titles once again dominated the box office, taking the top four spots in the rankings and nabbing an 89 percent market share for the week. American movies now hold a mere 23 percent share of mainland ticket revenues for the year, a disastrous drop from the 57 percent share they held at this point last year.

Weekly box office nationwide totaled $48 million, down by 43 percent compared to the same week last year, when the juggernaut Titanic 3D swept through China’s cinemas. The week ahead will also be down compared with last year, and then after the massive Titanic comps are out of the way, China’s upward year-on-year trend should continue. China’s year-to-date aggregate box office revenue in 2013 is 44 percent ahead of 2012.

Hollywood’s studios can only hope that their upcoming releases perform better than their films that are currently playing. The only U.S. picture to index well so far this year is A Good Day to Die Hard, which will end its run with $31 million, a total that is impressive only when compared to its weak results in the rest of the world. Oz the Great and Powerful will probably wind up at less than $30 million, and Jack the Giant Slayer will finish up at around $9 million. Whereas U.S. distributors must have been hoping for several $100+ million releases in China this year, the way things are going most of their pictures will be lucky to reach even half that amount.

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.

‘Finding Mr. Right’ Continues Leggy Run to Cap Off PRC’s Record-Breaking Q1


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.com

Chef-Actor-Scoundrel poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 3, 2013

The first quarter of 2013, which ended last Sunday, saw numerous box office records fall in China, including:

  • Biggest single-day gross for an individual film: 140 million RMB, Journey to the West
  • Biggest single-day cumulative nationwide gross: 190 million RMB, February 14, 2013
  • Highest single-day cumulative nationwide admissions: February 14, 2013
  • Biggest final gross for an individual film: $201 million, Lost in Thailand
  • Biggest single-quarter cumulative nationwide gross: $820 million

After a strong start to the year, China’s pace of growth has actually accelerated, with local films putting up exceptional numbers. Take a look at the day-by-day performance of current box office champ Finding Mr. Right (aka When Beijing Met Seattle):Finding Mr. Right Daily gross

1 RMB = U.S. $0.161

The low-budget romantic comedy, which was inspired by the Hollywood hit Sleepless in Seattle, has been number one at Chinese multiplexes every day of its run so far, and will easily beat the previous Chinese rom-com record holder, Love is Not Blind, which earned $55 million in 2011. As of Wednesday, Mr. Right stood at $47 million, and now looks likely to hit $70 million before it’s done.

Second place for the week went to the WWII action-comedy, The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel, which debuted to a solid $12.2 million in its first three days, handily beating Oz, the Great and Powerful, which conjured up $9 million in its opening weekend, and Jack the Giant Slayer, which managed just $6.7 million in its first seven days. Chef-Actor-Scoundrel continued to play well into the week, and should wind up its run with a $40 million cume. Oz is fading fast and probably won’t do much more than $25 million, while Jack the Giant Slayer will top out at around $10 million.Box office week ending 3-31-13

It’s an impressive feat that the roughly $5 million budgeted Finding Mr. Right will, all by itself, outgross the combined China grosses of OzA Good Day to Die Hard, and Jack the Giant Slayer, which had combined production budgets of well over $500 million.

Overall, 2013 box office revenue is running more than 50 percent ahead of last year’s total, despite the lackluster performance of U.S. films, which are dragging the comps down. Hollywood will have several chances to redeem itself in the next few weeks, with Django Unchained opening on April 11th, G.I. Joe: Retaliation on the 15th, The Croods on the 20th and especially Iron Man 3, still undated but likely to open in China somewhere around April 26th, well before its before its U.S. debut.

It won’t be easy going for any of these American films though, as competition from Chinese movies will be fierce. The toughest challenge will come for Iron Man 3, which opens against the April 26th debut of So Young, a romance directed by megastar Vicky Zhao. Based on a popular young adult Chinese novel that is often compared to “Twilight,” So Young is about a young woman’s emotional struggle with two men she meets again years after their on-campus love triangle. Although So Young will be Zhao’s directorial debut, she was mentored by esteemed Chinese directors Tian Zhuangzhuang and Stanley Kwan, and early buzz about the film is highly positive (See the trailer here).

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.

‘Oz’ Blahs, or Why China is NOT Going to Save Hollywood (But Might Buy It)


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comOz Chinese poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 31, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful debuted to a distressingly low $9 million in China this weekend, becoming the tenth straight U.S.-made film this year to falter in PRC theaters. Every major studio has now had at least one disappointing release in China in the past three months, and none has had a breakout success.

The huge box office bonanza that Hollywood movies enjoyed a year ago in China is now looking more and more like a cruel head fake.  For 23 straight weeks in 2012 Hollywood films reigned at the top of China’s box office. But their longest streak this year is 2 weeks on top, and they’ve placed first in only 3 of the past 16 weeks.

Meanwhile, Chinese language films are hot. Scorching hot. In those same 16 weeks two Chinese films have broken $200 million at the box office, another went over $135 million, and a fourth—the low-budget Finding Mr. Right—will soon become the highest grossing Chinese romantic comedy of all time.

I’ve written many times in this space that Hollywood’s movies will eventually be marginalized in China. I thought this would take at least several more years, but it’s happening before our eyes.  In the first quarter of 2013, U.S. films’ cumulative grosses in China are down by 22 percent, while Chinese language films are up by 128 percent. China’s tastes have shifted decisively toward local product, with the result that American films are now performing at about the same level they did back in 2010, when China’s market was half the size that it is now.Chinese B.O. 1Q12 v 1Q13

This turn of events comes at an unfortunate time for Hollywood. With box office revenue down by 13 percent in North America, the studios have been looking to China to help fill the gap.  But that’s not going to happen, at least not with any consistency. Sure, the next Avatar or Transformers or Iron Man movie will do fine in China. But the days of $50 million grosses for movies like Battleship and John Carter are fading. Oz won’t likely get past $35 million, and Jack the Giant Slayer will be lucky to break $15 million. Chinese audiences would rather spend their money to see local stories with Chinese faces.

With North America flat at best, and limited prospects in the industry’s biggest international growth territory, one wonders how much patience the major media conglomerates have left for their film divisions. According to a recent Economist article, pre-tax profits at Hollywood movie studios fell by around 40% over the past five years, and they now account for less than 10% of their parent companies’ profits. According to Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley, by 2020 the studios will contribute just 5% of the media conglomerates’ profits. The day will soon come when at least one of these conglomerates decides to unload its studio operations.

And who better to buy that studio than a Chinese distributor? China will soon be the world’s biggest movie territory, with a more profitable business model than Hollywood’s. And it has major international ambitions, but completely lacks the ability to serve the global market. The right strategy for a globally minded Chinese movie mogul will be to acquire a major U.S. studio at a bargain basement price. The only thing they need now is a willing seller.

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 Still Blazing: Weekly Gross Up 163% Over Same Frame in 2012


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comJTTW cast

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


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comHobbit poster

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.