China’s Box Office: Hollywood Films Regain Dominance


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By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

February 8, 2012

For the second week in a row, Mission: Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol reigned at the Chinese box office, grossing a reported $39.4 million and bringing the film’s cumulative 9 day gross in mainland China to just under $56 million.

Out of the $24.3 million that MI:4 grossed over the weekend in the foreign theatrical circuit, $19.8 million came from China. To put the numbers in context, MI:4 grossed a mere $7.4 million in its opening weekend in Japan in December of 2011. Until recently, Japan was the world’s 2nd largest movie market. It took MI:4 film little over a week in China to gross as much as it did in a full month in Japan.

In second place was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which continues its decent showing in China with a gross of $3.56 million over the week, bringing the film’s 22 day total to $27.7 million.  Meanwhile, both The Viral Factor and All’s Well, Ends Well 2012 held on to the number three and four spots, grossing $2.9 million and $2.4 million, respectively.

The lone newcomer into the top five was Jonnie To’s Life Without Principle, which earned a rather mild $2.3 million over three days to claim the number five spot.

With the exception of To’s Life Without Principle, there was relatively little movement in the box office top 10.  And so this week it is worth noting the complete dominance Hollywood films have had in the Chinese market, with M:I 4 and Sherlock Holmes together accounting for a cool 75% of the mainland Chinese box office this week.

This dominance by a pair of Hollywood films comes at a time when it seems that just about anyone and everyone with deep pockets in China is looking to develop a film fund.  This week saw the announcement of Bruno Wu’s $800 million Harvest Seven Stars Media Private Equity Fund, as well as the announcement of a Chinese government-backed film fund to be overseen by China Mainstream Media National Film Capital Hollywood Inc. (HSSMPEF and CMMNFCHI, respectively; good luck remembering those acronyms), the U.S. division of China National Film Capital Co. Ltd.  Even retired NBA star Yao Ming has been reported to be looking into developing a film fund in recent weeks.

The purported goal of most if not all of these film funds is to produce Chinese films with a more global appeal.  And yet as we see from the Chinese box office this week, Chinese films have yet to find a way to effectively compete with Hollywood films on their own turf.   This is due to a wide range of issues, from overly restrictive government regulations, to a lack of quality source material being developed in China for the big screen, to Chinese audience’s demonstrated preference for Hollywood’s film offerings.  However, I’d like to posit another problem a globally appealing Chinese cinema faces.

China, in spite of all the capital being thrown at film funds of late, lacks the necessary star power to promote its films globally.   M:I 4 had Tom Cruise, Holmes had Robert Downey, Jr.  Without those stars headlining their respective films, it’s difficult to imagine either film performing as well as it has on the foreign theatrical circuit.

And so in spite of all the promises the various film funds have made regarding a future global Chinese cinema in the making, a big question remains:  Who will be the Chinese Tom Cruise?  The Chinese Robert Downey, Jr.?  Or the Chinese Shia Lebouf?

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

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