Local Rom-Com Breaks Out As U.S. Films Fade at Chinese Box Office


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comFinding Mr. Right 2

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 27, 2013

For the first time since 2011’s Love is Not Blind, a Chinese romantic comedy has broken out in a big way at mainland theaters. Finding Mr. Right, a modestly budgeted rom-com starring Tang Wei (Lust Caution, Late Autumn) debuted in the number one spot with $12 million in its four-day opening last week, beating out U.S. holdovers A Good Day to Die Hard and Resident Evil: Resurrection.

The plot of the Seattle- and New York-set Finding Mr. Right borrows liberally from the iconic 1993 American film Sleepless in Seattle and its 1957 progenitor An Affair to Remember—even down to the final romantic encounter atop the Empire State Building—in weaving a familiar tale of two damaged souls who heal each other through love. finding mr. right

Produced by Hong Kong’s venerable Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Flowers of War), Finding Mr. Right is the sophomore directing effort of Xue Xiaolu, who also wrote the screenplay. Strong reviews and good word of mouth have propelled the film to successively higher grosses each day, putting it on a trajectory to reach a final gross of at least $40 million, which would make it the second highest grossing romantic comedy in Chinese history after Love is Not Blind’s $55 million.

Although A Good Day to Die Hard provided a brief respite two weeks ago, U.S. and non-Chinese films have yet to shake their 2013 PRC box office doldrums. Both Die Hard and Resident Evil dropped sharply over the weekend, and Jack the Giant Slayer managed just $1.4 million on its opening day this past Monday. Die Hard will likely finish in the mid- to high-thirty millions, down at the low end of the range I had projected for it.Box office week ending 3-24-13

Sunday brought an end to the Chinese run of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which grossed just under $50 million in the PRC, for a rather modest 4.7 percent of its worldwide total. Friday will bring the release of Oz the Great and Powerful, which will encounter some healthy competition from the popular Finding Mr. Right and Drug War, a Chinese crime thriller directed by Johnny To (Romancing in Thin Air, Life Without Principle) that debuts next Thursday, April 4th.

Total nationwide box office amounted to $42 million for the week, a 35 percent increase over the same week last year. Year-to-date China is still running a massive 45 percent ahead of last year, while North America is running 14 percent behind its 2012 total. I’ve often noted on this website that China’s box office will surpass North America’s by the end of this decade. If current trends continue the eclipse will occur by 2019, and possibly even in 2018. It’s becoming an inescapable fact that if you want to succeed in the film business in the near future, you’re going to have to contend with China.

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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‘Upside Down’ Flips the Script at China’s Theaters


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comUpside Down one-sheet

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 12, 2013

Although China’s distributors release roughly as many ‘buyout’ films—that is, foreign films acquired under flat fee purchase arrangements—as they do revenue sharing ‘quota’ films, it’s unusual for a buyout film to lead the box office. This is because quota films are mostly big-budget studio tent-pole pictures with major stars, while buyouts are most often independent ‘B’ level movies with less ambitious commercial aspirations. The numbers are pretty stark: last year the 31 foreign buyout films took only a 5.4 percent share of China’s total box office revenue, while the 34 foreign quota films earned 45.6 percent.

So it came as quite a surprise last week when a buyout, Millenium Films’ romantic fantasy Upside Down, became the first film in nearly a month to outgross box office behemoth Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. The $60 million Kirsten Dunst-Jim Sturgess starrer, about a sort of interstellar Romeo and Juliet who are separated not only by family but also by the physics of the cosmos, was shot way back in 2010 and had earned only $8 million worldwide when it debuted last Thursday in the PRC.

In its first four days in China Upside Down nearly doubled its worldwide gross, and it also out-earned Journey by a slight margin. Despite its wide availability on pirated BD, DVD and online, it is now primed to become one of China’s highest earning buyout films ever. Top Grossing Foreign Buyouts

WIth the advantage of a full week of screenings versus Upside Down‘s four days, Journey to the West won the weekly box office crown for its fifth week in a row, a feat last achieved by Avatar back in 2010. Aggregate weekly box office was $42 million, a 38 percent improvement over the same week in 2012. Year-to-date, China’s box office revenue is running 46 percent ahead compared to the first 10 weeks of last year.

Although they continue to underperform, American films are at least beginning to gain market share, capturing 44 percent last week thanks mainly to Journey‘s slowing momentum. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey stretched its cume to $45 million, and will end its China run next week at around $50 million. Box office week ending March 10, 2013

On March 14th A Good Day to Die Hard will open wide with hopes that it can turn the tide and become the first studio film to over-index in China this year. Resident Evil: Resurrection is set to open on March 17th, presumably in a heavily edited version. Oz the Great and Powerful has been pushed back to April, so the next studio release will be Jack the Giant Slayer on March 25th.

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.

‘Hobbit’ Holds OK, But Other Foreign Debuts Sag at China Box Office


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

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 6, 2013

The Hobbit held up a little better than I’d expected it to last week, taking in $18.7 million to boost its 10-day China total to $37 million. But three new foreign entries—Les Miserables, Stolen, and Dredd—managed to gross only $8.5 million between them, continuing the dispiriting downward trend of U.S. and foreign films there even as China sets new box office records virtually every week.Box office week ending 3-3-2013

In contrast to last year, when Hollywood films ruled the charts nearly every week for the first half of the year, Week 9 was the first time in 2013 that foreign films earned a 50 percent weekly share, which they barely achieved at that.

With $58 million in total receipts for the week ending March 3rd, aggregate box office was up by 87 percent over the same session last year. Total receipts through the first nine weeks of 2013 are now 46 percent higher than for the same period in 2012, but total revenue for major U.S. studio films remains stubbornly down by nearly 50 percent year-to-date.

The highest profile debut of the week was Les Miserables, which mustered a soft $4 million over its 4-day opening frame. Given its limited number of screenings and Chinese audiences’ traditional aversion to musicals, this may be as much as the film’s backers could have hoped for. But for many Chinese commentators it was a downside surprise, since Les Miz performed well in several other Asian territories. I’m expecting a final gross in the $9-10 million range.

Journey to the West maintained its top ranking for the fourth straight week, a nearly unprecedented achievement in China, extending its gross to $181 million, the third best total ever after Avatar and Lost in Thailand. Hobbit’s respectable second-week gross puts it on track toward a final gross in the mid- to high 40 millions, possibly even $50 million, when its China run is through. Even so, it will finish as one of the lowest indexing Hollywood releases in China of the past year.

In fact, no Hollywood release in China this year has come anywhere close to performing at the level of last year’s average Hollywood film. In 2012 the average U.S. quota film  grossed about a third in China of what it did in North America. Given China’s extraordinary growth of the past year, one could reasonably expect U.S. films this year to earn an average of 40 percent of their U.S. total in China, but as the chart below shows, 20 percent has been the high water mark so far.China B.O. pct of U.S. B.O. 2013

Given the discouraging trend, what’s a U.S. distributor to do? Tomorrow I’ll take a look at a current case example for doing things right.

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


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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.

“Journey to the West” Smashes China Box Office Records


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JTTW poster

 

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 13, 2013

With its $12.8 million Chinese New Year’s day debut, Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons set a new record last week for the biggest opening day gross ever for a local Chinese film. The Huayi Brothers/Village Roadshow Pictures fantasy-action-comedy ranks second only to Transformers 3 for the all-time biggest opening day in Chinese box office history.

Journey blew past holdovers Cloud Atlas and Skyfall to take first place for the week of February 4-10 even though it had only one day, Sunday, to beat all its competitors for the weekly box office crown. I believe this is the first time such a feat has ever been accomplished in China.

Box office week ending February 10, 2013

Including its results through February 13th the film has now cumed a massive $50 million in its first four days. On Thursday Journey can look forward to a robust Valentine’s Day, a major date night holiday in China, when it could well set a record for the biggest single-day gross ever. If word of mouth doesn’t slow down attendance the picture will match or even surpass Titanic 3D’s $74 million single-week record. A $150 million total cume now looks increasingly likely, and there’s a reasonably good chance at this point that Journey will even surpass Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record gross of $201 million.

At $45 million, aggregate box office for all films last week was down about 8 percent from the same period last year, when Mission Impossible 4 and Journey: The Mysterious Island led the way to a $49 million weekly cume.

Cloud Atlas boosted its cume to a healthy $21.6 million after 11 days, which now puts it in the rare company of only a handful of non-Chinese films that have earned 20 percent or more of their global box office revenue in China. Skyfall notched another $6.4 million to extend its cume to $58 million.

The next Hollywood films to open in China will be Paramount’s Jack Reacher on February 16th and New Line/MGM’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will bow on February 22nd. It will be an interesting test to see how well both films stand up to the Journey in the West juggernaut. Although Hobbit has had an extraordinary global run and is nearing a $1 billion worldwide gross, it is by no means a certainty that it will enjoy equally robust business in the PRC.

Special mention must be made that an international production company, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, played a key role in investing in and supporting Journey to the West‘s success. This kind of strategic engagement in Chinese language feature films is precisely what Hollywood and other foreign players must pursue if they hope to remain relevant in China.

For the past few years I’ve suggested that English language Hollywood films would soon be eclipsed in China by local language productions. That moment has arrived. With relatively few exceptions, Chinese movies will increasingly rule at China’s multiplexes. For those studios that haven’t made a commitment like Village Roadshow and Fox have to local language Chinese productions, the window is closing on their ability to participate meaningfully in China’s rise to its inevitable position of global primacy in the movie business. For those who still wish to enter the Middle Kingdom in a strategic and sustainably competitive manner, my colleagues and I at Pacific Bridge Pictures stand ready to assist.

[Correction: In a previous version of this story I mistakenly attributed the international co-financing and co-producing role in Journey to the West to the wrong company. I had misinterpreted a conversation I had with Fox International Pictures (FIP)–my mistake, not theirs–and cited that company as a financing and producing partner in the film when I should have properly cited Village Roadshow Pictures Asia instead. FIP’s role with the picture is as a distributor in Taiwan and Malaysia. Thanks to Village Roadshow for kindly pointing out my error. It was an honest mistake; rest assured that I have reprimanded my entire research and fact-checking staff, and I am flagellating myself as I write this. Humble apologies all around.]

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.