Warner Bros’ Stellar Year in China


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 21, 2013

Having already clinched bragging rights as the top-grossing Hollywood studio in China this year, Warner Bros further cemented its lead with the excellent rollout of Gravity on Tuesday.  With nearly $10 million in ticket sales in its first two days of PRC release, and what I’m estimating will be at least a $70 million final tally, Gravity should push Warners’ 2013 total in China to around $325 million.

This will mark the first time I can remember when Warners will have won the China box office crown. It will also reflect an impressive 80 percent revenue boost over Warners’ respectable, albeit distant second-place finish to Fox in 2012. With such box office hits as Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and now Gravity, Warners will average about $54 million in ticket sales per picture.

Second place in the studio derby this year will go to Disney, whose Marvel superhero offerings Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 will account for around $175 million of that studio’s $250 million annual take.

Sony and Fox will finish third and fourth, respectively, with Fox falling off precipitously from its record-holding $376 million China gross in 2012. Sony had only one strong release with Skyfall back in January, but it was able to get more films into China than any other studio and in aggregate managed to cobble together more than $200 million in gross revenue. Although Fox got solid results in 2013 from The Croods (a Dreamworks animated picture) and Wolverine, it couldn’t match the huge numbers of last year’s Titanic 3D, Life of Pi and Ice Age 3 and wound up with less than half of last year’s gross with around $176 million.

Universal and Paramount, the two studios with the least active presence in China, received the fewest import quota slots and grossed the least among the majors, with about $159 million and $129 million respectively.

At last week’s box office, U.S. films captured the top three slots, although two of these were buyout films. Thor: The Dark World and Escape Plan won the top two spots for their second week in a row with $24.9 million and $13.3 million, respectively. New entry Red 2 picked up $5.9 million in its first three days, enough to handily beat the $4.9 million that Red collected during its entire run in 2011. Total nationwide box office was $54 million for the week, a 57 percent increase over the same period last year.

Box Office week ending 11-17-13

U.S. films will see another week or two of relative prosperity before the year-end Chinese tent-poles move in and grab all the spoils in December and January. Look for big results from The White Storm, which releases on November 29th, followed by big December debuts from No Man’s Land, The Four 2, Firestorm, Personal Tailor and Police Story. By year’s end, Hollywood movies will land only 2 of the top 10 spots at China’s box office in 2013, down from 7 last year and 6 in 2011.

In aggregate, U.S. distributors will manage only a meager 5 to 6 percent increase in their China sales this year, a mere fraction of the 60 percent gain that Chinese language films have enjoyed. Hollywood has let yet another year go by doing little more than lobbing movies into China from across the Pacific, and it has paid the price with a precipitous drop in market share.

Meanwhile, aggressive non-Chinese players like Australia’s Village Roadshow and Korea’s CJ Entertainment have stepped into the breach with highly successful Mandarin language co-productions. And local Chinese players are rapidly growing in competitive strength, as exemplified by Huayi Brothers’ massive increase in its stock market capitalization to $5.2 billion from only $1 billion a year ago. Many of these companies have established beachheads in the U.S., and it won’t be long before their growing financial strength in China will enable them to compete effectively with the stodgy U.S. studios and further erode their diminishing dominance of the global film 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.

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We’ll Be Right Back After This SARFT Holiday Break


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

By Robert D. Cain for China Film Biz

October 8, 2012

More than a week after it was reported in the Hollywood trades and beyond that Looper opened with a record-smashing debut in China, there is still no official word from SARFT as to what actually happened at the PRC’s multiplexes. In a country where the designated president-to-be can disappear for 10 days without feeling the slightest obligation to explain or even acknowledge his absence, I suppose it’s too much to hope that timely box office reports might be delivered during a holiday week.

In the absence of official word, I’ll go out on a limb and offer my best guess as to what did occur in China over the past week and a half. Bear in mind that the figures below are only as accurate as my back-channel sources. Official numbers should be out in the next day or two, at which point I’ll provide an update.

First, Looper did open well in China, but it came nowhere close to the US $25 million figure that was initially reported by the Hollywood trades and picked up by more than 100 news outlets around the world. While the film did set several notable precedents, it didn’t break any box office records, and it now appears that my initial estimate of $4.3 million for Looper’s opening weekend was just about right.

The National Day holiday week of October 1st through 7th saw roughly $60 million in aggregate ticket sales, making it only the 8th best week of the year so far. Given the high expectations exhibitors had coming in to the week, they were likely disappointed by this result.

China’s year-to-date box office tally probably reached, or at least came very close to, the $2 billion mark last weekend. By the third week of October it will surpass last year’s record total of $2.06 billion. Had it not been for the bucket of ice SARFT dumped on the country’s sizzling box office growth by imposing its 2-month summer blackout of Hollywood blockbusters, the year-to-date total would now be more than $2.2 billion and China would have a shot at cracking $3 billion by year’s end. As it stands now I’m projecting a year-end total in the $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion range.

While China’s film bureaucrats continue to revise their priorities and tactics, two North American companies and one partially American one have exhibited great savvy in maneuvering through the ever shifting political sands of the PRC.

The two aforementioned North American companies are IMAX and Twentieth Century Fox. Both companies have made substantial investments in China and have been smart about how they conduct their business there. IMAX picked a winning film and a winning strategy when it decided to back the Huayi Bros action-fantasy film Taichi 0 with a large format theatrical release. IMAX was unquestionably a major factor behind Taichi  0’s winning box office performance. And Fox made the right move when it submitted Europa Corp’s Taken 2 as a French, rather than an American film, enabling that picture to slip through the holiday blackout and open on Sunday. Its estimated $2.3 million opening day bodes well for Taken 2’s China run.

The ‘partially American’ company I’m referring to, DMG, is a Beijing-based Chinese company that has strong American representation among its senior ranks. DMG pulled off several coups with Looper last week, getting a film that was clearly American (with Chinese flavor) released during a blackout week when Hollywood studio films were strictly prohibited. DMG also managed to obtain for Looper the first U.S.-China day-and-date release since Madagascar 3 opened in June. And DMG’s connections enabled it to achieve a strong screen count during an extremely competitive frame, and should enable it to keep the film running longer in China than most other American films. Although Looper’s China gross won’t come close to matching its U.S. total, it will likely wind up as one of the best indexing U.S. films in China this year.

Also of note: Lionsgate’s The Expendables 2 ended its spectacular run on Sunday, winding up at an estimated $53.6 million, which would put it ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man and just behind The Dark Knight Rises for China’s 9th best performance in 2012. Not bad for a film that grossed $84 million in North America.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

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