• Box Office

China Box Office April 24, 2022

Box office in China continues to fall due to Covid lockdowns causing cinema closures, with double-digit drops in box office revenues compared to last year’s numbers.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore held on to its No. 1 perch with a weekend take of $1.69 million for a total of $17.6 million in 17 days.

Aside from Covid closures, the protectionist policy of the Chinese government favoring its domestic film industry has limited the number of Hollywood releases to 34 per year, though Covid forced fewer openings in the last couple of years. A stringent censor board forbids certain themes and certain language, including references to Taiwan or Tibet, and requires submission of a film’s script for approval before it allows the film to be released. This is why the removal of lines referring to a gay relationship in Secrets of Dumbledore was demanded before it was accepted for release.

Man on the Edge, the Hong Kong action crime thriller, was second, earning $1.33 million over the weekend for a cumulative take of $9.29 million over 10 days.

New entry Ambulance, the Michael Bay-directed thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul Mateen landed in the third spot with $1.27 in 3 days of release.

Kollywood’s Drishyam climbed to fourth place with a weekend take of $0.58 million for a cume of $1.57 million in ten days. Drishyam is a 2015 film starring Ajay Devgn and was released last weekend, only the third Indian film to open in China this year; all three are not new films. In fact, the Malayalam-language Drishyam had a Chinese remake, Sheep Without a Shepherd, in 2019 and became the year’s 9th highest-grossing film at almost $200 million.

Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania was No. 5 for the weekend with $8.94 million over 22 days. It took in $0.84 million over the weekend. This film has been streaming on Amazon Prime since last August.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions was sixth, earning $0.39 million for the weekend and $7.04 million overall in 23 days of release.

The Batman came in seventh place, despite the fact that it’s now streaming on HBO+ and therefore subject to even more piracy. It earned $0.37 million over the weekend; its cume is now $22.59 million. Its box office is considered a disappointment; China is now fifth in the international market for the film after 38 days of release.

Moonfall (executive produced by Chinese studio Huayi Brothers Media) with $0.33M weekend/$20.58M total; and the Tom Holland-Mark Wahlberg-led Uncharted with $0.28M weekend/$17.93M overall were in 8th and 9th position. Moonfall has now made more money in China than in N. America in 31 days of release.

The French comedy Love at Second Sight rounds out the top ten. It has made just under $1 million in 11 days of release with a weekend take of $0.23 million.

China has a population of almost 1.5 billion people and is now the largest film market in the world. There are several hurdles to climb to get films released in China – the 25/75% split compared to 40 or 50% in other territories; unpredictable release dates as the favored dates are saved for Chinese films; and often, once the censor has passed a film, limited time to properly market it before the assigned release date. 

But the market is still attractive despite its challenges, and not only do movie studios compete for those few movie slots and make the necessary adjustments to mollify the censor board, but they also employ other tactics to improve the odds of a China release.

One is the business of co-productions with China. A couple of examples – Paramount co-produced Transformers: Age of Extinction with Jiaflix Enterprise. The $154 million-earning Kung Fu Panda 3 was the first co-production of the joint venture Oriental DreamWorks founded by DreamWorks Animation, China Media Capital, and Shanghai Media Group. (It is now Pearl Studio and fully owned by China Media Capital.)

What the Chinese filmmakers have done is create their own homegrown blockbusters, learning Western filmmaking techniques from their Hollywood partners. The epic and well-produced films The Battle at Changjin I and II are superhits — Changjin I made almost $900 million in 2021 and Changjin II is still going strong at No. 11 at the box office. The total gross of both films is $1.5 billion and counting.