Country's box office grew 40% in past year

BEIJING — Disaster pic “2012″ has shot past “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” to become the top movie hit of all time in China, adding an exclamation point to a year in which the nation’s B.O. is expected to post 40% year over year growth.

By Thursday, Sony’s “2012″ had taken 460 million yuan ($67.3 million), state film body the China Film Group said on its website, besting the $63 million nabbed by “Revenge of the Fallen.”

Pic opened Nov. 13 with a wide release on 1,900 screens, and is still showing in many theaters.

The pro-China subplot in which the Chinese build arks to save a portion of humanity from impending doom will have helped its perf.

It’s an extraordinary B.O result when compared to major film markets such as France, where “2012″ has taken $43.6 million, Germany ($36.5 million) and Japan ($36.1 million). Pic’s total international cume to Dec. 27 is $583.7 million.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a boffo year in China, with total B.O. surpassing $730 million in the first 10 months of the year, according to China’s Film Bureau. Mainland B.O. is forecast to be up 40% on last year’s figure of $630 million.

Driving the rise in box office was the rapid growth in the number of screens. China Film Group said that by the end of last year, there were 4,097, and that number is expected to rise to 4,500 by the end of this year.

Now everyone is watching to see what becomes of James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar,” scheduled to hit local screens on Jan. 4.

Cameron’s “Titanic” was China’s biggest movie for more than a decade until it was toppled by “Revenge of the Fallen” in July.

Foreign movies’ strong perf in China comes despite a quota of around 20 allowed into the country every year on a revenue-sharing basis. (Hollywood prefers flat fees as a hit can make more money that way.) Of the 20 foreign pics, only a few are from Hollywood, as the quota covers films from around the world.

The success of the Hollywood pics is unlikely to prompt China’s authorities to change the quota system because local fare is holding its own in the domestic market.

Propaganda epic “The Founding of a Republic,” celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, took $61 million during its run, making it the biggest-earning local pic ever.

However, China may come under more pressure next year to free up its movie market. Earlier this month, the World Trade Organization upheld a ruling that China is illegally restricting U.S. music, film and book imports.

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