'Avatar,' local hits drive 60% annual growth

The Chinese box office looks set to top 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2010 after a strong performance by key homegrown movies in the last weeks of the year, the head of China Film Group said this week.

Han Sanping told Hunan TV that there was “no doubt” Chinese B.O. would exceed $1.5 billion by Friday, a 60% rise over the $910 million reported in 2009. By 2012, the figure is expected to reach more than $3 billion.

A big factor in this year’s performance was foreign movies: This year, China’s quota system, which imposes limits on the number of foreign pics, saw 24 imported films amassing a B.O. total of around $420 million.

Of this, “Avatar” contributed half, with $210 million, while “Inception” made $69 million, according to figures from the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), and the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Assn. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1″ chalked up around $33 million in its first month in Chinese cinemas.

Among the big year-end domestic performers were Jiang Wen’s “Let the Bullets Fly” and “If You Are the One 2,” by China’s most bankable helmer, Feng Xiaogang.

Feng’s “Aftershock,” released in July, grossed $100 million, setting a new box office record in China.

Chen Kaige’s “Sacrifice” is also performing well, taking in nearly $28 million in its first two weeks.

Han said there was still a lot to do to boost the Chinese biz.

“The majority of moviegoers are affluent urbanites who are willing to pay for tickets that are not cheap. But for 900 million rural residents, going to the movies still looks implausibly ambitious,” he said, adding that the country needs to build more cinemas to draw bigger auds to screenings.

Han said he was planning to make a biopic of former supreme leader Mao Zedong in the second half of next year, after his current propaganda project “The Founding of a Party,” which is about the foundation of the ruling Communist Party, is released.

He said the pic, which would be released in 2012, would form the final part of a “Red Film Trilogy,” with the first part being the hugely successful “Founding of a Republic” in 2009.

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