Total gross up 35% in first half of year

BEIJING

Box office for Hollywood films in China continues to surge, but local media say it’s “embarrassing” that local films barely figure in the top 10.

Box office in the territory grew 35% in the first half of year to 7.74 billion yuan ($1.22 billion), and nine of the top 10 titles were from outside China. Foreign pics look likely to continue to reap the lion’s share of Chinese B.O. thanks to the recently increased quota for imports of premium films.

The highest-grossing pic so far this year, according to Chinese media reports, was the 3D release of “Titanic,” with $153 million; it’s third on the list of all-time top earners behind “Avatar” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

With grosses expected to reach $5 billion by 2015, China’s B.O. total could equal the U.S. and Canada’s $10 billion annually by 2020. Other Hollywood titles in the top 10 included “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “Battleship,” “The Avengers” and “Men in Black 3.”

Though “The Hunger Games” missed the Chinese top 10, with nearly $25 million after four weeks locally, the film still shows the potential for non-studio pics that are usually released outside summer. Warner Bros.’ “Wrath of the Titans,” which tallied $25.4 million in China, was the first film to benefit from the country’s higher revenue-sharing ratio.

China’s allowance of 34 foreign pics, up from the previous quota of 20, will continue to grow the local box office, and since the added films must be 3D or large-format films, the growth likely will continue to be dominated by big-budget Hollywood fare.

Some 141 films unspooled in China in the first half, of which 103 were from greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A total of 38 foreign films took a combined gross of $790 million; more than 100 local pics took a combined $470 million.

The best-performing Chinese movie was “Painted Skin 2,” which took $47 million in four days.

Local media reported the box office figures and bemoaned the fact that “domestic movies have suffered a crushing defeat so far this year.”

Among Chinese tentpoles due later in the year are Feng Xiaogang’s “1942,” starring Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins; Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster”; and Jackie Chan’s “Chinese Zodiac.”

But there are also strong U.S. pics in the pipeline, including the latest “Batman” and “Spider-Man” installments.

Two big-budget Chinese-lingo productions, “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” and “The Viral Factor,” both underwhelmed in the first half. “Seediq Bale” did well in Taiwan, where it is set, but had been expected to do well in China also.

China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and TV will report official data this week.

(Andrew Stewart in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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