Weak March Means China Box Office Recovery Is Not Yet in Sight

China’s theatrical box office showed no sign of recovery in the first quarter of the year, with a weak March following an up-and-down first two months of 2017.

Box office revenue for March was RMB3.37 billion ($488 million), according to data from Ent Group. That was 9% lower than March 2016’s reported total of $539 million (RMB3.72 billion). Admissions were 101 million, down from 109 million in the equivalent month last year.

Data had shown January gaining on last year and February declining. But that was due in large part to the shift of the important Chinese New Year holiday period from February last year to January this time.

Since the beginning of this year, the fees earned by online ticketing agencies have been identified separately. Removing those from the calculation makes March look even weaker with an adjusted gross figure of RMB3.11 billion ($451 million).

On an unadjusted basis, the first three months of 2017 weigh in at RMB14.5 billion ($2.1 billion), exactly the same figure as the first quarter of 2016. But taking out the online ticketing fees from the 2017 figure would show a year-on-year drop of 6%. In terms of ticket sales, the first quarter of 2017 saw 411 million admissions, down 2% from the 418 million in 2016.

After more than a decade of almost uninterrupted growth, theatrical box office in China ground to a sudden halt in mid-2016. That was widely attributed to a reduction in the subsidies provided to consumers by the competing online ticketing agencies, something which drove up the net price to cinema-goers, and to a crackdown on misreporting of figures by theater and distributors.

Blame was also pointed at a weak crop of films, both Hollywood and local, in 2016. In order to keep the turnstiles spinning, Chinese regulators allowed in far more Hollywood films than in previous years.

The weakness this year appears more clearly to lie with domestic titles. Only the five major Chinese movies released at Chinese New Year (“Kung Fu Yoga,” “Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back,” “Duckweed,” “Buddies in India,” and “Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds,” all released Jan. 28) have had any impact.

A number of Hollywood films have surprised with bigger-than-anticipated results. These include: “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” with $164 million; “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” with $160 million; and “A Dog’s Purpose,” now on $85 million.

At CinemaCon, China’s industry bosses tried to sound optimistic that a turnaround will still happen. Wanda Cinemas president John Zeng said that growth would normalize at 15-20% per year.

Popular on Variety

More Film


    Tim Roth, Clive Owen-Starrer 'The Song Of Names' To Close San Sebastian

    Starring Clive Owen and Tim Roth, Canadian François Girard’s historical drama “The Song of Names” will close the 67th San Sebastian Festival on Sept. 28. World premiering at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival as a Gala Presentation, “The Song of Names” will play out of competition at what will be its international premiere. Hanway Films [...]

  • Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Doc

    Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Documentary ‘The Kingmaker’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Dogwoof has boarded Lauren Greenfield’s “The Kingmaker,” about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines. The hotly anticipated feature doc delves into the disturbing legacy of the Marcos regime and Imelda’s attempts to aid her son’s political career. It will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then screen at [...]

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    Cheng Cheng Films Nabs North American Rights to China's 'Send Me to the Clouds'

    New York-based distributor Cheng Cheng Films has acquired North American rights to first-time Chinese director Teng Congcong’s comedy drama “Send Me to the Clouds,” starring and produced by A-list actress Yao Chen. The company is planning a theatrical release for fall 2019. “Cheng Cheng has always championed films with strong female leads,” the firm said [...]

  • A White White Day

    Film Movement Brings ‘A White, White Day’ to the U.S. (EXCLUSIVE)

    OSLO  —  New-York based distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights to critically-lauded Icelandic drama “A White, White Day,” today’s opening film at New Nordic Films in Haugesund. In a separate deal, sales agent New Europe Film Sales has closed French-speaking Canada with Funfilm and English-speaking Canada with Game Theory. Hlynur Pálmason’s sophomore pic, “A [...]

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

  • Spider-Man Far From Home

    'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Gets Re-Release With New Scene

    Sony Pictures is re-releasing “Spider-Man: Far From Home” with a new action scene. Starting Aug. 29, a new extended cut, featuring four minutes of a never-before-seen action sequence, will be released in theaters in the United States and Canada. The film will also be available in IMAX and large formats in select locations. “Spider-Man: Far [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content