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China Box Office Leaps by $1 Billion Despite Mixed Summer

China’s theatrical box office is running $1 billion ahead of last year, showing a gain of nearly 17% in the first months. That is despite an uneven summer period.

According to data from local consultancy and researcher Ent Group, Chinese cinema-goers spent $6.79 billion (including ticketing fees) in the first eight months of 2018. The figure compares with a like-for-like $5.79 billion in the same period of 2017.

The continuation of double-digit growth in 2018 puts the year-long stall, between July 2016 and June 2017, further in the past. That is good news for Chinese cinema operators who continue to add capacity. Ent Group data shows 57,300 screens in operation at the end of August, a 6% increase on the end-2017 figure of 53,900.

The summer period saw an 8% gain on last year with July and August together worth $2.03 billion, compared with $1.87 billion in 2017. (Measuring summer as June to August, the data shows a similarly modest 5% gain.)

The summer season was characterized by a succession of hits and an equally important number of flops. “Dying to Survive” with a $453 million gross, “Hello Mr Billionaire,” with $367 million and “The Island” on $188 million were among the season’s successes. The outright failures included “Asura” and “Europe Raiders,” while neither “Detective Dee: Four Heavenly Kings” not “Hidden Man” lived up to their billings. Throwback kung fu film, “Oolong Courtyard” also crumpled quickly.

The summer “blackout period,” the 4-6 week corridor in which Hollywood films are not allowed to open, was far less marked than normal. But getting a mid-summer release did not translate always into success. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” released on Aug. 3, and “Hotel Transylvania 3,” on Aug. 17, performed weakly.

Greater riches went to those films that mixed Chinese and U.S. content or investment. “The Meg,” structured as a co-production released on Aug. 10 and is a hit with $152 million to date. Legendary Entertainment’s “Skyscraper,” which is largely set in Hong Kong, but counted as an import, opened on July 20 and earned $98 million. Alibaba-backed “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” rounded off the summer with a smashing $77 million opening weekend.

The year to date figures also show Chinese films are increasingly measuring up to those from Hollywood. This is the first time that two Chinese films (“Operation Red Sea” and “Detective Chinatown 2”) have exceeded $500 million in the same year. Those two are also the ninth and tenth best-performing films worldwide so far this year.

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