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Dynamics Change as South Korean Box Office Ends Flat in 2018

Box office revenue and ticket sales in South Korean cinemas took diverging paths in 2018, while the distribution landscape was shaken up, with a new No. 1 player for the first time in more than a decade.

Revenues increased by 3% from $1.56 billion (KRW 1.76 billion) in 2017 to $1.61 billion (KRW 1.81 billion) in 2018, according to data from the Korean Film Council’s KOBIS service. But admissions dropped from 220 million to 216 million, which still gives South Korea (population 51 million) one of the highest per-capita attendance rates in the world.

Hollywood prospered in the East Asian nation last year, with seven films earning a place in the top 10, up from just three in 2017. The market share for locally produced films edged down fractionally from 52% in 2017 to 51% in 2018.

Several large-budget Korean films were produced and released, especially for the Chuseok holidays, but many of them are believed to have lost money. Mid-budget films, such as “On Your Wedding Day,” “Intimate Strangers” and “Default,” performed relatively better. That trend is expected to be reflected in companies’ production and distribution strategies in 2019.

The number of new titles released jumped substantially, from 495 to 660, but only two films, “Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds” (released in December 2017) and “Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days,” achieved 10 million admissions, the traditional mark of a mega-hit in Korea. “The Last 49 Days” earned $91 million from 12.3 million tickets, beating “Avengers: Infinity War,” which scored $88.6 million from 11.2 million admissions.

With the success of its “Along With the Gods” series and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” the Paramount title it distributed in Korea, Lotte Cultureworks became the top distributor of the year, beating traditional No. 1 CJ Entertainment for the first time in 15 years. Lotte distributed 14 local and foreign films in the first 11 months of 2018 and held a share of 18%.

Disney Korea, in second place, took 15.2%, with 10 releases. CJ dropped to third place with 12.5% from 15 titles, and Next Entertainment World had 9.8% with 19 titles. Showbox, which was the No. 2 distributor in 2017, tumbled to the ninth spot with 5.2% from just six titles.

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