×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

China’s Lunar New Year Box Office Sets Record, Despite Rampant Piracy

Box office figures for China’s competitive Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) period reached a record high this year, despite rampant piracy that likely incurred losses of an estimated RMB1 billion ($147.9 million), Chinese reports said. But the record gross came on the strength of higher movie ticket prices, not from more viewers hitting the theaters.

“The Spring Festival period is the prelude to the rest of the year, and so this [performance] indicates that the Chinese film market in 2019 will be full of uncertainty,” commentators on the WeChat account Entertainment Capital said.

The total box office intake for the Feb. 4-10 lunar new year period reached RMB5.83 billion ($860 million), an increase of 1.4% year-on-year, according to data from online ticketing platform Maoyan. But the number of actual cinema visits was down 10.3% year-on-year to 130 million.

Rising ticket prices were a key factor contributing to the decrease in cinema-going. Tickets for lunar new year’s day in some lower-income third- and fourth-tier cities skyrocketed to as high as RMB100 ($14.80) apiece, making a trip to the movies much less affordable for families. Overall, average ticket prices during the holiday rose more than RMB4.8 year-on-year across the country, with the rise most notable in second-tier cities, where they jumped 13.7%, Maoyan said. The number of tickets purchased for the first day of the holiday was down 2.4% from last year, it noted.

Higher costs drove more viewers to watch illegally pirated films in the comfort of their own homes — a choice made all the more attractive by piracy of unprecedented quality and rapidity.

In past years, pirated versions available immediately after a film’s debut were still quite amateur, with poor sound and picture quality. But this year, just three days after opening, all four of the top new releases had been leaked in HD, with some versions boasting resolution as high as 1280p. They circulated online for as little as 1RMB ($0.15) apiece, with some bundled into gift packages of multiple titles for even less.

Pirated versions “of this quality are more likely coming from people within the industry rather than amateurs,” wrote analyst Wu Yuting on industry WeChat account Pufferfish Film Archive, citing insiders.

Chinese reports estimate that piracy of Spring Festival films likely burned about RMB1 billion ($147.9 million) of profits.

Over the weekend, Gong Ge’er, the producer of the smash sci-fi hit “The Wandering Earth,” said that pirated online versions of films released during the holiday period had been viewed more than 20 million times. “This is a very conservative estimate, since peer-to-peer downloads cannot be counted,” he added.

The unprecedented scale of the piracy has prompted Chinese authorities and film producers themselves to set up operations to scour the web and take down copies. “The Wandering Earth” director Frant Gwo put out a call on Weibo for internet users to send leads on pirates directly to Gong, while China’s National Copyright Administration set up its own tip hotline. “Let’s work together to combat online copyright infringement and piracy, protect excellent domestic movies and purify our online copyright environment!” it urged on its official Weibo account.

The administration had put the eight Spring Festival releases on a new “key works copyright protection warning list” before the holiday began. To seemingly little effect, it warned violators hosting and disseminating pirated versions that they would be dealt with “strictly in accordance with law.”

Despite piracy woes, “The Wandering Earth” has found massive box office success, raking in RMB2.64 billion ($390.9 million) as of Tuesday morning after just nine days in theaters. The tally pushed it past last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” which brought in RMB2.39 billion in the mainland, and knocked the U.S. blockbuster out of the top 10 highest-grossing films in China of all time, clinching seventh place.

Last week, Gwo wrote on Weibo of the camaraderie he felt with directors Ning Hao and Han Han, whose Spring Festival releases rivaled his, in the push to fight piracy and make this year’s box office tally historic. He posted photos of stacks of tickets he’d purchased for Han’s “Pegasus” and Ning’s “Crazy Alien,” and of chat histories with his peers in which they urged each other to “keep fighting.”

“This is us — encouraging each other, joining hands, working together, and moving forward!” his photo caption said.

More Film

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe's The Lighthouse' Wins Cannes Critics' Award

    Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, won the Cannes Film Festival critics’ award for best first or second feature in Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, one of the first prizes for which “The Lighthouse” has been eligible at Cannes. The award was announced Saturday in Cannes by the Intl. Federation of [...]

  • promenade Cannes Croisette Cannes Placeholder

    Cannes Market Claims Record Visitor Numbers

    The Cannes Market, the Cannes Film Festival’s commercial wing, says that its 2019 edition welcomed a record number of participants. It reported 12,527 attendees. The largest group by nationality was from the U.S. with 2,264 participants, followed by France with 1,943 participants, and the U.K. 1,145. Comparable figures for 2018 were not available. The number [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

  • The Poison Rose

    Film Review: 'The Poison Rose'

    It is 1978 in the City of Angels and the hard-drinking washed-up sleuth Carson Phillips is having another boozy day through its atmospheric streets. There is a hint of innate coolness and self-deprecation in his elongated voiceover intro — you might even briefly mistake Carson, played by a one-note John Travolta, for a Philip Marlowe [...]

  • 'On a Magical Night' Review: A

    Cannes Film Review: 'On a Magical Night'

    Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. That’s the idea at the (broken) heart of “Casablanca.” And the fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take play out right in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content