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China’s total box office revenue grew 9% in 2018 to $8.87 billion (RMB60.98 billion). The rate of expansion was slower than the year before, when it hit 13.5%, state media and government reports said. But the country still met its government-set 2018 box office target of RMB60 billion yuan in ticket sales on Dec. 29.

Chinese-language films brought in $5.53 billion (RMB37.8 billion) in 2018, making up 62% of the total box office, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing data from the country’s State Film Administration. Three huge homegrown hits alone accounted for 17% of the total. In 2017, Chinese films accounted for 54% of the box office. China produced 1,082 films in 2018, up from 970 the year before, though not all received theatrical releases.

China is the world’s second-largest theatrical movie market, and is widely expected to surpass North America in coming years. However, the uneven growth of recent years has undone numerous past forecasts of when that might happen.

China now boasts the world’s most screens and continues to build new cinemas, albeit at a slower rate than in previous boom years. Chinese companies opened 9,303 new screens in 2018, bringing its total to 60,079 nationwide, Xinhua said. The number of new openings is marginally down from 2017, when 9,597 new screens were put up.

The top-performing films at the box office last year were local hits “Operation Red Sea,” “Detective Chinatown 2”, and “Dying to Survive,” which brought in $532 million (RMB3.65 billion), $496 million (RMB3.4 billion), and $452 million (RMB3.1 billion), respectively. Together, the three accounted for 17% of total annual box office intake.

The top-grossing foreign film was “Avengers: Infinity War” with $349 million (RMB2.39 billion), coming in fifth overall for the year after local romantic comedy “Hello Mr. Billionaire,” a loose remake of the 1985 comedy “Brewster’s Millions” that earned $372 million (RMB2.55 billion).

Analysts said that word-of-mouth became a decisive force at the box office this year. It catapulted dark horse films including “Dying to Survive,” “Project Gutenberg” and “A Cool Fish” to seemingly unlikely box office success.