China’s Box Office Total Breaks All-Time Record

The Chinese box office has broken its all-time yearly record, with local films accounting for eight of the top 10 movies so far in 2019 and a few more anticipated releases yet to come. The previous record total, set last year, of RMB60.7 billion – $8.67 billion at current conversion rates – was overtaken last Friday, according to data from online ticketing agency Maoyan.

With nearly two weeks to go until the end of the year, and a clutch of big titles to be released during the busy Christmas season, 2019’s takings could show several percentage points of growth from last year. Maoyan chose not to issue a forecast, noting that some 2019 releases remain fluid even at this late stage.

The record-breaking haul seemed an unlikely outcome throughout the first half of the year, when the local industry was dogged by uncertainty caused by the Fan Bingbing tax scandal. That triggered a sharp slowdown in production from mid-2018, as well as financial difficulties for studios large and small.

The crucial Chinese New Year period in early 2019 did deliver a record total and a breakthrough for Chinese sci-fi, with “The Wandering Earth” taking RMB4.66 billion ($665 million). But the total did not match the rate of cinema construction, and the season included several disappointments.

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Summer was rescued by the unexpected performance of Chinese animated film “Nezha,” which achieved RMB4.97 billion ($710 million), making it China’s second-highest-grossing film ever. And the early autumn, which included a clutch of patriotic movies with releases intended to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, turned into blockbuster season. Winners were “My People, My Country” and “The Captain” (previously known as “The Chinese Pilot”). It also threw up the unlikely breakthrough of oft-delayed “Better Days,” a local film that got yanked at the last minute from the Berlin Film Festival because of Chinese censors.

Among foreign titles, the only two to figure in the year’s current top 10 are “Avengers: Endgame” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”

Maoyan noted that this year has seen a marked polarization of the Chinese box office. “Nezha” and “Wandering Earth” together account for nearly one sixth of the entire annual total. “China needs more high-quality movies to drive the steady growth of the box office,” it said in an announcement. It highlighted “Song of Youth,” “The Legend of Hei” and “White Snake” as examples of low- and mid-budget successes.

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