Political problems that turned violent in the last few months weighed on the theatrical box office in Hong Kong, especially in the second half of the year. But the territory’s full year outcome was a 2% dip, rather than a precipitous plunge.
Gross revenues for 2019 totaled HK$1.923 billion ($245 million), compared with HK$1.957 billion ($251 million) in 2018, according to data published Thursday by Hong Kong Box Office Ltd. That was achieved with the release of 326 films (of which 46 were considered as local) compared with 353 titles in 2018, of which 53 qualified as Hong Kong productions or co-productions.
Between January and June theatrical revenues had been trending upwards at over 6%, according to previous figured from HKBO. That points to a decrease of 10% in the second half, compared to the July to December takings of 2018.
The political protests, that began in June with a popular movement against a proposed law that would have eroded differences between the different legal systems in Hong Kong and mainland China, have morphed into wider discontent, and calls for representative democracy which Beijing authorities will not accept. In the absence of effective leadership by the Hong Kong government, protesters and police have battled fiercely on and off since mid-September. August, September, October and December all recorded year-on-year decreases.
In recent months, protests have increasingly taken place inside the shopping malls where most of Hong Kong’ cinemas are located. Cinema business has ebbed and flowed, as a result.
The normally busy three-day Christmas holiday period (Dec. 24 to 26) this year recorded a 28% dip, according to HKBO. That may have been as a result of Hong Kongers staying away from trouble hot spots, or a weaker selection of films. Top 2019 title, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” with $862,000 (HK$6.72 million) was certainly no match for Christmas 2018’s champion “Aquaman” which earned $2.29 million (HK$17.8 million) in the three festive days.
The full year box office chart rankings may do more to highlight the social and political gulf between Hong Kong – a Special Administrative Area of China – and the People’s Republic of China. While the mainland box office saw Chinese-language films (including a mix of mainland-originated and Hong Kong co-productions) increase their dominance in 2019, taking eight of the top ten chart places, Hollywood enjoyed a whitewash in Hong Kong.
The top film of 2019 in Hong Kong was “Avengers: Endgame” with an astonishing $28.3 million (HK$222 million) haul, ahead of “Toy Story 4” with $11.3 million (HK$11.5 million) and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” which scored $10.9 million (HK$88.3 million).
The top Hong Kong-made film of the year was crime thriller “Integrity” which has not secured a release in the mainland. Directed by “Infernal Affairs” co-director Alan Mak and written by “Infernal Affairs” scriptwriter Felix Chong, it earned $4.01 million (HK$31.3 million) following a Chinese New Year opening. That was not enough to break into the territory’s top ten.
Hong Kong titles made with an eye on the mainland market, including “White Storm 2: Drug Lords,” “Ip Man 4: Finale” and “P Storm,” ranked lower. And the once mighty Hong Kong-film production industry manged just 13.2% of its home market.