The China box office bounced back this weekend to its pre-pandemic levels, figures from its National Day holiday weekend show — proving that the right mix of competitive new local titles can entice viewers in, what this year is very much on track to be, the world’s largest movie market.
The news comes as other major markets flounder, with Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld Group announcing the temporary suspension of its U.S. and U.K. operations due to an insufficient pipeline of Hollywood studio tentpoles, causing its shares to plummet more than 40% on Monday.
China’s week-long vacation period to celebrate the Oct. 1 founding of the People’s Republic is one of its busiest moviegoing periods of the year. That is particularly true this year, after COVID-19 shut down cinemas and wiped out the prospects of the strong Lunar New Year release window. Three of the top five titles this week were blockbusters pushed back from that January holiday.
Outstanding sales highlight the extent to which the China market’s recovery leaves others’ in the dust: the mainland’s weekend box office hit nearly $260 million nationwide, while North America’s was just 3% of that, or $8.3 million. The China tally is actually $363,000 higher at today’s exchange rate than sales from the first October weekend of last year.
Chinese firm Beijing Culture’s patriotic omnibus film “My People, My Homeland” led the pack with a $97.5 million three-day run, according to data from the Artisan Gateway consultancy.
Made specifically for the National Day holiday, “My People” was one of the first films to resume shooting in China in the wake of the pandemic. The anthology movie is modeled after last year’s National Day moneymaker, “My People, My Country,” which rose to become the eighth-highest grossing film of all time in China, with local earnings of $446 million (though just $4 million from all other global markets combined).
It combines five shorts from seven of the China’s top-selling directors. Ning Hao (“Crazy Alien,” “Breakup Buddies”), Xu Zheng (“Lost in Russia”) and Chen Sicheng (“Detective Chinatown 3”) each directed their own contribution, while pairs Yan Fei and Peng Damo (the duo behind “Hello Mr. Billionaire”), and Deng Chao (“Shadow”) and Yu Baimei (“The Breakup Guru”) teamed up for theirs.
Its success is a boon to Shenzhen-listed Beijing Culture, whose stock has fallen this year due to COVID-19-related pressures, but saw an uptick of more than 4% in its stock price on Sept. 30, the last day of trading before the National Day holiday. (The studio was the backer of hits “Wolf Warrior 2,” “The Wandering Earth” and “Dying to Survive.”)
State-backed, Shanghai-listed China Film Group, a fellow producer of “My People, My Homeland,” also saw its stock rise 1.66% on Sept. 30. The Maoyan industry data tracker currently projects that the film will go on to earn $449 million in China.
Its closest competitor at the moment is Enlight Pictures’ animated offering “Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification,” which also debuted Oct. 1 and made $82.9 million over the weekend, according to Artisan Gateway.
The film hails from Coloroom Pictures, the same animation-focused Enlight subsidiary that made last summer’s breakout hit “Nezha.” “Jiang Ziya” is a sequel of sorts, set in the same universe as that film with some overlapping characters.
While “Jiang Ziya” broke a Chinese record for the highest single-day sales for an animated feature on day one, its five-day cumulative gross couldn’t eke past that of “My People, My Homeland” — it has earned $136 million so far, just shy of the latter’s $138 million. Maoyan predicts it will gross $222 million — much less than either “My People” or 2019’s “Nezha,” which stands as the country’s second-highest grosser of all time, with $720 million in sales.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong helmer Peter Chan’s Gong Li-starring volleyball drama came in third in its second weekend with $19.1 million, bringing its earnings up to $67.1 million. The Jackie Chan-starring Stanley Tong actioner “Vanguard” grossed $7.7 million in its opening weekend following its Sept. 30 debut, bringing its total to $24.7 million.
Next up was Alibaba Pictures’ “Coffee or Tea?”, which cinched fifth place, despite only premiering on Oct. 4 thanks to a $4 million opening day. The slapstick comedy about three friends who start an e-commerce business is executive produced by Chan and directed by Derek Hui. It stars Liu Haoran (the “Detective Chinatown” franchise), Peng Yuchang (“Leap”) and Fang Yin (“Better Days,” “Pegasus”).