China built more than 2,000 new screens in the first two months of the year despite the uncertainty facing the exhibition sector due to COVID-19, according to the country’s National Film Administration.
China surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s largest film market last year. It looks set to maintain that status in 2021, as the North American box office continues to slowly reopen after pandemic-induced theater closures and film delays. China’s total box office hit $2.4 billion (RMB15.6 billion) as of the end of February, far beyond North America’s $145 million total so far this year. Sales were helped along by the six-day Chinese New Year public holiday, which hit a new historic high of $1.2 million.
The country’s box office supremacy will be helped along by the addition of 2,188 new screens built in January and February, bringing its nationwide tally up to 77,769.
The continued growth of China’s exhibition sector comes amid the news Friday that China’s Wanda has given up its majority stake in AMC Theaters.
The National Film Administration set the goal of reaching 80,000 screens by the year 2020 back in 2018. Although China wasn’t quite able to hit the mark in time, local reports assess that it seems like it will now be possible by this summer or even the May 1 Labor Day holiday, which is gearing up to be unusually competitive with eight new releases.
In 2019, China added 9,708 new screens to bring its national total to 69,787. Last year, it added 5,794 more, despite the pandemic, bringing its tally up to 75,581 screens at some 12,700 complexes nationwide as of Dec. 31.
Although China gained nearly 6,000 screens in 2020, it built only 300 new complexes, indicating an influx of larger multiplexes even as smaller venues went out of business during the pandemic. In comparison, China built 1,453 new theaters in 2019.
The U.S. had 40,998 screens in 2020, 174 fewer than the year prior. Only a fraction of them are currently open for business, however. Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” for instance, opened last week across just 2,045 screens.