Chinese mainland box office trips on the way to becoming world's largest

By Global Times - Source:Global Times-Agencies Published: 2016/7/31 19:03:39

Promotional material for Bigfish & Begonia Photo:IC

For years analysts around the world have been predicting that the Chinese box office will soon become the largest in the world. However, the July box office's 17 percent year-on-year drop has some turning a more critical eye on Chinese works.

As of 1:50 pm on July 31, the total mainland box office for the month had reached 4.39 billion yuan ($661.4 million). Although this is by no means a small figure, compared with the  5.29 billion yuan earned last July - during which time only domestic films premiered in theaters - the decrease is quite sharp. According to a report from, this was the biggest year-on-year decrease in the past five years.

Promotional material for Cold War II Photo: IC

Not so hot summer

Although he's on summer vacation, college student Wu Huan hasn't been to the theater at all this month.

"It's not that the films are boring, but there's nothing that makes you really want to go buy a ticket right now," Wu told the Global Times.

Wu is not the only one who feels this way. Zhang Wei, a film fan who works in a second-tier city in Jiangsu Province, said that while she watched three films last July - Monster Hunt, Jian Bing Man and Monkey King: Hero is Back - this July she only saw Chinese animated film Bigfish & Begonia, which left her feeling disappointed.

"I feel that these films can wait until they show up for free on streaming sites," Zhang said.

So far, the top five highest-earning films that premiered this month are: Skiptrace (696.54 million yuan), Cold War II (667.90 million yuan), Bigfish & Begonia (556.93 million yuan), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (393.09 million yuan) and Never Gone (335.76 million yuan). While none of these films earned more than 700 million yuan, July of 2015 saw three films pass this mark: Monster Hunt (1.65 billion yuan), Jian Bing Man (976 million yuan) and Monkey King: Hero is Back (740 million yuan).

It should also be noted that traditionally July has been a "month of protection" during which time only domestic films premiere in theaters, whereas this year exceptions were made for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a few others. Yet even with some foreign power in theaters, this July was not able to stand up to last year's.

"The films this summer seem to be in various genres, but they are more a hodgepodge than anything else. Last year's extraordinary performance happened because many new types of films stood out," said Gao Jun, a veteran film critic.

In the opinion of Jiang Yong, an expert in film market research, the biggest factor behind the loss was the lack of a good comedy film.

"Fantasy and comedy films are the ones most likely to become 'best-sellers,'" Jiang said.

While a few fantasy works did come out in July, the comedies that premiered, such as When Larry Met Mary and For a Few Bullets, left audiences disappointed. 

Promotional material for When Larry Met Mary Photo: IC

Subsidized boost

Insiders point out the lack of ticket promotions may be another factor behind the drop.

These promotions, often sponsored by a film's studio or online ticket sellers, allow film-goers to buy tickets for 9.9 to 19.9 yuan, while the price in theaters was 30 yuan. However as Chinese audiences enthusiasm for films has increased in recent years, the number of promotions trying to get them in theaters has fallen off.

According to Gao, one of the side effects of these promotions has been that audiences are now too used to low prices and so many won't accept anything else. 

Jiang agreed with Gao.

"The biggest problem occurred last year. Because of these ticket promotions, there were some 'fake best-seller ing' films. But this year shows the reality. This is the real market. Audiences are just not that crazy about Chinese films," Jiang said.

Earlier this year, many analysts predicted that the mainland box office would reach 60-70 billion yuan this year. Yet seven months in, the total box office has only reached a little over 25 billion yuan.

This year-on-year decrease in box office actually began back in April. Yet some insiders actually feel that the drop is a healthy sign. They point out that 4-5 billion of last year's 44 billion yuan box office was actually due to ticket promotions.

Without promotions to artificially inflate box office numbers, this year's drop is actually reasonable and reflects the reality of a healthy market.  

Newspaper headline: A return to reality

Posted in: Film

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