China's cinema market expected to hit record during holidays despite COVID-19 cases
COVID-19 flare-ups raise concerns, but strong content buttresses anticipation
Published: Jan 23, 2022 09:32 PM
The audiences watch a film at a cinema in Shanghai on November 12, 2021. 
Top: A man walks past a poster for movie The Battle at Lake Changjin in a cinema in Shanghai on October 10, 2021. Photos: VCG

The audiences watch a film at a cinema in Shanghai on November 12, 2021. Photo: VCG

China's cinema market stands a fair chance of setting a new record for the week-long Spring Festival holidays peak season that starts on January 31, despite recent COVID-19 flare-ups in many localities, industry insiders said, as they brace for one of most anticipated seasons of the year.

Presales of the highly anticipated The Battle at Lake Changjin II reached 35.73 million yuan ($5.64 million) as of Sunday morning, according to box office tracker Maoyan.

The movie is a sequel to The Battle at Lake Changjin, the highest-grossing film in Chinese history with a box office of 5.77 billion yuan, and it is projected to gross 6.5 billion yuan.

The film is set during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53) and it depicts the Chinese People's Volunteers soldiers' brave fight in a key campaign at Lake Changjin, or Chosin Reservoir, during freezing temperatures.

Along with retail and catering, short-distance travel and the number of parcels delivered during the period, box-office revenue is one of the barometers for Chinese consumer's spending power during the holidays.

China retained its top spot in global box office earnings in 2021 as the Chinese movie industry continued to take the lead in recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for the second year running.

China's box office revenue hit 47.26 billion yuan in 2021, the highest in the world, of which 84.49 percent was from domestic films, showed data released by the China Film Administration in January.

In addition to the super blockbuster, the 2022 Spring Festival season will also be blessed with seven other films, some of which are expected to grab a fair share of the box office. However, the outlook for the upcoming season is also weighed down by recent flare-ups of the Omicron and Delta variants in several localities across China. 

"The eight movies scheduled to be put on screens are all lively and they're in different genres. With movies in the same genres pitching against each other, it will be a noisy scene," Tammy Tian, a distributor, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

"If the epidemic situation is put under control during the festival with limited resurgences, it can easily be expected that the box office will hit the upper ranges of estimates," Tian said. 

Chen Changye, a movie industry observer, said that judging from the fact that many residents are likely to stay put during the upcoming Spring Festival as they did last year, combined with the current epidemic situation, it can be expected that ticket sales will be similar to last year's.

 "There could be a few hundred million more in ticket sales as The Battle at Lake Changjin II is a powerful movie," Chen said.

Multiple research institutes have issued forecasts for the holidays. For instance, industry data analytics firm gave a projected 8.04 billion yuan, while brokerage firm Guotai Junan Securities gave a forecast of 8.5 billion yuan.

However, industry insiders, including brokerage Tianfeng Securities Co, have noted that the recent flare-ups could pose a risk for the rosy projections. 

Xiang Kai, a film director based in East China's Zhejiang Province, told the Global Times on Sunday that a sharp rise in the national box office during the Spring Festival holidays amid nationwide pandemic control policies is unlikely. 

"Last year's remarkable box office during the Spring Festival holiday was a result of pent-up consumption after a full year of restrictions due to pandemic controls," Xiang said, noting that the rising number of confirmed cases at the beginning of 2022 may limit people's willingness to go to cinemas. 

A staffer at a cinema in Beijing's Chaoyang district told the Global Times on Sunday that it is likely that stricter epidemic control measures will be required during the upcoming holidays. 

The cinema observed the limit of 75 percent attendance for a very long time in 2021. Moviegoers also must sit separately, the person said.

As of the end of 2021, there were 82,200 movie screens in China and in the Spring Festival of 2021, the country recorded a total of 160 million moviegoers, which was 21 percent higher than the corresponding period in 2019 before the epidemic hit.

Xiang stated that the majority of the box office may come from first- and second-tier cities, especially in South China, which have had few or even no COVID-19 cases.