Chinese movie market overcomes toughest year with help from patriotic films
Lighting the flame of hope
Published: Dec 26, 2022 09:43 PM
Moviegoers wait to see The Battle At Lake Changjin II at a cinema in Shanghai. 
File photo: IC

Moviegoers wait to see The Battle At Lake Changjin II at a cinema in Shanghai. File photo: IC

Editor's Note:

As we are about to bid farewell to the year 2022, a year where we lived through happiness and accomplishments although life was accompanied by a pandemic, the Global Times staff of life and culture will share our observations on the cultural life of the whole year to offer a platform to remember what the country has accomplished in the cultural sector and the cultural life that we, the ordinary people, have enjoyed, and to help everyone get ready to embrace the New Year with hope and strength.

"We [China's film industry] have been designated as 'a particularly poor industry' by the State Council. Amid this situation, all I see is the persistence of our filmmakers," Bona Film Group CEO Yu Dong said in a recent interview in a voice choked with sobs. His opinion represented that of many Chinese filmmakers who overcame difficulties while waiting for the day that audiences would come back to the cinemas to watch films while crunching down on popcorn.

Tough and persistent

The year 2022 has been a tough year for the Chinese mainland film market, which has been deeply battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan shows that as of Sunday, the 2022 annual box office in the mainland was 29.4 billion yuan ($4.21 billion), much lower than the 47 billion yuan in 2021.

Theaters across China have been repeatedly closed due to the pandemic's ever-changing situation, leading to a greatly reduced operating rate. The worst operating rate reached as low as 35.6 percent - only 4,422 theaters open nationwide - in late November, according to Maoyan.

A survey of 2022 Chinese films carried out by the Wanda Film Group Big Data Center shows that a total of 263 movies were released as of October 20, a decrease of 38 percent from the same period in 2021. 

In the first three quarters of 2022, 38 films withdrew or changed their release dates due to COVID-19 flare-ups, leaving cinemas with no blockbusters to get audiences into seats.  

Cinemas have tried every means to survive, such as holding film exhibitions, screening the World Cup live and changing their theaters into a place for holding talk shows or even taking an afternoon nap. 

Fortunately, with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in China, the film industry has started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. On Saturday, the total number of operating theaters across the country reached 9,783, an operating rate of 78 percent, according to Maoyan.


The 2022 box office may not be very satisfactory, but some new breakthroughs were still made, especially by patriotic films.

The film survey shows that over the past five years, war-themed movies have seen a steady rise in ratings, from an average score on Maoyan of 9.0 in 2019 to 9.5 in 2022. Films such as Operation Red Sea, The Eight Hundred and The Battle at Lake Changjin, driven by solid word-of-mouth, all did great at the box office. 

The Battle At Lake Changjin II won both great reviews (9.6/10 score on Maoyan) and an ideal box office ($4.1 billion). The war epic continues the magnificent storytelling of the first film, demonstrating the extraordinary shocking power of Chinese war blockbusters in terms of audio, visuals and emotional resonance. Meanwhile, Snipers directed by Chinese veteran director Zhang Yimou and his daughter Zhang Mo shows the courage and wisdom of heroes during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53).

"The more bleak and desolate the film market was, the more it tested which films satisfied audiences' appetite," film critic Shi Wenxue told the Global Times. 

He pointed out that the comedies like Too Cool To Kill and Moon Man also performed surprisingly well amid the gloom of the film market in 2022. One black horse during the Chinese New Year holiday period was Nice View starring Jackson Yee, which grossed 1.38 billion yuan. It tells the inspirational story of young people realizing the Chinese dream by setting up a business.

Good reviews are still the core factor driving movie consumption among Chinese moviegoers, who no longer just focus on franchise power or star lineups, noted the survey. This has been proven by the 2022 Chinese New Year, which brought in 6.039 billion yuan at the box office and had an impressive amount of high rated films.

The 2022 National Day box-office champion, Home Coming, was a successful attempt to integrate patriotic themes and commercial film. The film follows the evacuation of Chinese citizens after war breaks out in the fictitious country of Numia in North Africa. 

Science fiction films have also continued to rise in the market. Films like Moon Man, Warriors of Future and Mozart from Space showed how visual effects have improved in domestic films. 

This looks like it will continue into 2023 as the highly-anticipated The Wandering Earth 2 starring Wu Jing is set to hit the big screen during the Chinese New Year season at the end of January 2023.

"There will be an explosive release in 2023 as a lot of films have delayed their release dates from 2022. It is a good thing for moviegoers and will have a positive effect on box-office growth," Chinese film critic Jiang Yong told the Global Times.