China's hottest movie season soars with bold genres, high-quality productions
Beyond expectations
Published: Aug 09, 2023 10:02 PM
Promotional material for <em>Creation of the Gods I: <em>Kingdom of Storms</em></em>  Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Promotional material for Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms Photo: Courtesy of Douban

The summer in China is hot, but China's theaters are even hotter than the summer heat as the world's largest film market has earned a record 15 billion yuan ($2 billion) as of Monday evening. The box office keeps surging as many ticket offices have witnessed records constantly being broken. 

According to China's ticket data platform Maoyan, the daily box office during the current summer season exceeded 100 million yuan for 50 consecutive days as of Wednesday afternoon, setting a record for single-day box office sales in Chinese film history.

Chinese box office tracker Dengta Data also shows that in the past weekend, a total of 24 million tickets were sold, setting the highest weekend tickets sales record ever since 2020.

Such a rebound in the market is clearly beyond many experts' expectations, as the Global Times recently reached several analysts and insiders who shared their views on the box office performance over the last two months, as many held a positive outlook for the industry's future.

"We can say that this year's summer season can be viewed as a changing point of the development of the Chinese film market. Bold innovation and rigorous creation, two qualities that are essential for good movie productions, are coming back to our market," Tan Fei, a renowned Beijing-based film critic told the Global Times.

His evaluation of the performance of this year's film market is well supported, as quite a few movies released this summer, including Chang'an, Lost in the Stars, and One and Only, have not only seen high box office ticket sales, but have also been praised for their good production value and topicality. 

"As of the end of July, there were already 8 movies with 9 out of 10 ratings on Maoyan, outperforming  the entire summer season in 2019," an analyst from Maoyan told Global Times. "What is certain is that such movie industry records seen so far have inspired overall confidence."

Promotional material for <em>Chang'an</em> Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Promotional material for Chang'an Photo: Courtesy of Douban

A diverse market

It's hard to pick the best performer but the 2023 summer movie season can especially be highlighted by the animated film Chang'an, released on July 7 based on well-known Tang Dynasty (618-907) poets including Li Bai and Gao Shi.

Since this year's hit historical movie Full River Red, Chinese filmmakers have made successful attempts at incorporating the recitation of ancient Chinese poems into movie plots to drive the story's narratives to a pleasant cinematic climax.  

Such efforts seeking inspirations from China's fine traditional culture have received positive feedback from audiences.  

In the movie Chang'an, a total of 48 poems are used. The production company, Light Chaser Animation Studios, made improvements in terms of plot narration and the imagery. Many business insiders termed such changes as "being more mature in conveying national patriotism," as a Dengta Data analyst told the Global Times on Wednesday. "Statistics show that audiences who aren't traditional moviegoers have taken to the experience, undoubtedly contributing to a significant market recovery," the analyst said. 

Two more notable films including Lost in the Stars released on June 22 and adapted from a real-life  crime case in China and Greta Gerwig's summer splash Barbie on July 21, also sparked debate on social media as moviegoers expressed how both offerings surpassed their expectations. The latter, described by many business insiders as "a naked release" for its incredibly low-key promotion in the Chinese mainland, unexpectedly scored highly among moviegoers, scoring a rating of 9/10 on Maoyan. The hashtag "Movie Barbie" accumulated more than 300 million views on Sina Weibo in less than 20 days since its release, sparking quite a range of discussions about feminism on social media.

Such a success has been made despite Hollywood's declining investment in publicity and distribution in the Chinese mainland. ­Maoyan's data shows that Barbie's first day screening rate was only 2.4 percent, compared to the 17.8 percent of Chinese fantasy film Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms, which released at the same time.

"But as most of the imported Hollywood films now still tend to be 'conservative,' they won't cause an overturn effect on Chinese film market that might overshadow domestic movies' performances," commented Tan.

A raised standard

In August, business insiders believe that a diversified trend in genres in the movie market will continue.

Released on Tuesday, the first Chinese film to expose the inner workings of overseas online fraud, No More Bets, has since taken the lead in terms of screen share and box office takings. After the film earned a record 420 million yuan for the pre-screening sales between Saturday and Monday, the film moved up its release date from Friday to Tuesday. 

As the heat of Chang'an fades, another movie based on traditional Chinese classics Kingdom of Storms will take the lead. In addition, Chinese audiences have high expectations for the release of Christopher Nolan's blockbuster film Oppenheimer, as the movie has topped the "must watch" list on Maoyan.

From the perspective of the moviegoers, "audiences in China are becoming calmer and more conscious consumers." 

And for the movie producers' perspective, standards are constantly being elevated to meet the increasing needs of the audiences.

"One can see from this summer season's film market, that old patterns have changed, veering away from the mundane and boring to a more diverse customer-driven market," said Tan.