Over 100 films set for summer, but no 'explosive hit' to drive Chinese film market to new heights
Published: Jul 05, 2024 12:40 AM
The photo taken on June 30, 2024 shows film posters in a cinema in Fuyang, Anhui Province. Photo: VCG

The photo taken on June 30, 2024 shows film posters in a cinema in Fuyang, Anhui Province. Photo: VCG

As the summer movie season kicks off, the Chinese film industry is gearing up for what is traditionally a period of blockbuster releases and record-breaking box-office numbers. However, despite the influx of about 100 films on the summer slate, there is a noticeable absence of the type of "explosive hit" that typically drives the market to new heights.

According to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan, the total box-office revenue during the film period (June 1 to August 31) surpassed the 2.5 billion yuan ($300 million) mark on Thursday. Compared to 2023's summer film season, which saw a plethora of hits and a total box office exceeding 20 billion yuan, the current offerings seem somewhat lukewarm.

While there is a rich variety of films available, none have emerged as the new "king of the summer," capable of propelling the season to success. This absence of a "phenomenal" film that can ignite the summer box office is a significant concern.

The summer season is crucial for the annual box-office total, and many cinemas are hoping for a strong performance during this extended period. The Dragon Boat Festival film period (June 22-24), often seen as a prelude to the summer season, set the stage in 2023 with a total box office of over 900 million yuan. The suspense film Lost in the Stars not only earned 508 million yuan during the festival but also maintained its popularity into the summer, becoming the 4th highest-grossing film of 2023.

In contrast, this year's Dragon Boat Festival film season (June 8-10) saw no breakout hits and a low box office of 383 million yuan, significantly below market expectations and the lowest in a decade, even falling short of the 438 million yuan recorded in 2014.

This cold start seems to have affected the overall market temperature. For example, Black Dog, directed by Guan Hu and awarded Best Film in the "Un Certain Regard" competition at the 77th Cannes International Film Festival, has received critical acclaim both domestically and internationally, but after half a month of release, the film has only achieved a box office of over 30 million yuan.

Several veteran film critics told the Global Times that they are busy watching previews of films for the summer vacation period but have yet to see a "blockbuster" they think is capable of igniting the summer season. In their analysis, the quality of the films have been decent and cover a variety of genres, but the lack of a leading film to drive market traffic is probably the biggest factor behind the unfavorable start of the summer season.

Recalling the summer of 2023, when the box office first broke through the 20 billion yuan mark, setting a new record, audiences "moved into" cinemas starting from June, with a series of hits such as Lost in the Stars, Never Say Never, Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms, Chang An, and No More Bets. The abundance of high-quality films in 2023 was the result of the release of a backlog of films accumulated over the previous three years during the pandemic. This year, there is no such rich reserve of films.

The lack of topicality may be another reason for audience indifference. 2023's two "dark horses," Lost in the Stars and No More Bets, both tackled the hottest social topics of the time, whereas the current films being shown lack any angles that can spark discussion.

Additionally, from a broader perspective, the summer season coincides with events such as the European Cup and the Paris Olympics, undoubtedly facing the challenge of audience diversion.

However, the summer vacation season (June 1 to August 31) is long, about 92 days. Industry insiders are still optimistic about several upcoming films, such as the third installment of the White Snake series produced by Light Chaser Animation. White Snake: Afloat is based on the main story of the White Snake legend, and may continue the heat of 2023's hit animated film Chang An. Successor also has great potential, with the golden comedy duo of Shen Teng and Ma Li finally cooperating again.

In addition to domestic films, two Hollywood films, Despicable Me 4 and Deadpool and Wolverine, are also set to debut in the Chinese mainland this summer.

However, it is an undeniable fact that Hollywood films have been getting a cold reception in China. For example, A Quiet Place: Day One, released in the Chinese mainland on Friday, has not performed well. With a Douban score of only 5.8/10, and as of midday on July 4, it had not yet reached 100 million yuan. Maoyan predicts a final result of 150 million yuan, much lower than the first film in 2018 (220 million yuan) and the second film in 2021 (240 million yuan).

In the end, the summer movie market still depends on domestic films, while imported films can be used to enrich the market and meet the viewing demands of audiences.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.