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'Aftershock' becomes China's top domestic film

Earthquake movie hauls in $79 million in three weeks

BEIJING -- A film about the survivors of a deadly 1976 earthquake has become China's highest-grossing domestic film ever released.

Bringing in 532 million yuan ($79 million), "Aftershock," directed by Feng Xiaogang and produced by Huayi Brothers Media, broke the previous record held by Han Sanping and the China Film Group for "Founding of a Republic," the Xinhua news agency said late Monday.

"Aftershock," which cost about 150 million yuan to make, broke the record after only three weeks in theaters across China, outstripping the 420 million yuan grossed by "Founding" last year, when it was released to mark the 60th anniversary of the modern Chinese state.

Feng's film has broken three other records for domestic movies in China: it has the largest release ever, on over 3,500 screens; it also had the biggest opening day and weekend ever, respectively.

Part of Feng's and Huayi's success is attributable to enormous growth in China's exhibition sector, where as many as three screens are added each day, swelling the size of the market and boosting the overall boxoffice from January to June by 86% over 2009.

The film centers on the July 1976, 7.8 earthquake in Tangshan, a city about 100 miles east of Beijing, that killed 240,000 people. "Aftershock" resonates with audience members in China in part because many still remember that quake, and were reminded of its devastating power when a 7.9 temblor struck the central province of Sichuan on May 12, 2008.

Neither "Aftershock" nor "Founding" have come close to the highest-grossing film of all time in China, which belongs, still, to James Cameron, for his film "Avatar," which grossed about $200 million earlier this year. Cameron's "Titanic" held the previous record in China for 13 years until a series of Hollywood 2008-2009 tentpole pictures unseated it one after another.

-- Steven Schwankert in Beijing contributed to this report.