China boxoffice up 44% in 2009

Hollywood imports lead record $910 million haul

BEIJING -- China's total 2009 boxoffice was 6.2 billion yuan ($910 million), up 44% on the year as the nation's swelling middle class went to see a mix of local and imported fare led by No. 1 hit, Hollywood import "2012."

Official data from the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV showed that 2009 was the sixth consecutive year that Chinese boxoffice growth averaged at least 30%, Weng Li, spokesman for the state-run China Film Group, told The Hollywood Reporter by telephone.

"2010 will keep going up," Weng said.

China's boxoffice is still small compared with North America's. SARFT said gross revenues rose from 920 million yuan in 2003 to 4.3 billion yuan ($630 million) in 2008, when China had about 4,000 screens.

By comparison, in the U.S. in 2008, movies grossed $9.8 billion on roughly 40,000 screens.

China produced 456 films in 2009 and added 1.65 new screens each day, Weng said. By year's end the nation had 4,700 screens, including 750 3D screens and 1,800 digital screens. The screen total is expected to rise to 6,000 by the end of 2010, cinema developers say.

China is fast becoming the second largest market for Hollywood blockbusters, with "2012" grossing $67.5 million, and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," raking in $63 million at the No. 2 spot -- grossing more in China than in any other territory outside the United States.

China limits to 20 the number of imported films allowed each year to share in boxoffice revenues -- allowing foreign distributors to take home about 15% of the gross.

China Film is the sole licensed importer and the country's largest distributor. The company may face new competition in 2010 after a recent World Trade Organization ruling that Beijing has unfairly prevented foreign companies, including the Hollywood studios, from working with other would-be distribution partners in China.

China's Film's homegrown "Founding of a Republic" about the Chinese Communist Party's rise to power 60 years ago, clinched the No. 3 spot with $61 million.

Despite record snowfall and bitter cold, "Avatar" burned up China's boxoffice on Monday, earning about $5 million in its first day of release to set a record for a weekday opening.

The 22nd century sci-fi movie from 20th Century Fox could be on its way to confirming China as the 21st century's second-biggest territory for Hollywood blockbusters outside North America.
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