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Is China’s movie box office back to boom times? The first two months of 2018 would certainly seem to suggest yes.
Total ticket revenue for January and February soared 39 percent to 15.05 billion RMB ($2.37 billion), up from 10.82 billion RMB ($1.7 billion at current exchange rates) in the first two months of 2017.
Already the world’s second-biggest theatrical market, China once again is rapidly closing the gap with North America, still the world’s largest.
The roaring start to the year is further evidence that the Chinese film market has fully bounced back from a shock correction in 2016, when growth stalled at 3.7 percent after half a decade of 35 percent annual expansion.
Hollywood, however, has been somewhat absent from the scene in 2018. The three biggest U.S. films this year so far are Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle ($77.9 million), Maze Runner: The Death Cure ($49.7 million) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($42.6 million), all of which were dwarfed by an imported Bollywood blockbuster, Amir Kahn’s musical drama Secret Superstar ($117 million).
The real engine driving the big gains, of course, was Chinese New Year, which saw six new local releases collectively earn $901 million in a single week beginning Feb. 16.
Beijing film regulators have a policy of blocking international imports during the traditional festive season, giving local studios the chance to run their biggest titles head-to-head without outside competition.
At the close of February, Wanda Film’s action comedy blockbuster Detective Chinatown 2, a ribald local spin on the Sherlock archetype, was 2018’s frontrunner, having pulled in $454.5 million since Feb. 16. It was closely trailed by Bona Film Group’s military action flick Operation Red Sea, which has ridden red-hot word-of-mouth to become 2018’s biggest surprise, with a $395 million total so far. Edko Entertainment’s family fantasy sequel Monster Hunt 2 has slumped somewhat since it record-setting $85 million opening day, but its still earned a whopping $335 million.
Rounding out the holiday power set were The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women with $111.5 million and family animation Boonie Bears: The Big Shrink at $85 million.
All five of the blockbusters are expected to continue adding to their totals for at least another week. Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, from Sony, will attempt to shake things up when it opens in China on Friday. But major Hollywood muscle won’t hit the market until Marvel Disney’s Black Panther descends on March 9.
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