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After three long years of pandemic drift and deterioration, China’s movie box office was back in booming form over the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday. Total ticket sales over the six-day festive period, China’s most lucrative moviegoing window of the year, climbed to $993.8 million this year, up 14 percent from the equivalent stretch in 2019, the last holiday prior to the pandemic. This year’s bonanza also easily topped the 2022 Lunar New Year, which brought in $888.2 million.
The strong comeback at the Chinese multiplex was one of several encouraging indicators of economic recovery during the holiday, as Chinese consumers returned en masse to restaurants, tourist sites and entertainment venues, breathing a collective sigh of relief after the abrupt exit from Beijing’s restrictive “COVID zero” policy late last year. The box office rebound is being read as welcome news by international investors as well as film executives, with many economists banking on cash-flush Chinese consumers to give the wobbly global economy a boost in 2023.
The holiday’s undisputed box office champion was legendary local director Zhang Yimou, whose genre-bending period comedy thriller Full River Red topped the charts with $465 million and counting. Produced by Huanxi Media, the film is projected to finish its run north of $650 million, which will be the most of Zhang’s storied 35-year career. Set at the start of the Southern Song dynasty, the twisty mystery stars Shen Teng and Jackson Yee.
Frank Guo’s sci-fi sequel The Wandering Earth 2, which rocketed to first place at the start of the holiday, has been well received by fans, but it slipped into second place after the first few days of the race. The film has earned $377.5 million and is forecast to finish at $555 million, a step down from the first Wandering Earth movie’s $693 million total.
Fantawild Animation’s family film Boonie Bears: Guardian Code is the surprise third-place performer with $135.9 million, followed by Bona Film Group’s Hidden Blade at $86.2 million, Enlight Pictures’ animated feature Deep Sea with $66.3 million and fantasy comedy Five Hundred Miles at $46.5 million.
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, which earned an unprecedented release extension into the holiday period on the eve of the Lunar New Year, saw its screen share slip to almost nil amid the wave of Chinese tentpole releases. Still, it managed to make $7.3 million in sales during the holiday, lifting its China cume to $240.6 million.
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