'Avatar' now No. 1 all-time in China

Cameron back on top after 'Titanic' set 11-year record

BEIJING -- "Avatar" has set a new Chinese boxoffice record, earning 500 million yuan ($73.2 million) in just two weeks, a Twentieth Century Fox distribution official told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.

News of the new record in the world's fastest-growing movie market came hours after director James Cameron's science fiction extravaganza took the best drama and best director awards at the Golden Globes in Los Angeles.

In 2D, 3D, digital and IMAX prints, "Avatar" has drawn massive Chinese audiences nationwide. Many in the north braved bitter cold to stand in line to pay upwards of 80 yuan ($11.70) each and, in some reported cases, 300 yuan for scalped tickets ($44.93).

The world's most populous nation is fast becoming the second-largest market for Hollywood blockbusters, with the previous boxoffice record holder, Sony's "2012," grossing $67.5 million after four weeks in Chinese theaters in December.

Before that, Paramount's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," raked in $63 million in China in July.

Setting new records is becoming a regular occurrence as China's movie theaters mushroom and the nation's growing middle class develops a moviegoing habit.

China's boxoffice gross jumped 44% in 2009 to 6.2 billion yuan ($910 million) -- and that was after rising an average of 30% a year for the previous five years.

Perhaps it's fitting that the newest record comes from Cameron, who Chinese film fans know well for "Titanic," which grossed 360 million yuan ($52.7 million) here in 1998, a record that stood for 11 years.

Cameron visited Beijing in December as part of the film's press tour, calling on the Chinese government to import more foreign films than its annual quota of 20 that may be brought in on a revenue-sharing basis.

"Avatar" got off to a hot start in China despite the deepest snowfall in Beijing since 1951, grossing about $5 million on Monday, Jan. 4, a record for a weekday opening.

Two Mondays later, there was no sign of ticket sales tapering off.

"Avatar is still going strong," said one of several Beijing theater managers pleased with its success.

Exhibitors discounted Internet rumors that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television would pull all "Avatar" prints from theaters on Jan. 23 to open more screens for the China Film Group's feature "Confucius," about the 6th Century BC Chinese philosopher.

"Avatar" 2D prints will be the first to be moved out of theaters, exhibitors said.

A Fox official reached by e-mail, said simply: "Fox would like the film to play as long as possible."

The Fox official said there are now 800 "Avatar" 3D prints in China.

According to Fox, when "Avatar" started its China run, 54% of the "Avatar" prints were 3D and 46% are 2D. No official print count update was available.

China's boxoffice is still small compared with North America's. SARFT data shows 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.