China b.o. hauls in $615 mil in five months

Jan - May take almost double same period in 2009

BEIJING -- Chinese cinemas grossed 4.2 billion yuan ($615 million) at the boxoffice in the first five months of 2010, led by Hollywood import "Avatar" to far outstrip ticket sales made in the first six months of last year, official media said Thursday.

Boxoffice receipts from Jan.-June 2009 were just 2.3 billion yuan, official data from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television shows.

From Jan.-May 2010, "Avatar," contributed 1.3 billion yuan, or 31%, of China's gross boxoffice, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"Avatar" was distributed by the  state-run China Film Group Corp, which shared about 17.5% of its gross, or $33 million, with 20th Century Fox.

China limits to 20 per year the number of imported films allowed to share in their boxoffice revenues. All film imports are controlled by CFGC. In Nov., the World Trade Organization ruled against such barriers to open distribution in China, but change is slow to take place.

Chinese martial arts film "Ip Man 2" was No. 2 at the Jan.-May boxoffice with 225 million yuan.

In May, La Peikang, a deputy director of SARFT, forecast China's year-end boxoffice gross could exceed 10 billion yuan, jumping 61% from the 6.2 billion yuan grossed in all of 2009.

China's boxoffice has soared from less than 1 billion yuan in 2003 the country's number of movie theaters quintupled to more than 4,000 by the end of 2009 to meet demand for entertainment among China's burgeoning middle class.

In the second half of 2010, a raft of big Chinese-language films will premiere, including, in July, director Feng Xiaogang's "Aftershock" from Huayi Brothers Media, will compete with Hollywood imports such as "Toy Story 3," out June 16 -- two days before it's U.S. premiere -- and the latest "Harry Potter" film.