China Box Office: Foreign Movies Have Upper Hand

Jurassic World Still 9 - H 2015
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jurassic World

The situation may change in the second half, but there are a lot of big Hollywood movies still to come in 2015.

Foreign movies dominated the first six months of the year in the world's second-biggest film market, taking 53.5 percent of the box office largely on the back of tentpoles filling the swelling ranks of Chinese cinemas.

Box office had passed $3.22 billion (20 billion yuan) by June 29, a 50 percent increase over 2014 through the same date. Of this total, domestic films took $1.5 billion, or 46.5 percent, $230 million less than imported movies.

Driving the strong growth has been Hollywood tentpoles such as Universal's Furious 7 — the biggest movie of all time in China, with $387 million box office — Jurassic World and Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The number of foreign movies allowed in China on a revenue-share basis is restricted to 34 films, with others coming in on a flat-fee basis.

Increasingly, Chinese companies are investing in overseas movies, which is helping the market open up. China Film Group owned a piece of Furious 7, which had a long run here probably as a result, and Alibaba Pictures is investing in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which opens at the end of the month.

Also, the growing number of screens is driving higher demand for content.

Last year, Chinese box office was $4.84 billion, up 36 percent, and by the end of 2014 China had 23,600 screens. It is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest cinema market at some point in the next few years.

In all, 156 different films have been screened in Chinese theaters so far this year, and imported films have generated 53.5 percent of the gross revenues, seven percent higher than that for domestic films.

The biggest Chinese movie of the year so far has been Bona's The Man From Macao II, with Chow Yun-fat, which has taken $156 million.

There have been some surprise non-Hollywood inclusions in the six-month best performers list, including Bollywood tentpole PK and Japanese anime Stand By Me Doraemon.

The government tries to keep the balance at around 50-50 between foreign and domestic movies but it's hard in years like this one, where are there are so many big foreign tentpoles and relatively few blockbuster Chinese movies.

July is traditionally a blackout month for foreign movies opening in China, and among the big Chinese movies running during the blackout are Hollywood Adventures and the latest installment in the Tiny Times franchise, as well as SPL 2: A Time For Consequences, Xiao Yang's The Ark of Mr. Chow and Chen Kaige's latest, A Monk Came Down the Mountain.

The blackout means delays for movies like Paramount's Terminator: Genisys and Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out.

The period is not officially sanctioned but widely acknowledged. Last year, of the $4.76 billion earned at the box office in China, homegrown films accounted for 54.5 percent of the total, largely due to the blackout periods, which gave a clear run for movies like Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Peter Ho-sun Chan's Dearest.