China's 2019 Box Office Hits All-Time High

Coloroom Studios
'Ne Zha'

After falling into the red for the first time in more than a decade in the first half of the year, the Chinese theatrical market staged a turnaround thanks to animated mega-hit 'Ne Zha,' which earned $710 million.

After a lackluster start, China's movie box office has hit an all-time high in 2019.

Total ticket sales in the country pushed past the 2018 total of RMB 60.7 billion ($8.67 billion) on Dec. 13, data from local ticket giant Maoyan reveals. Several upcoming major releases — including Disney's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Feng Xiaogang's romantic drama Only Cloud Knows — will push China's 2019 total deeper into the record books.

Beijing's film regulators are likely breathing a sigh of relief. As recently as mid-July, China's box office was experiencing its biggest slump in over a decade, with total sales down about 5 percent. Deep uncertainty throughout the industry over Beijing's increasingly repressive approach to film censorship compounded financing problems stemming from the sensational Fan Bingbing tax evasion scandal that rocked Chinese studios big and small in 2018.

The 2019 box office was then almost single-handedly rescued by the August arrival of an unlikely mega blockbuster: Chinese 3D animation Ne Zha.

Helmed by self-taught first-time feature director Yang Yu, aka Jiaozi, the film went on to earn an astonishing RMB 4.97 billion ($710 million). Noting the similar success of local sci-fi The Wandering Earth, which brought in RMB 4.66 billion ($665 million) over Chinese New Year in February, Maoyan's report emphasized how top-heavy and winner-take-all the Beijing film industry remains, with just these two titles alone representing nearly one-sixth of China's annual box office total to date.

Maoyan didn't provide a breakdown between Chinese and Hollywood box office performance, but it offered a hint of what the year-end split is likely to reveal, pointing out that eight of the top 10 biggest films of 2019 were Chinese-language local releases. Only Avengers: Endgame (at No. 3 with RMB 4.24 billion, or $614 million) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (down at No.10 with RMB 1.43 billion, or $196 million) made it into China's top 10 list this year. That's down from four in the top 10 for Hollywood in 2019.