China Box Office Tops $1.7 Billion for First Five Months of 2014

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

The world's second-biggest film market sees a 17.6 percent gain over the year-ago period and exceeds the $1.63 billion for all of 2010, but the year is likely to come in below previous forecasts of $5 billion.

The Chinese box office reached $1.71 billion (10.7 billion yuan) by the end of May, which means China has already made more in theatrical revenue this year than it did in all of 2010, according to a report by industry consultant Entgroup.

Revenue in the first five months was up 17.6 percent over the same period of 2013, but it may also show that China’s economy is slowing as it matures, with some forecasts for $5 billion in box office this year now looking somewhat less solid than before.

Driving strong growth is the increase in the number of screens. By the end of March, the total number of screens in China was more than 20,000; at the end of 2010, the figure was only about 6,200.

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Last year, an average of 14 screens were added per day, for a total of 5,077 screens. In the first five months of this year, 420 movie theaters were added, in comparison with 358 during the same period in 2013, Entgroup said.

Chinese box-office revenue broke through the key threshold of 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) on May 21, a whole month earlier than in the previous year.

Domestic productions dominated the first five months, with ticket sales of $910 million (5.7 billion yuan). Domestic fantasy epic The Monkey King has topped the local charts for the year so far with $170 million (1.04 billion yuan). That is followed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier with $115 million.

The top 25 movies contributed about 82 percent of the period's total box office, the Entgroup data showed.

A total of 131 movies were released during the January-May period, with 25 of them raking in more than 100 million yuan ($16 million) -- a key marker in Chinese film market data --- in ticket sales. Of those, 13 were foreign films, according to Entgroup.

China’s box office sales rose 27 percent to $3.6 billion in 2013, according to data released by the Motion Picture Association of America, reinforcing China’s position as the world’s second-largest film market.

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However, local industry experts are cautious about predicting that the Chinese box office will top $5 billion this year. 

“I think the market stands a good chance of taking about 28 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) in box office receipts throughout the whole year, based on the previous annual average growth of around 30 percent,” Huang Qunfei, executive vp of Huaxia Film Distribution, one of the two film companies in China that are authorized to distribute imported movies, told the China Daily.

"There is room for the number of theaters nationwide to grow to between 40,000 and 50,000, because of the total population as well as people's growing appetite for films," Huang said.

The expansion of the business is also moving away from tier-one cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. Among the newly added theaters, 51 percent were in fifth-tier or even lower-tier cities, while 22 percent were in the country's largest cities.

Dadi Digital Cinema, one of China's biggest theater chains by box office revenue, accounted for the lion's share of the 420 theaters, with 57 cinemas, Hou Tao, vp EntGroup Consulting, told China Business News.