China boxoffice tops $700 mil in first half

2010 total could reach $1.5 bil

HONG KONG -- The Chinese boxoffice surged 86% to $714 million in the first half of the year, the country's top film official said, lifted by the phenomenal success of the Hollywood 3-D sci-fi epic "Avatar" and other popular American imports.

The final year-end boxoffice take is expected to hit $1.5 billion, Film Bureau director Tong Gang said on the sidelines of a film festival in the northwestern city Yinchuan on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Tong said China has made 288 movies in the first half of 2010 and is projected to complete 500 this year -- a number that will make it the third-most prolific industry in the world after those in India and the U.S.

Hollywood productions dominated their Chinese competition in the first six months. The top five movies in the period were "Avatar" ($204 million), "Ip Man 2" ($34 million), "Alice in Wonderland" ($33 million), "Iron Man 2" ($26 million) and "Clash of the Titans" ($25.8 million), according to figures posted on the website of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. "Ip Man 2," a biopic of Bruce Lee's kung fu master starring Donnie Yen, is the only Chinese-language release on the list.

"Avatar" was a huge global hit, earning $2.7 billion worldwide, according to the boxoffice tracking website Box Office Mojo, in part helped by higher ticket prices for 3-D movies. The James Cameron production replaced "Titanic" -- also directed by the Canadian-born filmmaker -- as the global boxoffice champion of all time.

The booming southern province of Guangdong sold the most movie tickets ($121 million), followed by the capital Beijing ($79 million), Shanghai ($67 million), eastern Jiangsu province ($51 million) and southwestern Sichuan province ($50 million).

The results come as Beijing ponders how to further open up its entertainment markets in line with World Trade Organization requirements. In a ruling in December, the WTO urged China to let foreign film studios distribute their own movies in the country. The state-owned China Film Group is the current gatekeeper. Beijing has agreed to comply with the ruling by March 2011.

But the December ruling does not address China's quota for foreign films. China Film Group only splits profits with foreign studios on 20 of their exports a year -- a restriction that effectively limits the country to 20 foreign blockbusters per year. The state-owned company also buys other foreign productions at flat fees, as they did at the end of 2009 with "District 9" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."

-- Steven Schwankert in Beijing contributed to this article.