China is the No. 2 territory for 'Transformers'

Paramount film breaks record, second to U.S. in boxoffice

BEIJING -- China is the second-biggest territory for the "Transformers" sequel -- a first for a Paramount blockbuster -- executives said Monday, proving that the growing market, though still hampered by piracy and restricted access, is proving fertile ground for Tinseltown.

Last week, brisk Chinese ticket sales boosted "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" to become the country's most successful film ever. Paramount said that by July 19, the film's cumulative estimated earnings were $62 million (about 423 million yuan) after 21 days in release.

This put China's fast-growing theatrical movie market right behind the U.S. as a source of earnings for the Michael Bay/Steven Spielberg collaboration. It is distributed worldwide by United International Pictures and by the state-run China Film Group here.

"Transformers" owes at least some of its Chinese fortune to the Hasbro toy line and the popularity of the animated TV series, which began to air here in 1987 on Shanghai Television.

"Those Chinese in their late 20s and early 30s especially are aware of 'Transformers,' " Kurt Rieder, UIPs senior vp Asia said in an e-mail. "Thus, the animated series drove business for the first feature, which of course led to 'Revenge of the Fallen' performing as well as it has."

Two years ago, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of the "Transformers" brand in China, the first feature film took in the bulk of its non-U.S. gross revenue from the U.K. and South Korea, then from China, where it earned 280 million yuan.

Now the sequel sees China at the top of its non-U.S. territories because of a strong yuan and weak currencies in the U.K. and South Korea, Rieder said.

While other Hollywood films and China-co-productions have come close to making so much of their returns in China -- with titles such as "Dragonball: Evolution" and "The Forbidden Kingdom" both ranking China in their top five territories -- industry insiders believe that no previous imported film has ranked China as high as No. 2 on its territory list.

Ticket sales data in China often is an imprecise science, in China, where boxoffice grosses are divided into three parts -- 50% to cinemas, 10%-13% to distributors and roughly 40% to producers.

The country's 20 annual legal film imports and most theatrical distribution are controlled by the state-run China Film Group, which shares distribution duties with Huaxia Film Distribution Co. There are 36 theater chains and roughly 4,100 screens nationwide. Many do not use computers to record their sales.

Depending on who you ask, "Transformers 2" broke either the record held by Beijing-based director Feng Xiaogang's 2008 romantic comedy "If You Are the One," which earned as much as 360 million yuan ($44 million) -- according to producers at Huayi Brothers Pictures -- or it broke the 11-year-old record held by "Titanic." In 1998, "Titanic," a UIP picture, also earned 360 million yuan, which, back then, due to a stronger dollar, was roughly equal to $43 million.

Still others say that the all-time China boxoffice record was held, however briefly, by one or both of the two installments of director John Woo's "Red Cliff," which both earned more than 300 million yuan from December 2007 through January 2009.

No matter which record "Revenge" broke, its perch on China's boxoffice throne is tentative. Tickets are selling fast for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," sixth film of the Warner Bros. franchise.

China's total boxoffice stood at 4.3 billion yuan in 2008, 60%, or 2.58 billion yuan of which was contributed by domestic films.