China urban boxoffice up 45%

Ticket sales help record industry earnings

SHANGHAI -- China's film industry earned a record estimated 1 billion yuan (US$144 million) from January through March, led by a sharp rise in urban ticket sales, according to the country's dominant movie distributor.

China's city cinemas tallied 843 million yuan (US$115 million) in ticket sales in the first quarter, up 45% from the same period a year ago, the China Film Group Corp said in a statement on its Web site dated June 3.

Ticket sales from rural traveling cinemas and from traditional factory movie screenings were roughly $29 million in the quarter, CFG said.

It is difficult to track non-city ticket sales due to a general lack of electronic ticketing systems in China's countryside; but if CFG's estimates are on track, the pace of overall ticket sales in the first quarter could put China's growing movie industry on track to surpass 2007's total national boxoffice of 3.3 billion yuan ($472.4 million).

The biggest first quarter boxoffice draw was Hong Kong director Stephen Chow’s sci-fi film “CJ7,” at $29 million in sales. "CJ7" was classified as a domestic release under co-production rules.

Domestic films accounted for 61% of total boxoffice revenue, CFG said. The biggest foreign draw was Columbia TriStar's "The Water Horse," which earned $9 million.

China limits to 20 each year the number of imported films that may share in a percentage of their ticket sales.

Attendance also rose at China's leading urban cinema chains, up 35% to 36 million people in the first quarter, CFG said.