China's Box Office Surges 30 Percent in First Quarter, Expected to Hit $4.64 Billion for 2014

2012-10 BIZ China Tickets Illustration

When it comes to doing business with China, the devil is always in the details. The recent announcement that the Chinese government finally will comply with a World Trade Organization order to treat U.S. films more fairly is no exception.

Movie theater construction continued to boom during the period, with 18 new screens going up every day, giving China a screen count that's now half of the United States'.

China’s box office continued its relentless rise in the first quarter of 2014, expanding 30 percent to more than $1.08 billion (6.7 billion yuan) -- meaning first quarter revenues for 2014 have already exceeded the country's full-year total for 2009.

Chinese films accounted for the lion’s share of the figure, taking $680 million (4.2 billion yuan), or 63 percent of the total in the first three months of the year, according to figures from research company Entgroup.

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Entgroup predicts full-year 2014 box-office totals will reach $4.64 billion (28.8 billion yuan) in the world's second-largest movie market, with 23 percent of that target met in the first quarter. China’s box office sales grew 27 percent last year to $3.6 billion.

In the first quarter, there were 325 cinemas built, for a total of 1,609 screens, which means an average of 18 new screens went up per day. The total number of screens in China now is 20,007, which is more than half the nearly 40,000 in the United States.

Breaking down the figures, box-office sales increased 51 percent in February, when the Chinese New Year market provides a lift. In January and March the increase was 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

The biggest-performing Hollywood movies in the first quarter included The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which took over $74 million here, followed by Need for Speed, which is still showing and has grossed just short of $60 million so far.

Universal and Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me 2 took nearly $53 million during the quarter, while Sony and MGM's rebooted RoboCop made nearly $50 million during its China run.

The leading private Chinese film companies in the first quarter accounted for $430 million (2.7 billion yuan) of the first-quarter total.

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Top performer was Enlight Media, which made $115.3 million (716 million yuan) with four films, most of that coming from its top-earning Reality TV adaptation Where Are We Going, Dad?, which took in $111.7 million (693.65 million yuan).

This was followed by Wanda, with $97.1 million (603 million yuan) from three films, including the romantic comedy Beijing Love Story, and Bona with $93.08 million (578 million yuan) from two films, including Wong Jing's The Man From Macau, featuring Hong Kong legend Chow Yun-fat.

Huayi Brothers had $68.44 million (425 million yuan) from four films, including Ex-Files, directed by Tian Yusheng, while LeTV earned $61.51 million (382 million yuan) from three films, including the animated feature Boonie Bears: To The Rescue.