China's Box Office Surges 36 Percent in 2014 to $4.76 Billion

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

The head of the Film Bureau has hailed the strength of Chinese movies in the battle with Hollywood for market share

Box-office returns in the world's second biggest film market surged 36 percent in 2014, Zhang Hongsen, head of the film bureau under the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), told the Xinhua news agency.

China's Film Bureau chief has praised the performance of domestic movies in 2014 in the face of strong competition from Hollywood, after homegrown films accounted for 54.5 percent of the $4.76 billion (29.6 billion yuan) in box office last year.

Despite growing pressure from Hollywood, Chinese films still gained major market share and were welcomed by audiences, Zhang said.

By any measure, the figures are a powerful performance by the rapidly expanding market. The SAPPRFT data is broadly in line with earlier leaked data and estimates carried on local media, with the 29.6 billion yuan figure falling just shy of the 30 billion yuan marker set earlier in the year.

The rise was boosted by a strong growth in the number of theaters and screens. China added 1,015 cinemas and 5,397 screens last year, bringing the total number of screens to 23,600. "On average, 15 more screens were added each day," Zhang said.

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Domestic films took over $2.6 billion (16.15 billion yuan) last year, and Zhang cited Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain, Zhang Yimou's Coming Home and Peter Ho-sun Chan's Dearest as examples of "outstanding domestic films."

A total of 618 Chinese films were produced in 2014, down from 638 in 2013, but there has been a drive to focus more on quality than quantity in the industry. Zhang echoed these sentiments, saying Chinese filmmakers should be aware of pressures and challenges and enhance filmmaking quality in 2015.

More people went to see movies than ever in 2014, with viewers making 830 million trips to the cinema, up 34.5 percent year-on-year, SAPPRFT said.

Earnings of 66 films surpassed the locally symbolic 100 million yuan ($16.11 million) benchmark last year, including 36 domestic productions. In 2013, 60 films surpassed that figure.

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Chinese films making big inroads overseas continue to elude the industry. There were gains nevertheless, with SAPPRFT confirming that mainland Chinese films grossed $300 million abroad, a rise of 32 percent year-on-year.

The year-on-year growth of the Chinese box office has been spectacular. In 2010, it passed $1.5 billion for the first time, while in 2013, it breached that threshold in six months. The closing days of 2014 were boosted by big domestic titles, such as Jiang Wen's Gone With the Bullets, Tiger Mountain and Love on the Cloud.

However, the top 10 was dominated by foreign movies.

The biggest movie of the year was Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction, which took in $320 million here, with specially introduced Chinese elements aimed at boosting the markets.

Earlier figures showed that foreign titles that made the 34 film quota set by the Chinese government grossed $1.81 billion in 2014, around one-third of the total box office in China.

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan