China's New Year Box Office Hits Record $901M in One Week

Detective Chinatown 2 - 2018 - H
Wanda Film

Wanda Film's 'Detective Chinatown 2' has come from behind to overtake 'Monster Hunt 2' as the holiday period's biggest blockbuster.

China's movie box office generated a record $901 million (5.72 billion yuan) in ticket sales during the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, also known as Spring Festival.

The staggering total represented growth of 67 percent over the same period last year, according to the country's media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China.

The huge holiday returns suggest that China's theatrical film market has rebounded from the slump in growth of the past two years, which had been a cause of consternation at movie studios both in Beijing and Southern California (Chinese ticket sales grew just 3.7 percent in 2016 and 15 percent last year, down from an average of at least 35 percent over the preceding five years).

Half a dozen major new releases opened simultaneously last Friday, as the Year of the Dog was officially getting underway. This year's surprise winner was Wanda Film's Detective Chinatown 2, a slapstick action mystery set in New York City. Directed by Chen Sicheng, the film had earned $299 million as of Wednesday (its sixth day of release), slightly more than Edko's early favorite Monster Hunt 2, which totaled $268.8 million.

To help put those numbers in context: Marvel's Black Panther earned $277.5 million over its first six days, which is the fourth-biggest six-day total ever in North America — and the Ryan Coogler box-office phenom faced vastly less direct competition than its Chinese counterparts. 

Directed by former DreamWorks Animation veteran Raman Hui, Monster Hunt 2 came out of the gate with a strong lead last Friday, earning $85 million over DC2's $53.4 million on day one. But less favorable word of mouth has dragged on Hui's fantasy sequel, and its holiday total may slip to third place by the end of the upcoming weekend.

The surprise mid-week shake-up repeats the comeback staged by Jackie Chan's Kung Fu Yoga ($254 million) during Chinese New Year in 2017, when the Hong Kong icon's latest comedy came from behind to ultimately top Tsui Hark's early winner Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons ($215 million).

Although such volatility might strike some overseas observers as a sign that the Chinese market is still at an early stage of development, it's worth noting that the North America box office has no comparable one-week release window that's so enormously valuable that the U.S. studios would risk opening their strongest tentpoles directly head-to-head. Jumanji may have opened just five days after Star Wars: The Last Jedi during the U.S. Christmas corridor, staging a surprise win on New Years Day — but just try to guess what might have happened if The Last Jedi, JumanjiWonder WomanJurassic World 2 and Coco had all opened on the exact same day. 

Currently in third place in the Chinese charts but climbing fast is Bona Film Group's big military action movie Operation Red Sea, directed by Dante Lam. As of Wednesday, it had earned $188 million, but its daily totals have begun to overtake the frontrunner sequels — and its happening so quickly that some analysts are now predicting that Operation Red Sea might ultimately total more.

The military flick trades on the same sort of effulgent patriotism as 2017's mega-blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2; it's loosely based on the Chinese military's real-life evacuation of hundreds of Chinese citizens from a sea port during Yemen's 2015 civil war.

The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women, the latest adaptation of the beloved Chinese literary classic Journey to the West, landed in fourth place for the week, bringing in a total of $96.8 million.

Children's animation Boonie Bears 5: The Big Shrink, meanwhile, has pulled in a healthy $65 million despite its positioning in the shadow of the four much bigger movies. The sixth and final Chinese New Year release was comedian Guo Degang's directorial debut The Faces of My Gene, a time-travel comedy that earned a comparatively slight $14 million over the holiday week.  

China's Spring Festival officially stretched from Feb. 15 to Feb. 21 this year, but many local businesses remain closed through Friday (Feb. 23), meaning more strong box-office returns are yet to come. 

Hollywood, of course, was again intentionally left out of the holiday bonanza. Beijing regulators generally refuse to schedule imported movies during the country's most lucrative release windows. U.S. trade officials, with the urging of the MPA, have been pressuring China for years to give up such tactics, along with other mechanisms of market manipulation — thus far, to no avail.