China's Summer Box Office Soars 24 Percent as North America Sinks

Wolf Warrior 2 -Still 2-Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

After a disappointing 2016, the world's second-largest movie market returned to robust growth over the summer, led by the historic $836 million haul of local blockbuster 'Wolf Warrior II.'

As North America stared down its biggest summer box-office slump in years, China's theatrical film market returned to roaring growth.

Box-office revenue in the Middle Kingdom totaled $2.48 billion (RMB 16.3 billion) from June to August, a 24 percent increase over the summer of 2016, data from Beijing-based EntGroup shows.

Meanwhile, North America's box office is estimated to have plummeted 15.7 percent, with revenue totaling $3.78 billion — the first time since 2006 that the summer blockbuster season didn't clear $4 billion. 

Hollywood and Beijing regulators can both breathe a sigh of relief over the Chinese market's return to form. After surging by an average of 35 percent for a decade, the country's box office experienced an abrupt correction in 2016, eking out a gain of just 3.7 percent for the year. The sudden shakiness of the world's most reliable growth engine had led to handwringing on both sides of the Pacific.

China's comeback was driven almost singlehandedly by one heroic blockbuster: Wu Jing's patriotic action sensation Wolf Warrior II. The action juggernaut has earned a historic $836 million since its release on July 26, accounting for nearly one-third of all summer ticket revenue in China and breaking every local box-office record that matters.

Hollywood's biggest summer release in the market was Paramount's Transformers: The Last Knight with $228.8 million — a sizable showing but considered somewhat of a disappointment given that Michael Bay's preceding film in the franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction, earned $330 million.

Year-to-date, box-office revenue in China now sits at $6.01 billion (RMB 39.59 billion), up 16 percent from the same time last year. International films, led by Hollywood, have accounted for $2.85 billion (RMB 18.74 billion), or a healthy 47.4 percent, of total ticket revenue. The biggest U.S. release over the first eight months of the year was Universal's The Fate of the Furious, which pulled in $392.8 million, unseating its predecessor Furious 7 ($390.9 million) as the biggest international film ever in China.

The summer turnabout has inspired China's state media regulators to return to rosy forecasts. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said this week that it expected China to surpass North America as the world's top box-office territory by 2020. North America's ticket revenue so far this year is down 5.7 percent.