Hong Kong's 2019 Box Office Dinged Only Slightly By Pro-Democracy Protests

Avengers - Endgame - Publicity Still - H 2019
Walt Disney Studios

Hollywood releases occupied the country's full top 10 list last year, as local filmgoers continued to shun movies geared for the mainland Chinese market.

The political tumult that has engulfed Hong Kong caused only a modest dip in the territory's total box office revenue in 2019.

Movie ticket sales declined 1.75 percent, as some residents kept away from the city's major commercial centers where the pro-democracy protests often concentrated.

Gross box office for 2019 totaled HK$1.923 billion ($245 million), down from HK$1.957 billion ($251 million) in 2018, according to data released Thursday by Hong Kong Box Office Ltd. The year also saw a slip in total film releases, with 326 titles brought to cinemas compared with 353 titles in 2018. Just 46 of the 2019 releases qualified as Hong Kong productions or co-productions, down from 53 local titles the year prior.

Hong Kong's political upheaval began in June in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents and visitors to be extradited to mainland China's opaque and often politically driven court system. The Hong Kong government's bungled and repressive response to the initial protests, which were largely peaceful and locally popular, resulted in the movement broadening its demands to include representative democracy in Hong Kong and independent investigations of police brutality.

Traces of the cultural and political breach between Hong Kong and mainland China arguably were evident in the southern city's entertainment preferences throughout 2019. While China's moviegoers overwhelming turned to local content last year, with the county's top 10 list occupied by eight Chinese-language releases, Hong Kong filmgoers again were vastly more international in their moviegoing. The city's top 10 list was a clean sweep by Hollywood studio releases, led by Avengers: Endgame with $28.3 million (HK$222 million) haul, Toy Story 4 at $11.3 million (HK$11.5 million) and Spider-Man: Far From Home with $10.9 million (HK$88.3 million).

The top-earning Hong Kong-made film of the year was crime thriller Integrity, which brought in $4.01 million (HK$31.3 million). Directed and written, respectively, by local genre specialists Alan Mak and Felix Chong (the duo behind the crime genre classic Infernal Affairs), Integrity was embraced in Hong Kong but hasn't managed to secure permission from Beijing for a lucrative Mainland China release.

Other popular Hong Kong-China co-productions, which tend to be geared more toward mainland tastes these days, disappointed at home in Hong Kong. Ip Man 4: The Finale, for example, starring Hong Kong action hero Donnie Yen, earned just $2.6 million, about one-third as much as Ip Man 3 ($7.8 million) totaled in 2016. Shortly after the final film's Hong Kong release in December, protestors called for a boycott to oppose the pro-Beijing stance of its producer Raymond Wong and stars Yen and Danny Chan.