After falling into the red for the first time in more than a decade in the first half of the year, the Chinese theatrical market staged a turnaround thanks to animated mega-hit 'Ne Zha,' which earned $710 million.
After a lackluster start, China's movie box office has hit an all-time high in 2019.
Total ticket sales in the country pushed past the 2018 total of RMB 60.7 billion $8.67 billion on Dec. 13, data from local ticket giant Maoyan reveals. Several upcoming major releases — including Disney's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Feng Xiaogang's romantic drama Only Cloud Knows — will push China's 2019 total deeper into the record books.
Beijing's film regulators are likely breathing a sigh of relief. As recently as mid-July, China's box office was experiencing its biggest slump in over a decade, with total sales down about 5 percent. Deep uncertainty throughout the industry over Beijing's increasingly repressive approach to film censorship compounded financing problems stemming from the sensational Fan Bingbing tax evasion scandal that rocked Chinese studios big and small in 2018.
The 2019 box office was then almost single-handedly rescued by the August arrival of an unlikely mega blockbuster: Chinese 3D animation Ne Zha.
Helmed by self-taught first-time feature director Yang Yu, aka Jiaozi, the film went on to earn astonishing RMB 4.97 billion $710 million. Noting the similar success of local sci-fi The Wandering Earth, which brought in RMB 4.66 billion $665 million over Chinese New Year in February, Maoyan's report emphasized how top-heavy and winner-take-all the Beijing film industry remains, with just these two titles alone representing nearly one sixth of China's annual box office total to date.
Maoyan didn't provide a breakdown between Chinese and Hollywood box office performance, but it offered a hint of what the year-end split is likely to reveal, pointing out that eight out the top ten biggest films of 2019 were Chinese-language local releases. Only Avengers: Endgame at No. 3 with RMB 4.24 billion, or $614 million and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw down at No.10 with RMB 1.43 billion, or $196 million made it into China's top 10 list this year. That's down from four in the top 10 for Hollywood in 2019.
Week three of no theatrical releases. That will technically change soon — Universal’s premium VOD-opening “Trolls World Tour” has a handful of still-open drive-ins to play don’t expect any grosses reported. But it was a week full of important stories, with particular interest in a series of release date adjustments. However, no date can be realized if theaters aren’t open, and nobody knows when that will be.
• Exhibitor trade organization NATO held a webinar Friday. President John Fifthian raised hope that some theaters might be open by late May or early June. AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron, who oversees the most screens in North America reiterated his hopes for mid-June.
• With the COVID-19 still in its early stages of national spread, uncertainty about the curve flattening, and signs that in China, which had the earliest outbreaks three months ago, that viral decline doesn’t equal viral defeat, the reality is it could be weeks before anyone can make a reasonable assessment on reopening.
• Countering industry optimism that after weeks indoors, people will flock to theaters is a survey by Performance Research about public attitudes on return to public events. It saw 49 percent of respondents saying feeling safe about returning to theaters ranged from in a few months to never, with 28 percent saying if they do return, it will be less often. That said: This is a snapshot taken nearly two weeks ago, and shouldn’t be considered predictive. It showed similar or worse results for sporting events, concerts, and theme parks.
• Sports league executives spoke with President Trump, who urged resumption as soon as possible. However, Dr. Alan Sills, chief medical officer for the NFL, cautioned it is premature to believe that football can return this fall. Governors in some states that aren’t fully shut down, like Nebraska, encouraged voluntary compliance — with the threat that if the virus isn’t contained, their ardent fans might not have a season. Sports, of course, demand close player and spectator contact, and are more vulnerable even than theaters to the ongoing threat of contagion. But the idea that it is conceivable the country could have a year with no more sports is even more shocking than disruption to theaters.
• The key takeaway from multiple studio release schedule changes is, in re-dating titles, they don’t expect theaters to be fully operational until July at the earliest. Though key June and July titles like Pixar’s “Soul” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” remain in those months, “Mulan” on July 24 is the earliest rescheduled date for any major title. Other date changes act as a diversion while theaters are closed, but the reality is everything is written in pencil, not pen.