Official figures released by China‘s film watchdog the SAPPRFT show 2013’s box office tally through November 25th was 19.3B yuan ($3.17B). That’s a 17.4% leap over 2012’s full take of $2.7B. But with only a month to go in the country that now has over 17,600 screens, will China be able to maintain the kind of growth it’s seen in recent years? The jump in 2012 was 35% and the year prior about 30%. A last-minute surge this year is likely, says Rob Cain, a producer in both the U.S. and China who writes the ChinaFilmBiz blog. That’s because there is a host of local movies on deck which he estimates stand to bring in about $500M by the end of December. If the math is correct, that would put 2013 about 36% above 2012.
There are no more big U.S. productions expected to release in 2013, but November has been relatively good to Hollywood in China. The town’s movies are faring better than in the first half of the year when market share was down 21.3% year-on-year and imports to China had only $717M in sales. This quarter, U.S. films have about 55% of the market. Recent titles to go out include Escape Plan, Thor: The Dark World, Gravity and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Gravity just added $20.7M in its second week on 5,854 screens for a 13-day cume of $56.7M. Released a day after Gravity, Catching Fire did not have the same impact. Its worldwide success is undeniable: in the first 11 days of international release, the film has nearly equaled the entire international run of the first Hunger Games. It has $24.2M through Sunday in China, nearing the $27.9M lifetime gross of the original in the territory. I understand that Lionsgate execs are happy with the performance and Cain says it “looks like it will do better than the first one.” However, he opines, “In a market that’s grown by 80% [since the original was released] that’s not saying that much.” Another exec familiar with China tells me that Catching Fire likely suffered from the head-to-head positioning against Gravity. The exec says, “Bureaucrats try to stack the deck… and that causes a cannibalization of those films.” Cain agrees it may have been a factor that the films were released so close together — China “had to get the last few quota films out before December” — but also says the Hunger Games books and films haven’t been part of the zeitgeist in Asia. In his blog, he noted that Gravity benefited from a “liberal use of James Cameron’s quote calling it ‘The best space film ever’.” China is known as an especially brand-conscious country and Cameron’s Avatar is still the highest-grossing film there ever.
Upcoming Chinese titles to watch locally include The White Storm, which opened Friday and slightly outpaced Gravity, as well as martial arts fantasy sequel The Four 2, police actioner Firestorm, Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor and Jackie Chan vehicle Police Story. Chinese films’ market share is currently at 55%, and they should end the year in a better position than 2012. That was when the market share for local films fell below 50% for the first time in four years. This year has seen a reversal of fortunes with the juggernaut that was last December’s Lost In Thailand carrying over into 2013 followed by this year’s top-grossing film, Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, which has more than $200M. For this year, it’s followed by Iron Man; Chinese college romance pic So Young; Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim; and Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon, which was released in September to notch the fourth-biggest opening day ever for a domestic film. Chinese films in 2013 have so far been worth $1.76B, leaving imports to account for $1.41B.