With Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid taking a staggering $485M alone in just three weeks of play in February, the Middle Kingdom box office hit a record 6.87B yuan ($1.05B) for the month. That’s about $260M bigger than the estimated North American February total of $790M. This is the first time Chinese turnstiles have outspun those in the U.S. and Canada combined during a single month (U.S.-only box office was bested by the PROC last February). The current Chinese figures were released by state authority SAPPRFT on Tuesday.
February saw the Lunar New Year celebration host a trio of major successes. Along with The Mermaid, which became the territory’s biggest movie ever after only 12 days of release, The Monkey King 2 grossed about $177M (1.16B yuan) and threequel From Vegas To Macau 3 (aka The Man From Macau 3) took in roughly $166M (1.09B yuan). Each opened on February 8 and is still playing in theaters.
The Mermaid is now poised to become the first ever Chinese movie to cross $500M at home. When it does, it will join a club of only six other titles that have hit the milestone in one market, each in North America. It’s currently in play via Sony Stateside and elsewhere overseas where the ex-China gross was $14.6M in six markets through Sunday.
SAPPRFT says that more than 192M people went to the cinema in China last month. They were also checking out pics like Kung Fu Panda 3 which opened on January 29 and is now the country’s biggest animated movie ever at $150M; and The Weinstein Co/Netflix’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny with $37M.
Upcoming releases include Disney’s Zootopia on March 4 — that’s especially notable because it’s a Friday. The last several months of 2015 saw Chinese authorities saddle quota movies with a Sunday or early-week date. Also on deck is Ip Man 3 with Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen who’s in the Crouching Tiger sequel and is next up in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage.
The Middle Kingdom box office is on a path to overtake North America in 2017. The total for 2015 was 44B yuan ($6.7B) versus North America’s $11.1B. There have steadily been increases of about 30% per year in China, but last year blew past that, jumping 48.7% from 2014.
Some of the extra 2015 action came from the huge local successes of Hollywood titles like Furious 7 ($391M) and Jurassic World ($229M). Homegrown title Monster Hunt in September became the then biggest grosser ever in the PROC, although there was controversy surrounding its ultimate takings given several millions’ worth of tickets were given away. The Mermaid has not suffered the same plight while attempts at box office manipulation are expected to be more closely monitored going forward.