With Venom still coursing through China, December is now heating up as a busy time at the Middle Kingdom box office — but, contrary to tradition, not necessarily for local films. Sony has just confirmed that sleeper hit Searching has secured a December 14 release, while anticipated animated family action adventure Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse will go on December 21.

Sony

Part of what’s seen as a push to keep turnstiles spinning in the face of a lackluster crop of homegrown titles, the above movies notably join Warner Bros’ Aquaman which releases December 7 — two weeks ahead of domestic and one week before the start of overseas rollout — and Universal/Illumination’s The Grinch (December 14). They will follow the upcoming releases of Disney’s Ralph Breaks The Internet (November 23) and WB’s Crazy Rich Asians (November 30).

It’s not unusual for China to pack Hollywood movies into the late fall ahead of a traditional December blackout, but this year word is that the year-end is looking light on local. That’s good news for studios as imported films over the first three quarters of 2018 had 34% of the market with $2.3B, repping a first-of-its-kind year-on-year drop, per research firm Artisan Gateway.

The total China box office through the first nine months is a reported $6.7B and Middle Kingdom film authorities are understood to be hoping for RMB 60B ($8.65B) by the end of the year. In local currency, that would be a new record after last year’s RMB 56B. (While China grosses in the first quarter of 2018 were bigger than North America, domestic hit $10B faster than ever earlier this month, meaning there’s still time before the Middle Kingdom overtakes the No. 1 worldwide market position.)

Looking at what’s on deck in December, I hear a shift is occurring with local blockbuster hopefuls opting for the Chinese New Year period in February and the summer frame. If China wants to hit that RMB 60B number, it’s looking for a hand from Hollywood. Nevertheless, local pics could maintain a 60% grip on 2018 overall.

Ng Han Guan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

We saw an easing of the December session last year as Disney/Pixar’s Coco received an extension to play throughout the month, while Paddington 2, Darkest Hour and Only The Brave opened in early December. The titles added for this December have bigger prospects. Warner Bros just did a push for Aquaman in Beijing, flying in talent and showing off 25 minutes of footage. Sony’s Searching has already done solid business in South East Asia, including a terrific $22.6M in Korea. It will face off with The Grinch which is on a staggered release pattern and could benefit from the increasing popularity of Illumination’s brand.

Sony’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse could have a swingin’ trajectory. The market loves the character with each of the live-action Spidey titles having released in China going back to 2002, and all sequels growing apace. It was the biggest hub for the last three films.

Mandarin

Last year’s local December offerings included Feng Xiaogang’s Youth, Chen Kaige’s Legend Of The Demon Cat, Jackie Chan-starrer Bleeding Steel and Yuen Woo-ping’s The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia.

All release dates are not 100% firmed for next month’s crop, though we hear The Human Comedy has a shot at December 7; it stars Allen Ai (aka Lun Ai) who was in hits Hello Mrs Money and Hello Mr Billionaire. Another anticipated pic is Master Z: Ip Man Legacy from Yuen Woo-ping and starring Max Zhang, Liu Yan, Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista and Tony Jaa. It has a December 21 date as does White Snake, a China-U.S. co-production from Warner Bros. On December 31, Bi Gan’s Un Certain Regard mystery Long Day’s Journey Into Night releases.

We’ll be keeping tabs on all of the above throughout December.