​Chinese film market hits second-highest holiday box office record

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 10, 2022
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China's box office revenues exceeded 6.04 billion yuan ($948 million) during the week-long Spring Festival holiday, ending Sunday, the China Film Administration announced Monday.

A combined image of the eight posters for Chinese blockbusters released during the 2022 Spring Festival. [Image provided to China.org.cn]

During this year's Spring Festival holiday, or Chinese New Year, usually the most heated and lucrative film season, ticket sales at box offices nationwide achieved the second-highest gross total takings for the season ever, according to the administration. The film season this year spanned six days, as no new films debuted on the first day of the holiday — Chinese New Year's Eve — to account for people being busy with family reunions.

Despite the achievement, many industry observers explained their frustration that last year's record, 7.84 billion yuan, wasn't broken and that takings slumped 23% year on year compared with 2021.

The more concerning finding was that many chose not to return to cinemas for holiday entertainment. During the holiday, a record-breaking 3.14 million screenings were made across the country, with 114 million admissions. Yet compared with 2021's 160 million admissions, that's a 28.75% decline, meaning that 46 million fewer people chose to spend their time elsewhere over the holiday.

The reasons for the drop were numerous and likely include a partial shutdown of cinemas in some places due to resurgences in COVID-19, the lack of quality films, and the distraction of other entertainment, including the high-profile Beijing Winter Olympics. But most importantly, as some experts pointed out, it was because of ridiculously high ticket prices across a large portion of China. 

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, the average movie ticket price in China was as high as 56.1 yuan, box office tracking agency and big data platform Lighthouse found. In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, it was even higher, with some prime-time screenings asking for more than 150 yuan per ticket, meaning a three-member family would need to spend nearly 1,000 yuan to see just two movies during the holiday – unaffordable for many average families.

After complaints about high prices caught the China Film Administration's attention, the administration asked cinemas to lower prices over the days following. While many cinemas did, some did not, yet the move did attract some audiences to see films despite the overall film market losing momentum.  

In addition to falling attendance, the industry is battling with the fact that financing film projects is more complex nowadays, leading to fewer productions. In addition, many blockbusters crowd the Chinese holiday seasons, so fewer big films open during non-holiday times, causing the overall film market throughout the year to cool. Meanwhile, foreign films, especially Hollywood blockbusters, were either absent from or failed to enter the Chinese market due to numerous factors such as going straight to streaming services, being negatively received, or because of production and release delays. As such, the cinema business has suffered, and operators were banking on the Spring Festival to sustain themselves and thus decided to raise their prices.

The best performer this year was the highly anticipated sequel to the 2021 war blockbuster "The Battle at Lake Changjin," which has since held firmly to the Chinese box office top spot, racking up 2.53 billion yuan over the holiday. The box office juggernaut was followed by the comedy "Too Cool To Kill," which made 1.39 billion yuan, and "Nice View," which took in 667 million yuan. 

Han Han's "Only Fools Rush In" was at one time the front runner, however, it quickly fell down the ranking following bad audience reviews, only making 474 million yuan during the holiday. The best-reviewed film was "Snipers" by Zhang Yimou, who also made headlines recently for directing the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. However, that meant that Zhang had no time to promote, and as result, Zhang's war film only made 262 million yuan over the holiday. 

To many's surprise, the animated feature "Boonie Bears: Back to Earth," the eighth installment of favorite children's franchise, exceeded expectations, making 568 million yuan. However, two other rival animations, "Run, Tiger Run" and "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Dunk for Future," flopped during the holiday, grossing only 17.51 million yuan and 97.73 million yuan, respectively.

For some, the Spring Festival season was still a boon. IMAX announced it made $23.5 million in box office receipts during the 2022 Chinese New Year holiday after working with Chinese filmmakers. "The Battle at Lake Changjin II" — shot with IMAX certified digital cameras and presented in an exclusive 1.90 IMAX Expanded Aspect Ratio — emerged victorious, making $23.3 million and marking the third-best six-day performance for an IMAX Chinese New Year release. IMAX screenings encompassed nearly 6% of the film's total gross for the holiday, despite only making up only 1% of all Chinese cinema screens. "Nice View" and "Only Fools Rush In" were also screened on IMAX alongside the wartime epic. 

"IMAX is synonymous with epic events and experiences, and our continued success with the biggest annual cultural event in China is a strong testament to the power of our brand," said Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX. "Our strong market share with 'The Battle of Lake Changjin II' demonstrates that when Chinese audiences want to come together and experience unforgettable entertainment in the most immersive way possible, they choose IMAX."

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