Market Insight

US films thrive in still-growing China box office

January 15, 2008

Charlotte Jones Charlotte Jones Associate Director – Research and Analysis, Cinema, IHS Markit

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After a busy and controversial final quarter of 2007, box office of revenue-sharing foreign (mainly US) films in China rose by over a third in absolute value during 2007 to reach RMB1.17bn ($160.9m). The rise of 37.6 per cent, calculated by Screen International, was led by Transformers which grossed RMB277m ($38.1m) in mainland China, nearly twice as much as next highest grosser, SpiderMan 3 with RMB146m ($20.1m). Five overseas titles broke through the RMB100m barrier, compared with two in 2006. The leading five foreign films outperformed their domestic counterparts grossing $106.4m compared to $69.5m for the latter. Box office rise for the total market was 26 per cent this year, compared to 30 per cent in 2006, as final year gross reached RMB3.3bn ($455.2m), up from RMB2.62bn ($335.5m) in 2006. The number of feature films produced also rose sharply, standing at 402 in 2007 compared to 330 in 2006. The market share of local films reached 54.1 per cent in 2007, down slightly by 0.9 per cent on the previous year.


China is currently embroiled in a row over whether it is banning US films for political purposes, having extended the one month ban in the autumn of 2007 to run later in year. Chinese government denies that the so-called ban is in retaliation for US moves over copyright theft in China within the World Trade Organisation (on top of US concerns about the foreign import quota), saying that film import is a business decision and not dictated by the State. It also denies that there is a ban on films in early 2008, as suggested by some sources. However, government did add that China imported 4,332 films between 2000 and 2004, of which 40-50 per cent came from USA. Given there is a revenue-share quota of 20 foreign films a year and only 120 films a year released theatrically in an average year, this figure certainly does not refer to cinema release which is what the quota refers to.
In last full year data from 2006, revenues earned by the Chinese film industry reached RMB 5.73bn ($720m), according to the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television (SARFT). At RMB 2.62bn ($330m), revenue generated from the domestic market took the lion's share of the total, followed by RMB 1.91bn ($240m) from international sales (including box office) and RMB 1.2 bn ($150m) from film channels on television. This highlights how important it is to China that local films manage to maximise their revenue potential at theatrical level. Another telling statistic is that China is now producing well over 300 films a year, of which only a third at best are given a theatrical release.

In another Chinese market, cinema box office in Hong Kong surpassed HK$1bn in 2007 ($128m) from 232 released films. Of these, 50 local films took an approximate 22 per cent market share.

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