Just the ticket

China overtakes the United States at the box office


Lin Peng: stars with Adrien Brody and John Cusack in Dragon Blade

“China is the future of world cinema,” declared Hollywood actor John Cusack at the release of his latest film, a Chinese production called Dragon Blade.

If the latest statistics from China’s box office are anything to go by, the future is now. Chinese revenues edged ahead of the United States in February for the first time ever, rendering it the world’s largest film market. The month, which included the Lunar New Year (traditionally the biggest movie season) brought in $650 million, according to data from research firm Entgroup. The US took in $640 million during the same period (although February is traditionally a slower month for American cinemas).

Dragon Blade, which stars Adrien Brody and Jackie Chan alongside Cusack, was one of the most popular movies during the period, taking Rmb700 millio ($111.7 million) since its mid-February release. The film, which is based on a premise (which some believe to be true) that a Roman legion made it all the way to China during the time of the Han Dynasty, was an expensive production, costing as much as Rmb400 million – and that doesn’t include its hefty marketing and promotion expenses, says Tencent Entertainment.

Following close was Wolf Totem, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, which brought in Rmb500 million in ticket sales (for more about the film see issue 272).

The biggest surprise was The Man From Macau II, which did Rmb800 million of business. Despite lukewarm reviews from critics, it seems to have appealed to a wide demographic. Full of slapstick humour and kitsch, the casino-based comedy was especially popular in second and third-tier cities, featuring popular Hong Kong stars like Chow Yun-fat and actress Carina Lau. But Information Times reckons that the success of The Man From Macau II was also linked to a promotion with Dianping, the hugely popular consumer site that offers restaurant reviews, discounts and group-buying services. The newspaper reports that at one point, one out of every three tickets purchased for the film was made on Dianping.

Dianping didn’t only lift the sales for The Man From Macau II. The site, which has a business model similar to that of Yelp in the US, sold a grand total of 6.5 million cinema tickets during the Lunar New Year holiday. (It offers discounts on tickets partly to encourage users to post reviews on the site.)

Maoyan, a mobile application that also allows users to buy tickets on their smartphones, collaborated with Dragon Blade by offering subsidies for film tickets too. The platform, which purchases tickets from cinema operators in bulk, offered them for as low as Rmb10 during the holiday period. Information Times notes that in aggregate Maoyan and Dianping sold 40% of all the cinema tickets purchased during the holiday period.

“Choosing which internet platform to partner with will become very critical for the success of a film,” the newspaper predicts.

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