Hollywood says China will soon be world’s top film market, as ticket sales overtake US-Canada
With big-budget American films opening bigger in China than at home, and US and Canada cinema takings at a 22-year low amid declining audiences, the Chinese market will soon be No. 1, Motion Picture Association of America says
People queue for tickets at a multiplex cinema in Wuhan, central China. The Chinese box office exceeded that in the US and Canada in the first three months of 2018. Photo: Reuters
Even as trade tensions are mounting between the United States and China, the importance of Chinese movie-goers to Hollywood has never been more apparent.
Global cinema box office sales reached a record high of US$40.6 billion in 2017 despite a downturn in audiences in the US and Canada, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said in its latest annual report. Attendance at US and Canadian cinemas fell to a 22-year low.
The growth was largely propelled by China, which accounted for US$7.9 billion in ticket sales in 2017. That fueled a 7 per cent increase in overseas box office takings for US films. US and Canada ticket sales by comparison totaled US$11.1 billion, down 2 per cent. If not for a 4 per cent increase in the average ticket price to US$8.97, the drop would have been worse.
A scene from Pacific Rim: Uprising, which had a bigger opening in China than in the US and Canada. Photo: Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures/AP
After briefly stalling in 2016, the needle is going the other direction in China.
“The Chinese film market is going to be the largest film market in short order,” said Charles Rivkin, a former US assistant secretary of state who in January took over from Christopher Dodd as MPAA chairman. “They’re building about 25 screens a day.”
The shift has in many ways already begun. For the first time, the Chinese movie market overtook North America in the first quarter of 2018. Several big-budget Hollywood productions, including Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Pacific Rim: Uprising and Tomb Raider, had bigger debuts in China than in the US and Canada.
Aech, left, and Parzival in a scene from Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg’s film took more on its opening in China than domestically. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
The growing importance of Chinese cinemas to Hollywood comes at a sensitive time for relations between the two countries. In response to moves by the Trump administration, China unveiled proposed tariffs on numerous American products, rocking the stock market and stoking fears of a larger trade war.
Restrictions on film imports to China are already considerable for Hollywood; the country caps foreign films at 34 per year. The Office of the United States Trade Representatives is currently negotiating to lessen those terms. “We remain hopeful,” said Rivkin of the negotiations.
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