May 23, 2024

China’s remarkable box office recovery this year took a pause on a weekend with no new releases and the quietest attendance levels since January.

Next week’s crop of blockbuster holiday releases will show if the latest weekend was aberration attributable to timing.

Data from consultancy firm Artisan Gateway showed nationwide box office worth just $25 million – from a population of 1.3 billion people and some 100,000 commercial cinema screens. The figure was the second lowest of 2023 and only fractionally higher than the second week of January, which was a time when China’s post-COVID recovery was only just gearing up and major film releases were targeting the late-January Chinese New Year festivities.

Since that time, China’s box office has mostly been on a roll. The Chinese New Year period was worth $1 billion to cinemas. Hollywood films have been allowed to return in quantity. And the summer season was buoyed by a string of successful and genuinely popular Chinese-made movies.

These factors have allowed the film industry in China to defy the increasingly gloomy macro-economic picture, which is being held back by the property crisis, changing international trade patterns and only weak stimulus measures from central government.

Artisan Gateway shows the year-to-date box office total at $6.19 billion, up 75% on moribund 2022 and only 5% shy of pre-pandemic 2019.

The National Day – Golden Week holiday season may give a clue as to whether film is to be sucked into the economic vortex. As many as 9 Chinese-produced titles are expected to release on Thursday (Sept. 28) or Friday (Sept. 29) along with a couple of imported animation titles.

Among the anticipated leaders are rom-com “The Ex-Files 4,” sports comedy “Lose to Win,” animation titles “I Am Nezha 2” and “Kung Fu Tiger” and Zhang Yimou’s second film this year, crime action drama “Under the Light.”

Over the latest weekend, “Dust to Dust” bounced back to the top spot in its third week of release, as “Expendables 4” weakened in its second weekend. “Dust” earned $7.6 million (RMB54.5 million) for a cumulative of $57.1 million (RMB411 million). “Expendables 4” collected $4.3 million for a cumulative of $19.4 million.

Summer hit, “No More Bets” earned $2.7 million, for a cumulative of $532 million since releasing on Aug. 8. Surprise hit, “Oppenheimer” earned $2.5 million for a China cumulative of $58.1 million. And “Creation of the Gods 1” claimed $1.7 million of tribute, for a total of $364 million, since releasing on July 20.

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