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China Box Office Crawls to 3% Gain in 2016

Variety logo Variety 1/1/2017 Patrick Frater
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UPDATED: Gross theatrical box office in China grew by just 3% in 2016, reaching RMB45.3 billion in local currency terms. That compared with RMB43.9 billion in 2015.

In U.S. dollar terms the data points to a 3.5% drop in the value of the Chinese market from $6.76 billion (using end of 2015 exchange rates) to $6.52 billion (using end of 2016 rates.)

Those numbers are a far cry from the 49% surge enjoyed in 2015 and requires a sharp revision to forecasts of when China’s numbers will overtake North America. The 2017 target figure, so widely used at the beginning of the year, now seems not only wildly optimistic, but also to have misunderstood the dynamics of the market.

Full year data from tracking and consultancy firm Ent Group – likely to be corroborated in the next couple of days by official statistics – show that ticket sales increased by close to 9% over the year. They reached 1.37 billion in 2016, for an average of one ticket per head of population, compares with 1.26 billion in 2015.

Data from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television published on Monday, gave figures of RMB45.7 billion for 2016 and said that growth was 3.7%.

The market share for Chinese film was 58.3% (down from 61.6% in 2015), while that of imported titles was 38.1%. Chinese films earned RMB26.7 billion in 2016, compared with RMB27.1 billion in 2015. Imported films grossed a combined RMB19 billion, up from RMB16.9 billion n 2015.

SAPPRFT said that Chinese film production reached 944 titles in 2016. Their grosses outside China totaled $550 million (RMB 3.83 billion) in 2016, an increase of 38%.

Some 1,612 cinema complexes were opened in 2016. That lifted the nationwide screen count to 41,179. That was up from 31,627 at the end of 2015, and points to an increase of increase of 9,552 screens in 2016. SAPPFRT says that the 2016 figure gives China the largest number of screens in any country in the world. However, data from the Motion Picture Association for 2015 showed North America (U.S. and Canada) with 43,661.

The average ticket price slipped from RMB34.8 in 2015 to RMB32.9 in 2016, according to the Ent Group data. That reflects the dilution of ticket prices as the theatrical circuit has expanded into less affluent towns and cities, often described as being in Tier 3 and Tier 4.

The Ent Group data shows that seven months in 2016 delivered lower scores than the same month in 2015. The last four months of the year were all down.

Far and away the year’s top film was Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid,” which grossed RMB3.39 billion and was watched by more than 92 million people in theaters. Second place went to Disney’s “Zootopia” with a gross of RMB1.53 billion. “The Great Wall,” which is still on release, was just shy of the symbolic RMB1 billion mark at Dec. 31 and ranked tenth for the year.

The top ten includes three films that were made as Hong Kong-China co-productions, two that were U.S.-China co-productions, two that were wholly Chinese and three that were U.S. imports.

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