Nation's movie market surges ahead after pandemic

Robust recovery sees audiences return to theaters in numbers

By XU FAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-01-15 07:49
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The Chinese thriller Wolf Hiding attracts moviegoers to a cinema in Shanghai last month. CHINA DAILY

Foreign exchanges

With China lifting pandemic restrictions early in January last year, global cinematic exchanges and imports of foreign films also witnessed a recovery.

A total of 84 imported films, including 28 Hollywood movies, were released in the country last year, data from the China Film Distribution and Screening Association show.

Apart from domestic blockbusters such as The Wandering Earth II and Hidden Blade screening in a number of overseas markets, including North America, Chinese films were shown in a total of 19 countries and regions, including Egypt, Chile, Colombia, South Africa and Nigeria.

Foreign blockbusters, although not as commercially successful as those made several years ago, have still made their mark in the Chinese market.

Fast X, the 10th installment of the streetcar racing-themed Fast and Furious franchise, earned 984 million yuan to become the highest-grossing overseas film in China last year. The Hollywood production, which stars United States actor Vin Diesel, was also the 12th highest-grossing film on the country's yearly box office charts.

The popularity of Japanese animated films continued to grow in China. Renowned director Makoto Shinkai's coming-of-age adventure movie Suzume and The First Slam Dunk, the first feature-length film based on the sports series Slam Dunk, which was hugely popular in the mid-1990s, took second and fourth places, respectively, on the foreign film box office charts in China last year.

The First Slam Dunk, which centers on a high school basketball team taking part in a national competition, evokes collective memories among Chinese moviegoers born in the 1980s and early 1990s, despite the main audience for the Chinese film market being in their 20s.

Zhi Feina, a professor at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, said Chinese audiences are no longer merely satisfied with visually stunning foreign blockbusters, especially if they feature stereotyped plotlines and characters. However, acclaimed Hollywood films such as Oppenheimer and Barbie continue to earn a market share by attracting local audiences who appreciate foreign titles, she added.

The rapidly recovering market in China has also attracted foreign filmmakers and top stars to return to the country to promote their projects after the pandemic, Zhi added.

In March, Shinkai — considered by many film enthusiasts to be the successor to iconic animator Miyazaki Hayao — visited Beijing to publicize Suzume, a film about a 17-year-old schoolgirl's adventure with a man who possesses superpowers to stop natural disasters.

British-American director Christopher Nolan traveled to Shanghai and Beijing in August to promote Oppenheimer, the biopic about the titular character, who was hailed as "the father of the atomic bomb".

In December, French director Luc Besson traveled to four cities, including Hangzhou, Zhejiang province and Suzhou, Jiangsu province, to promote his revenge fantasy film Dogman.

At about the same time, Hollywood director James Wan and actor Jason Momoa embarked on a tour to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to publicize Aquaman and Lost Kingdom. The latter movie is the long-anticipated sequel to Aquaman, the highest-grossing film in China based on a DC Comics superhero.

Zhi said that China, with an annual box office earnings rise of 83 percent last year compared to 2022, has played a pivotal role in boosting the film industry's global recovery. The comparable earnings rise in North America and Japan were 20.71 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

Last year, the number of visitors to urban cinemas across China reached 1.3 billion, the second-highest figure in the world, after India. However, this number is still lower than the 1.71 billion recorded in China in 2019, indicating that the nation still faces challenges in achieving a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels this year, Zhi added.

"The achievements made in 2023 will help attract more funding to the film industry, assist more filmmakers to create quality works, draw more audiences to theaters, and further prosper the Chinese film industry this year," she added.

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