In 2011, China’s box-office receipts totaled 13.15 billion yuan ($2.08 billion), up 33.3 percent from the year before, and ranked third behind the United States and Japan ($2.3 billion).
For the first quarter of 2012, China surpassed Japan to become the second biggest movie market in the world, according to Mike Ellis, the President and Managing Director Asia Pacific of the Motion Picture Association.
During the first half of 2012, ticket sales reached $1.25 billion. In the past, first half has usually accounted for 40 percent of the total full year receipts, which means that box office receipts for 2012 could exceed $3 billion, or 50 percent more than for 2011.
However, American movies took in more than two thirds of all ticket revenue during the first half of 2012, according to Robert Cain, founder of Pacific Bridge Pictures. Furthermore, Hollywood films topped the Chinese box office for 23 weeks in a row from mid January through late June.
The release of a 3-D version of “Titanic” brought in $67 million in its first weekend in China, compared to $1 million in Japan and $17 million in the USA.
Such surprising box office statistics highlight the awkward position that Chinese filmmakers are facing in their attempts to make commercially successful movies in China. Constrained by government regulations and censorship, they are restricted with respect to what topics they may make movies about and how they may portray people’s daily lives. This tends to make their movies less realistic, which may lessen their appeal to domestic audiences as well as limit the ability of Chinese-made movies to succeed in the international market.
Online video sites, such as those operated by Sina and Sohu, offer some new domestic movies for free to anyone who visits their sites, but rarely have the newest American movies. This combined with rampant piracy issues, where many new movies can be purchased on the street for less than 10 yuan (or $1.6), versus the 60 yuan ($9.6) people pay to watch them in the theaters, further limit the box office prospects for Chinese made movies.
Meanwhile, the rapidly growing Chinese market has caught Hollywood’s attention. Trying to seize a larger percentage of the Chinese market, American companies are looking for more ways to collaborate with their Chinese counterparts. Walt Disney Co., for instance, announced last quarter that it plans to shoot some scenes of “Iron Man 3” in China and to produce the film with a domestic company.