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With the New Year’s box office soaring, has China overtaken Hollywood?

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Movie posters for the Spring Festival blockbusters are seen outside a movie theater in east China’s Jiangsu Province on February 12, 2021. / VCG

Movie posters for the Spring Festival blockbusters are seen outside a movie theater in east China’s Jiangsu Province on February 12, 2021. / VCG

China’s box office turnover for the Spring Festival holiday was nothing short of extraordinary. Despite COVID-related capacity restrictions, as of the end of February 17, collection for the holiday period exceeded 7.8 billion yuan ($ 1.2 billion), surpassing the record figure of 2019.

Detective Chinatown 3, which topped the holiday rankings, grossed more than 3.7 billion yuan as of Feb.19, according to data from Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan. Hi Mom, and The Odyssey of a Writer, who came in second and third place, each grossed around 3.2 billion and 600 million yuan.

This is the first time that all of the top 10 grossing vacation movies have been made by Chinese studios. Hollywood blockbusters, which typically had their place at the Chinese Spring Festival box office, have seen many of their theatrical releases delayed or canceled.

At present, Hollywood faces a series of challenges vis-à-vis China, said Michael Berry, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. While there is a slowdown in Chinese direct investment in Hollywood, there is also a shortage of “products” to sell to China, especially given US film production decimated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

People wearing face masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus watch a movie at a cinema in Beijing, China July 24, 2020. / AP

People wearing face masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus watch a movie at a cinema in Beijing, China July 24, 2020. / AP

After the pandemic closed theaters across the United States, major Hollywood studios announced that they would either move their sprawling versions to digital streaming platforms or delay their theatrical releases indefinitely. No time to die, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Avatar 2 are among the big-budget franchise films set to cause a sensation in China, but whose screening has been delayed so far due to the pandemic.

But local Chinese films began to overtake foreign releases at the Chinese box office even before the pandemic. Last year, Principle, the sci-fi epic of legendary director Christopher Nolan, grossed $ 66 million at the Chinese box office, compared to a home-made war film The eight hundred which grossed $ 472 million and became the highest grossing film of 2020 worldwide.

In 2019, among the 10 highest grossing films in China, two were from Hollywood studios. In 2020, there was only one.

“China has been able to produce films that not only achieve comparable box office success, but they can do so with a fraction of the budget, and relying solely on the Chinese market,” Berry told CGTN.

People line up to watch Detective Chinatown 3 at a movie theater in Beijing, China on February 13, 2021. / VCG

People line up to watch Detective Chinatown 3 at a movie theater in Beijing, China on February 13, 2021. / VCG

China is Hollywood’s second-largest revenue stream and is seen as the key to generating profits for Hollywood films. Hollywood blockbusters like Fast furious, Transformers: The Last Knight, which, however, did not do well in the United States, grossed millions of dollars at the Chinese box office.

Although the past few years have seen Hollywood filmmakers trying to incorporate more Chinese elements into films to cater to Chinese audiences, some have experienced major setbacks. The Hollywood remake of Mulan grossed around $ 42 million in China, well below the home run many expected for filming the movie in China, and featured a number of Chinese movie stars.

The Chinese film market is really competitive, said David U. Lee, Hollywood film producer and CEO of Leeding Media, an international entertainment company. The fierce competition in the Chinese film industry, in addition to the growing size of the market, has helped to develop a young generation of Chinese filmmakers capable of telling more poignant, relevant and compelling stories for local audiences.

“The development and growth of local filmmakers in China is phenomenal,” noted Lee. “If Hollywood is to compete, they have to keep improving their games.”

A poster for the Disney movie Mulan at a cinema in Beijing, China on September 11, 2020. / AP

A poster for the Disney movie Mulan at a cinema in Beijing, China on September 11, 2020. / AP

Li Boyang, a Los Angeles-based independent Chinese filmmaker, said Chinese filmmakers should nonetheless be aware of the catch-up they should be playing compared to Hollywood directors. “There is only one The Wandering Earth, a The eight hundred. For the vast majority of films, their production quality is still second to none in Hollywood. “

He said he hoped to see greater engagement between Hollywood and China to spark innovation so that a better quality of work can be produced on both sides.

Big budget Hollywood franchises, which are most likely to become a hit in the Chinese market, like Marvel’s Black Widow, Fast and Furious 9, are now lined up for screening in the first half of 2021. Their box office performance will show whether China is ready to exit Hollywood.

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