China’s Lunar New Year box office revenues soar by a third to record US$1.21 billion as cinemas fill up amid travel restrictions

Cheryl Heng
·3-min read

China’s box office revenues climbed to a record high during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, signalling a promising recovery of the world’s largest film market from the coronavirus fallout last year.

Holiday movie ticket sales in China reached 7.8 billion yuan (US$1.21 billion) during the week of February 11 to 17, up 32.5 per cent from the 2019 Lunar New Year holiday, according to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment.

Ticketing revenue for 2020 was omitted as cinemas were shut between January and July amid the coronavirus crisis.

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The resurgence at the box office may have been powered by stricter travel measures put in place to limit the annual Lunar New Year mass migration, in a bid to prevent a return of Covid-19. People stayed put during the festival season instead of returning to their hometowns for family reunions.

Some 44 per cent of those surveyed by the Maoyan Research Institute said they watched more movies during this year’s festive season than they did in 2019, citing more leisure time as their main reason.

More than 40 per cent of theatre screenings were fully booked in the first three days of the festive season.

Box office sales in the period were dominated by family comedy Hi, Mom and mystery comedy Detective Chinatown 3. The films had raked in earnings of 4.24 billion yuan and 4.1 billion yuan respectively as of Tuesday, making them the fifth and sixth top-grossing movies of all time in the Chinese film market, a whisker behind Avengers 4: Endgame at 4.25 billion yuan, Maoyan data showed.

Detective Chinatown 3, the third instalment of the popular cop series, led China’s box office in the first few days of the holiday with its strong franchise appeal and marketing buzz.

But it was inched out of first place by the strong word-of-mouth appeal of comedian Jia Ling’s maiden directorial work, Hi, Mom, a heartwarming story of a daughter who travels back in time to meet her mother.

The first six days of the Lunar New Year emerged as being among the top 10 highest box office revenue days in China’s film history, even as most theatres were limited to three-quarters seating capacity.

China took the top spot for global cinema receipts last year, overtaking the US as the pandemic shut American cinemas for longer than their Chinese counterparts. Ticket sales in China came to 20 billion yuan (US$3.06 billion) in 2020, surpassing the US$2.28 billion of receipts in the US, according to data from Maoyan and Comscore.

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