The fortunes of the global cinema sector have gone in different directions in the past one week. While theatre chains overseas are struggling and battling to survive, box office activity in China is well on the way to recovery, receiving a boost from the “golden week” holiday.
Total box office receipts on the mainland from October 1 to 4 reached 2.5 billion yuan (US$368 million), 14 per cent lower compared with the same period last year, as cinemas are still restricted to 75 per cent capacity, according to data from Maoyan Entertainment, China’s largest movie ticket platform. Movie ticket sales were also helped by the fact that mainlanders, unable to travel overseas, turned to films for entertainment
After the year’s first blockbuster, The Eight Hundred, was well-received in August after an extended delay because of the coronavirus outbreak, cinema operators were anticipating a boost from the pent-up demand during the National Day holiday. The World War II epic was the first Chinese film shot entirely on IMAX cameras.
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“The overall performance of the IMAX box office during the National Day holiday has continued to exceed our expectation,” IMAX China said. “Since the theatres reopened, we have observed a strong rebound in demand for movies from our audience.”
While China has become one of Hollywood’s top markets in recent years, local blockbusters led box office takings. My People, My Homeland, a patriotic omnibus comprising five stories, was the top grosser, raking in 1.3 billion yuan (US$191 million) by Monday.
Animated feature Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification, based on an ancient Chinese mythology, mopped up 1.1 billion yuan.
Rounding up the top three was Leap. The film, featuring Gong Li and based on a true story of China’s women’s national volleyball team, earned 530 million yuan. It was originally due to be released during the Lunar New Year holiday in January, but was postponed after China introduced stringent lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The film’s fortunes were in stark contrast to Disney’s ambitious remake of Mulan, also starring Gong. It was expected to be a hit in China, but only ended up with half of the box office takings of Leap, despite being released 14 days earlier.
IMAX China said more domestic films will be released before the end of the year to cater to the demand for entertainment from moviegoers.
In contrast, most potential Hollywood blockbusters have been pushed back to 2021 amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the US and Europe. The next James Bond movie, No Time to Die, which was postponed from April to November 2020, has once again been delayed to April next year.
For Hollywood movies released as scheduled, their receipts in North America were barely satisfactory. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet earned a paltry US$45.1 million in its home market.
Stifled by the lacklustre box office performance and lack of upstream supply, Cineworld, the world’s second largest cinema operator, said on Monday that it would close down all their theatres in the US and UK for the second time this year, starting from October 8.
“Cineworld will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate any future plans to resume operations in these markets at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen,” said Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld.
TJ Green, chief executive of Apex International Cinemas, which operates cinemas with state-backed China Film Group, the country’s top film production house, said as China’s box office continues to recover, it will become the number one film market in the world for the first time this year.
“I believe China has certainly taught how to properly build the movie business again through its release of key films and strict regulations on Covid-19 prevention procedures,” said Green.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China trots out The Eight Hundred, other patriotism fare to rescue Asia’s largest movie box office as Covid-19 lockdown ends
- China’s cinemas see promising recovery after reopening, despite threat from online streaming services