Will China’s box office recover?
Factors that caused steep decline haven’t changed, reforms seen as helpful overall
After several months of decline, China’s box office could be hitting a plateau, but the factors causing the dip are still in place.
Industry watchers have attributed the slide to a softening economy and a lack of major blockbusters in release, making it harder for China’s box office to overtake the US’ next year as has previously been predicted.
China’s movie ticket sales in July were down 15 percent, compounding a drop in the second quarter, when totals were 4.6 percent less than those of the same period last year.
The slump has been particularly stark in contrast to the 50 percent growth of last year, though experts said that could be the reason why the slowdown has been happening.
“They’ve had a dozen straight years of 30 percent growth — it’s inevitable that there will be a dip,” said Rob Cain, an American film producer and founder of Pacific Bridge Pictures.
Cain also blamed the dip on the lack of major movies that have been released in the last several months. In the same period last year, three Hollywood blockbusters raked in record ticket sales — Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World — with domestic hits Monster Hunt and Monkey King: Hero is Back also in the mix.
“If you don’t have those big films that bring in the box office, you’re going to have problems,” said Stanley Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California.
“One of the reasons why the Chinese box office has done so well is you have a relatively small number of films that have incredible box office results,” Rosen explained. “That drives everything else. Most films don’t have much success at the box office. If you don’t have the few films that are doing super business, you’re going to have a drop-off.”
He also attributed the decline to the government cracking down on ticket inflation and reducing producer subsidies, which impacts the stock performance of the big film companies.
There has been some cheating and finagling at the box office.” Stanly Rosen, director, East Asian Studies, USC
Observers call the crackdown on ticket inflation a step in the right direction as box office numbers will start to reflect a more accurate picture of customer consumption.
Earlier this year, allegations of fraud arose when the distributor of Ip Man 3 was accused of bulk-buying tickets to inflate the movie’s numbers.
Last fall, the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said it would blacklist wrongdoers if they violated regulations on ticket sales.
“There has been some cheating and finagling at the box office, some of which has been very clearly discovered,” Rosen said.
Aynne Kokas, media studies professor at the University of Virginia, said that the explosive growth of theaters around China — which is what led to huge growth at the box office to begin with — may have also hit its peak.
“There is less structural likelihood of getting 30 to 40 percent annual growth because there isn’t the exponential increase in the number of theaters,” she said.