Hollywood Endings Not Enough to Rescue China Box Office

  • Ticket sales flat as demand growth for franchise films fades
  • Dearth of domestic hits also sapping demand for cinema seats

China’s box-office receipts fell last month as Hollywood blockbusters failed to compensate for poor showings by local films.

June movie ticket sales dropped 5 percent to 25.5 billion yuan ($3.8 billion), according to data from online ticketing app and tracker Maoyan.com. Revenue rose 3.7 percent in the first half, well below the more than 35 percent a year average for the five years before 2016.

The monthly and first-half results dashed predictions that films like Paramount Pictures’ “Transformers: The Last Knight,” and Walt Disney Co.’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” would pull in enough moviegoers to revive the market. PriceWaterhouseCoopers this month pushed back its forecast for China’s movie market to overtake the U.S. to 2021 from 2017.

“In the first half, domestic titles flopped in general, and the market has become too reliant on Hollywood imports, the quality of which have not stood up to expectation,” said Mark Chen, an analyst at UOB Kayhian Investment Co. “Chinese moviegoers have become more sophisticated and have outgrown special effect-packed franchise movies.”

Analysts had been predicting a robust recovery for China’s film market this year, and there have been some strong months, like the 49 percent surge in April. The biggest monthly gain since February 2016 was driven by Hollywood car-chase franchise: “The Fate of the Furious,” which claimed more than half of the month’s ticket sales.

While films from outside China underperformed expectations, local ones did even worse and lost market share. Foreign-made movies claimed 61 percent of ticket sales in China in the first half, compared with 47 percent a year ago, according to researcher EntGroup.

To be sure, China’s growth potential remains high, according to Beijing-based film consultancy Fanink Research. About 43 percent of the nation’s population can be counted as moviegoers, compared with 76 percent for the U.S., according to Fanink.

China box-office revenue is still growing faster than the about 2 percent rate for North America last year, according to Motion Picture Association of America data.

— With assistance by Jing Yang De Morel, and Prudence Ho

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