Box office revenue in China rose by 5.4% to reach RMB64.3 billion in 2019, a new record high although a lower growth rate compared to the previous year. Cinema admissions stayed flat with a 0.6% increase to finish the year with 1.73 billion tickets sold. Screen growth was still dynamic in 2019. The total cinema screens in China reached 69,787, up 9,708 from 2018, still around 27 new screens every day, according to data released by China Film Administration.
Local films had the best result in history with 64.1% market share, up from 62.2% in 2018. Eight out of the top 10 grossing films were domestic titles, and the top 10 films took 44.5% of the box office in total. The market share for foreign films has been shrinking in the past three years, from 46.2% in 2017 to 37.9% in 2018, then to 35.9% in 2019.
Ne Zha, a local animated fantasy, became the highest hit in 2019 with RMB5.68 million in box office, followed by science fiction title The Wondering Earth with RMB4.68 billion. Hollywood blockbuster Avengers: Endgame came the third on the list with RMB4.25 billion.
The entertainment industry in 2019 has been described as ‘winter’ due to shortage of funds, tighter regulation and strict tax schemes, which all started with the celebrity payment and tax scandal in 2018. 2019 was also the year marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, where stricter censorship has been applied to the content market.
For the theatrical market, 2019 was also a difficult year where box office dropped for the first time (since 2011) in the first half of the year, and cinema admissions decreased by a larger portion of 10.3%. The second half of the year was pushed up by the summer holiday and especially the National Day holiday week, with 13% and 109.7% increases respectively. The National Day holiday week was facilitated by the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, where “main melody” themed movies were a great success. Key local blockbusters like Ne Zha, My People- My Country and The Captain were the main titles driving the growth in the second half of 2019.
Another positive from the market is that local titles were gaining more praise for their quality. According to a survey by China Film Art Research Centre, the consumer satisfaction of the film quality (local titles during the major holiday periods) has achieved 82.6 score, the highest in the past five years.
The market is currently in a situation where audiences are more discerning as to what they are going to watch and how to watch it; investors are more cautious about where to invest; and film studios are more thoughtful about the content they are going to produce. This is the right time, when the market is slowing down in pace and trying to rectify itself, to achieve a more stable and healthy growth by quality instead of quantity.