China Box Office Slows Further, Now Trailing 2019 by More Than Half

Finally, a newly released film has penetrated China’s box office top five, the first time this has happened in a month.

But “Serendipity Love” had so little impact that it failed to displace the incumbent “Home Coming” from first place. And the nationwide theatrical business slipped to within a whisker of its weakest weekend performance this year.

The total achieved by all films currently on release was just $9.7 million over the latest Friday to Sunday weekend, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. Only two weekends in 2022 have been weaker, in April and May, when Shanghai was in a state of lockdown.

The continued theatrical weakening means that the box office deficit compared with previous years is deepening.

China’s cinema box office is currently down 35% on 2021, with a year-to-date total of $3.88 billion.
Against 2019, the last pre-COVID year, it is down by more than half. China’s box office total at the same point in 2019 stood at $8.11 billion.

“Home Coming,” a patriotic adventure drama about a rescue mission in North Africa, earned $3.8 million (RMB27.1 million) between Friday and Sunday, and stayed on top of the chart for the sixth successive weekend. The latest increment gives the film a $211 million (RMB1.52 million) cumulative, since releasing on Sept. 30, 2022.

“Serendipity Love,” a romantic melodrama, earned just $2.3 million (RMB16.6 million) in its opening three days.

In third place, “Give Me Five,” released on Sept. 9, 2022, managed $1.8 million in its ninth weekend on release. Its cumulative stands at $72.2 million (RMB520 million).

Fourth place belonged to “Ordinary Hero,” with a weekend score of $472,000 (RMB3.4 million). Its cumulative since releasing on Sept. 30, 2022, is now $29.6 million (RMB213 million).

Fifth spot was occupied by Chinese animation film “New Happy Dad and Son 5: My Alien’s Friend.” It took $250,000 (RMB1.8 million) over the weekend, for a cumulative of $11.2 million (RMB80.8 million) since debuting on Oct. 1, 2022.

With the Communist Party congress now firmly in the rear-view mirror, the latest box office weekend malaise cannot be blamed on specific political events. Rather, the lack of releases of any significant new films is dragging the film economy to the bottom.

Chinese film distributors remain hesitant to major local titles into a market that is weakened by strict COVID control policies, which can cause sudden lockdowns and mass testing, and by a generally slowing economy. Similarly, distributors of foreign films have nothing to do as imported films are currently absent from the forward releasing calendar.

In the last week there has been yet further confusion over the direction of China’s COVID control measures. One official suggested that controls might be rolled back over the next six months, a comment that caused stock markets in mainland China and in Hong Kong to surge on Friday. But over the weekend, the economically important Guangdong Province saw COVID case numbers double, and central government officials said that China will persist with the ‘Dynamic COVID-zero’ policy through the coming winter, which is expected to drive case numbers upwards again.

“We will hold fast to ‘Dynamic zero-Covid’ and continue to improve control measures to adapt to changes in the virus,” said a spokeswoman from the National Administration of Disease Control and Prevention, on Saturday. “Practice has proved that our control strategy and strategic measures are completely correct, most economical and effective.”

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