Following galloping growth, including a 49 per cent rise in 2015, year-on-year growth slowed to 3.7 per cent, while the first quarter of 2017 brought a box office decline of 7 per cent.
China’s box office takings surged 20 per cent year on year in the second quarter, with Hollywood and Bollywood riding to the rescue of the ailing Chinese film industry.
Some analysts expect the annual quota of 34 foreign films allowed into China to be quietly widened this year. Based on the screening schedule, it appears that the tradition of “Domestic Film Protection Month“ in July to August, where only domestic films are screened, will not take place this year.
The authorities had relaxed restrictions on foreign films in an effort to avoid the first annual box office drop in over 20 years. US blockbusters such as the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and India’s Dangal become the top-grossing films from April to June.
中国当局放松了对外国影片的限制，以求避免年度票房收入出现20多年来首次下滑。美国大片《速度与激情8》(Fast and Furious)和《加勒比海盗：死无对证》(Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)以及印度电影《摔跤吧！爸爸》(Dangal)成为今年4月至6月期间票房最高的前三大影片。
Despite the latest boost from abroad, China could record its first annual drop in ticket sales in more than 20 years, said Lei Ming, chief executive of ABD Entertainment in Beijing. Overall growth was “still a concern“, he added.
Part of the problem was that the domestic industry had been unable to generate hits, so regulators had to choose between allowing in more foreign films and an embarrassing box office decline, said Mr Lei.
Out of the top 10 films in the second quarter, only two had been made at home, he said.
The reason is clear to many in the industry: after years of vertiginous growth, China’s box office is in danger of slipping this year for the first time since the 1990s. Censorship rules have discreetly been widened to boost movie revenues and prevent this from happening.
Film industry specialists mainly blame a surge of investment into the entertainment industry, as companies from across the country have tried to chase the booming box office. “There has been a crazy burst of non-film related capital into the film industry, combined with an under-developed content creating system. That has created a massive bubble,“ says Hou Zhihui, a Chinese film producer.
While domestic film production, funded by a horde of Chinese investors, nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016 last year according to EntGroup, the quality is debatable. “A great number of investors barely know anything about the movie industry,“ says Mr Hou.
The relaxation of the limits on foreign films in China points to the subtle power of the profit motive to open up China’s notoriously closed entertainment sector to more foreign movies and to a wider range of subject matter. But it has also spawned introspection about the failure to produce hits by the domestic film industry, which once produced such greats as Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern.
外国电影在华限制的松绑，表明了利润动机的微妙力量打开了以封闭出名的中国娱乐业，接受更多外国电影，也接受更广泛的电影主题。但此举也引发了反思：曾经出品过《霸王别姬》(Farewell My Concubine)和《大红灯笼高高挂》(Raise the Red Lantern)等优秀作品的国内电影业，近年为何未能推出卖座电影？
More than 300 cinemas across China have been punished for lying about box office receipts in what appears to be the first wave of an effort to clean up the film industry.
According to some estimates, fraud by cinemas has erased 10 to 20 per cent of China’s total box office revenues. Tackling such fraud could correspondingly help China hit higher box office targets in 2017. Cinemas have long been known for gaming the box office system, under-reporting sales in an effort to keep more of the proceeds, or transferring revenues from popular blockbusters to lesser-known films that provide a bigger cut to theatres.