China’s 2021 box office numbers reach US$3 billion in a few months, significantly more than the US made for all of 2020


China’s total box office numbers for 2021 topped US$3 billion on the weekend as the industry continues its recovery from a coronavirus pandemic that placed immense pressure on the Chinese film industry.

The box office numbers are nearly equal to the US$3.06 billion raked in during 2020, but it still has a ways to go if it hopes to catch the record US$9.1 billion made in 2019, before the pandemic.

The US$3 billion number is well passed the US total for 2020 of US$2.1 billion. So far this year, the US has made just US$355 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

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China boasts four of the top five most popular movies in 2021. Illustration: Tom Leung

Bloomberg reported in March that, as the US begins to reopen its economy as more people receive vaccinations for Covid-19, the US box office could make between US$4.5 billion and US$6 billion, which, adjusted for inflation, would be the industry’s lowest numbers since 1982.

China’s success at the box office this year is driven in part by the fact that it is home to the two most popular movies in the world – Hi, Mom, a family dramedy, and Detective Chinatown 3, a family adventure movie.

Globally, Hi, Mom has made over US$820 million this year while Detective Chinatown 3 earned more than US$686 million. The only international movie not from China the top-5, coming in at fourth, was the Hollywood monster movie Godzilla vs. Kong, which has made over US$177 million in China, more than double the US$81 million it has made in its home country of America.

Detective Chinatown 3 was the second-most popular movie in China so far in 2021. Photo: Handout

Hi, Mom also looks set to achieve a separate milestone: surpassing 2017’s Wonder Woman as the highest-grossing movie directed by a woman.

The Chinese domestic box office appears to have also been buoyed by tight restrictions on activities during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, international travel is nearly impossible and Chinese authorities made a major effort during the Lunar New Year to incentivise people to avoid domestic travel during the holiday.

Maoyan, the Chinese version of Box Office Mojo, released a survey that said 44 per cent of respondents said they watched more movies during the 2021 holiday than they did in 2019. The company did not ask about 2020 when movie theatres were closed due to the pandemic.

The recovery of Chinese cinema in 2021 is welcome news to the industry. Last May, the China Film Association reported that nearly 40 per cent of Chinese cinemas were facing imminent closure because they were often among the last venues to receive permission to reopen, or did so at extremely limited capacity.

China’s movies have a long way to go before they recover to the numbers of before the coronavirus pandemic. Illustration: Tom Leung

A couple of other movies that helped China’s overall ticket sales were Sister, a poignant social movie that sparked a conversation about the pressures placed on eldest siblings, and A Little Red Flower, a romance movie that was released on the last day of 2020.

China’s run of box office success continued this week with Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet, which has made over US$17.1 million since its release on April 16.

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