Box office revenues head for recovery

Promotional material for Born to Fly, one of this year’s highest-grossing May Day holiday films, at a Beijing cinema on Monday. EVERYDAY CHINA

The record number of 18 new films rattled box office coffers on the May Day holiday, demonstrating the Chinese film industry’s continued strong momentum towards recovery.

On Tuesday, the holiday – which has become a lucrative box office season in recent years – grossed more than 1.3 billion yuan ($188.1 million), including pre-sale figures, far exceeding 297 million yuan last year during the same period, which was hit by regional outbreaks of COVID-19, according to movie data tracker Beacon.

Currently, the two highest-grossing holiday films are Born to Fly, China’s first film featuring advanced fighter jets and elite pilots who risk their lives to conduct test flights, and Godspeed, a comedy road trip about a young man’s attempts to impress his girlfriend’s parents. By Tuesday afternoon, Born to Fly had generated revenue of 440 million yuan, while Godspeed had taken in 420 million yuan.

Although Born to Fly topped the country’s one-day box office charts between April 28 and April 30, Godspeed replaced it as the new champion on May 1 and May 2. It remains to be seen which of the two ultimately wins the May Day movie market crown. .

In third place on the charts is All These Years, a film about two lovers who reunite after a long separation. It is followed by animated blockbuster The First Slam Dunk, the second highest-grossing Japanese film this year, released in mainland China on April 20.

Usually, box office receipts are highest on the first day of the holiday, boosted heavily by the pre-sale window that opened about a week earlier. This year, however, the May Day holiday saw revenue increase every day between April 29 and May Day, indicating that blockbusters have withstood the test of the market.

Yu Chao, deputy general manager of Capital Cinema in Beijing, said the May Day holiday figures hold a higher benchmark compared to the same periods in 2019 and 2021, as all Chinese cinemas were closed from January to July 2020 due to COVID-19.

In 2019, nine new films – eight Chinese titles and one French feature – competed for the holiday market, but it was Hollywood blockbuster Avengers: Endgame that opened a week before the festive break and won nearly 80% of total ticket revenue in China.

Chinese films showed stronger appeal in 2021, with local romance My Love and famed director Zhang Yimou’s debut spy film Cliff Walkers earning around 61% of May Day box office revenue. The year 2021 was the previous record holder, with 12 films released during the May Day holiday that together grossed 1.67 billion yuan.

Yu pointed out that the three highest-grossing films of this holiday are Chinese stories and that all holiday films cover a range of genres – from action and suspense to romance – indicating that local film companies are regaining confidence in the market and are ready to release more films.

“What is even more uplifting is that several new films have been announced for release later this year, which will give distributors more time for promotion, reinforcing our confidence that the Chinese film industry will rebound to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year,” Yu said.

Rao Shuguang, president of the Chinese Film Critics Association, said the summer vacation and the National Day holiday will be the next two important seasons to contribute significantly to box office revenue.

Several of the May Day holiday titles such as Born to Fly and The Procurator were originally slated for release last year but were postponed due to the pandemic, showing that Chinese filmmakers still need to ramp up production in order to ensure sustainable development, Rao added.

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