Math can be a frightening thing, especially if you’re a Hollywood studio exec invested in the continued predominance of American movies. Like most every other American industry, Hollywood looks east and sees a growing colossus in China, which has experienced year-over-year growth in the last two years of 27 and 36 percent. China’s movie business is thriving, and no one with an appreciation for numbers doubts that it will eventually eclipse the North American market.
But “eventually” just got a whole lot closer: In February, China’s monthly box-office topped the U.S. market for the first time.
The Hollywood Reporter, citing figures from the research firm Entgroup, determined that China grossed $650 million in February, a record monthly haul boosted by that country’s Lunar New Year holiday. The U.S. box office finished with $640 million. Of perhaps greater concern to American studios is the fact that the record Chinese month at the movies occurred mainly without the boost of Hollywood blockbusters. During the Chinese holiday period, their film authorities typically clear the path for their own domestic releases, and that strategy paid off. The top movie in February was The Man From Macau II, starring Chow Yun-fat, which grossed $104 million. Second, with $95 million, was Dragon Blade, starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody. Third was the Chinese-French co-production, Wolf Totem, with $73 million, followed by Zhong Kui: Snow White and the Dark Crystal ($56 million) and the romance, Somewhere Only We Know ($44 million). The final Hobbit film (which opened in January) and Mockingjay were the leading Hollywood blockbusters in China for the month.
China is currently experiencing explosive growth in the construction of movie theaters, with 15 new screens being added every day. Currently, there are approximately 23,600 screens in China, less than the 40,000 in the U.S., but 475 percent more than China had in 2008. At the current rate—and considering the potential of a billion-plus-person population—some analysts predict that the Chinese market will surpass North America in 2017. That date seems a whole lot closer now.