Chinese box office breaks record despite pandemic shadow

Business & Technology

Chinese filmgoers are crowding into theaters to watch domestic movies as moviemakers around the world are on pandemic pause.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Chinese box office sales broke records during the Lunar New Year holiday, raking in 6 billion yuan ($930 million) as of February 15. 

  • This was a significant bounceback from 2020 when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic around the last Lunar New Year holiday, led to movie theater closures, resulting in a paltry 18 million yuan ($2.79 million) in ticket sales.  
  • On Lunar New Year’s Day, which fell on February 12 this year, box office sales totaled 1.74 billion yuan ($264 million), breaking the pre-pandemic single-day record set during 2019 of 1.45 billion yuan ($226 million). 
  • Most Chinese movie theaters are currently operating at 75% capacity, and some at 50% in areas at risk for outbreaks in accordance with COVID-19 control measures.

City residents who did not return home due to pandemic control measures boosted (in Chinese) the demand for movie tickets in first- and second-tier cities.

  • The increase in demand for tickets paired with limited seats drove up the cost of ticket prices with tickets up from an average of 35 yuan ($5.42) to 51 yuan ($7.9). 
  • In some movie halls, prices doubled in a single day (in Chinese), with new flicks often priced over 100 yuan ($15.5). On Weibo, many lamented (in Chinese) the high costs and difficulty in securing a ticket. 

The most talked-about films include Detective Chinatown 3 (唐人街探案3) by China’s leading film producer, Wanda Films, and Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英), co-produced by seven companies, including ecommerce giant Alibaba’s entertainment unit, Alibaba Pictures, and China’s largest movie ticket retail platform, Maoyan. 

Domestic films performed well in 2020, despite poor overall box office numbers: Last year was the first year all of China’s top-grossing films were made by Chinese studios, a far cry from previous years, when Hollywood blockbusters consistently placed in top spots.