Feb 16, 2021 07:58 PM

Sky’s the Limit for China’s Record Lunar New Year Box Office Takings

People watch a movie at a cinema in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, on Feb. 13.
People watch a movie at a cinema in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, on Feb. 13.

The annual Lunar New Year vacation has not yet finished, but amid stories of hard-to-buy movie tickets and seats costing a third more than usual, China’s cinema sector has bounced back to record 6 billion yuan in advance sales since the holiday began on Feb 11.

This includes over 1 billion yuan a day for the first three days of the Year of the Ox.

Caution due to recurrences of Covid-19 in northern China since January has not dampened demand, as witnessed by box office revenues of almost 3 billion yuan for “Detective Chinatown 3,” 1.7 billion yuan for “Hello Mom,” and 410 million yuan for third ranked “Assassin in Red.”

After a year of sitting back and streaming, even iQiyi’s offer of free access to its online site did not deter people from purchasing 55 million individual tickets to the cinema over the first weekend of the Lunar New Year holiday.

As lockdowns have been loosened, movie-watchers appear confident to leave their homes for entertainment and are determined to enjoy long-awaited titles hitting the big screen despite seating capacity being restricted to 50% in Beijing and 75% in other big cities.

In 2020, the world’s largest film market bounced back to make $2.8 billion by the end of the year after takings had slumped due to a six-month shutdown of cinemas to combat the coronavirus.

The movie lineup has been highly rated by viewers commenting on social media platform Douban and ticketing site Maoyan. Of the seven movies shown over the Lunar New Year period, “Detective Chinatown 3,” is by far the runaway favorite. The film release had been put on hold last Lunar New Year when cinemas were suddenly shut on the eve of the holiday.

The latest in Wanda Pictures comedy series featuring Liu Haoran, the movie made over $100 million more than Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” did worldwide last year, according to Variety magazine. Made for Imax, the movie represented 94% of Imax sales on the best Lunar New Year weekend for the company in China ever.

Second in terms of sales revenue, “Hi, Mom,” has been given four stars or more by up to 80% of users on the most popular ratings apps, while sci-fi adventure romp “A Writer’s Odyssey,” came third. “Endgame” starring Andy Lau came in last of the seven new releases.

Despite being a singular bright spot in a global cinema industry frozen by the coronavirus pandemic, China’s movie bounty may not be shared widely. As the world’s second largest economy overtook the U.S. as the global market leader in movies last December, imported films accounted for just 16.3% of the total in 2020, a 66.5% decline from 2018, a trend that is likely to continue as local productions forge ahead in a revitalized economy, and Hollywood recovers from the chaos wrought by Covid-19.

Contact reporter Heather Mowbray ( and editor Marcus Ryder (

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