Caixin
Oct 06, 2021 08:25 PM
BUSINESS

China War Epic Blasts Holiday Box Office Back to Near Pre-Pandemic Levels

China’s box office has rebounded closer to pre-pandemic levels during the week-long National Day holiday, despite a drop in first day sales and a sluggish performance through late September due to virus flare-ups.

Leading the charge with over 70% of the total box office was the big budget war epic “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” starring Wu Jing from “Wolf Warrior 2” and co-directed by Chen Kaige, Hark Tsui and Dante Lam.

As of Tuesday, national box office takings were up 9% year-on-year to 3.2 billion yuan ($496 million) over five days and getting closer to the pre-Covid 2019 number, 3.5 billion yuan, according to Alibaba-owned ticketing platform Dengta.

The recovery was unexpected after a slide of over 15% on Friday, the first day of the holiday, when Chinese cinemas usually have their best sales. But unlike in previous years, the customers kept coming and the daily box office stayed above 650 million yuan for three consecutive days.

BOX-OFFICE-chart

“The Battle at Lake Changjin,” a patriotic film released a day before the national holiday, has raked in 2.3 billion yuan in ticket sales so far during the holiday week to snare over 70% of total box office, Dengta data shows.

With such strong sales, cinema managers are trying to schedule as many screenings of the film as possible, and on Wednesday the Bona Film Group Co. Ltd. production accounted for one-in-every-two scheduled showings, Dengta data shows.

The holiday season’s second most popular film is “My Country, My Parents,” another patriot-themed production by China Film Co. Ltd., but its 761 million yuan in ticket sales is being dwarfed by the box office leader.

The National Day holiday box office upswing is welcome news for China’s cinemas after months of sluggish sales through the year’s various Covid-19 flare-ups. Just a week before the holiday, box office receipts for the three-day Mid-Autumn Festival hit a four-year low, taking only 498 million yuan, a 40% drop from pre-pandemic 2019, according to Dengta.

In late August, box office sales hit another low when cinemas in some parts of the country suspended operations in the wake of the Nanjing virus outbreak that spread to almost 30 cities, including big centers like Beijing and Wuhan. According to Dengta, one-fifth of China’s cinemas were closed in late August.

The industry’s recovery was also on a rocky road during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday in July. It raked in only 466 million yuan, down over 40% on returns during the same holiday in 2019 and even lower compared to 2018 figures.

Two major virus flare-ups have also emerged near the National Day holiday week. The city of Harbin in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province reported multiple confirmed cases over a week ago. Not long before that, East China’s Fujian province reported almost 500 cases after an outbreak starting Sept. 10. But so far, authorities have not taken action to curb the screening of films.

Contact reporter Manyun Zou (manyunzou@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)

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