Revenue from U.S. studio movies slips 2.7 percent as local laws and homegrown hits cool a once-blazing business.
Hollywood box office growth in China officially flatlined in 2019 — and there is little reason to believe that conditions in the world’s No. 2 theatrical territory will improve anytime soon, analysts caution. Total ticket sales at Chinese cinemas climbed to $9.2 billion (RMB 64.3 billion) in 2019, up 5.4 percent from 2018. That’s a far cry from the galloping double-digit growth that characterized most of the past decade, but it’s still a respectable uptick for a market of China’s scale.
But revenue from U.S. studio films released through the country’s quota system fell 2.7 percent, to $2.6 billion, as data from box office consultancy Artisan Gateway shows. Just two American films made it onto China’s year-end top 10 list — Avengers: Endgame ($614 million) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw ($201 million) — the fewest in the past decade and half as many as in 2018.
As in North America, where the 2019 box office slipped 4 percent, there was just one studio spared by the downturn: Disney. After the acquisition of 20th Century Fox, the Mouse House owned 12 of Hollywood’s 32 revenue-sharing releases in China in 2019 but accounted for 53.6 percent of U.S. studio revenue there, with a combined total of $1.4 billion.
Earnings from mid-budget and independent U.S. titles, meanwhile, were also sharply down. As the U.S.-China trade war hit a fever pitch in mid-2019, Beijing-based film buyers warned that they would be steering clear of American product for fear that regulators might not grant them release dates because of the geopolitical backdrop. As a result, just 13 American movies were released through China’s flat-fee import mechanism last year — 10 fewer than in 2018. Several flat-fee imports became hits — Alibaba’s Green Book ($70 million); JL Vision’s Knives Out ($28 million) — helping earnings from U.S. titles in this category to fall by only 9.1 percent, despite there being 43 percent fewer such releases.
Analysts believe the trade war was only a minor contributor to Hollywood’s shakier footing in China. The bigger factor has been the Beijing film industry’s prowess at producing tentpole-scaled event pictures of its own, told in the country’s own language…