The Chinese New Year holidays bring back scenes that haven’t been seen in mainland China’s cinemas for a year – lots of new release titles and crowds to match.
Some records will be broken. But after several months of desertion, the flood of moviegoers could be a relief for the industry at large.
The holiday period, marked by family reunions, began on Saturday. Sunday follows the new release of some of the most anticipated films of the year.
The most prominent of these was “The Wandering Earth 2”, a huge sci-fi hit of 2019 and a prequel to Zhang Yimou’s historical suspense comedy “Full River Red”.
Claiming the top spot, “The Wandering Earth 2” grossed nearly $71 million on its opening day compared to “Full River Red,” which grossed just $60 million. Third, fourth and fifth place went to a trio of neck-and-neck performances from World War II spy thriller “Hidden Blade” with $20.4 million, animation franchise films “Boonie Bears: Guardian Code” ($19.8 million) and “Five Hundred Miles” ($18.9 million). The children’s animated film “Deep Sea” took fifth place with $10.8 million.
Monday’s performance saw “The Wandering Earth 2” and “Full River Red” swap chart spots as the sci-fi saga slipped to $55 million on its second day. “Boonie Bears: Guardian Code” also gained a spot, ahead of “Hidden Blade” with $18 million on its second day.
Tuesday witnessed another reshuffle as “China’s Ping-Pong” released on January 24 and grossed $44 million on its first day.
After the third day of the new movie season, “Full River Red” collected $187 million, “Wandering Earth 2” $181 million, “Booney Bears: Guardian Code” $60.6 million and “Hidden Blade” $53.8 million. Ping-pong’s one-day performance was good enough to finish fifth.
RMB1.34 billion ($198 million) was earned from a total of 24 million ticket sales on the first day, according to tracking service Beacon. This is down from the RMB1.45 million earned in 2021 and the RMB1.67 billion earned on the first day of last year’s holiday season.
But after Covid-induced second-half volatility dragged last year’s overall box office down 36% (some RMB30 billion, compared to RMB 47 billion in 2021), a recovery has at least begun. The top six Chinese New Year titles grossed a combined $604 million over the three days.
State-controlled media praised the performance of Chinese-made films during that period and calculated that China’s box office performance was higher than in North America – even though it was comparing a peak holiday season to a slower month stateside.
Giant screen cinema provider Imax reported that 2023 had its second-best Chinese New Year opening day. Its more than 700 screens in China grossed $7 million on Sunday, including nearly $6 million for “The Wandering Earth 2.”
The company has worked with local filmmakers and production companies to expand its operations in recent years. The Chinese New Year list includes four local language titles “The Wandering Earth 2,” “Full River Red,” “Hidden Blade” and “Deep Sea.”
“Avatar: The Way of Water” was recently granted a release extension that allowed it to run for a second month, a period usually reserved by regulators for the release of Chinese-language films. As the screens switched over to new release titles, its earnings were predictable – just under $100,000 on Sunday from 210 sessions. By Tuesday, it was slightly behind and had taken $720,000 from nearly 2,000 sessions. After 40 days in Chinese cinemas, “Avatar 2” has now grossed $235 million.