China box office surpasses North America for the first time

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

In a rather sudden development—yet one that probably had to happen rather sooner than later—the Chinese box-office gross has for the first time overtaken that of North America. The first quarter of 2018 saw China’s cinemas raking up some CNY20.2 billion ($3.7 bil.) by the end of March, outstripping the aggregate takings across the U.S. and Canada, which amounted to $2.89 billion for the same period, by a comfortable $800 million. Though nothing short of phenomenal, this coup nevertheless had been some time in the making, with China having reported new box-office records in almost every quarter over the past year.

The latest box-office tally is the clearest sign yet that China will soon replace North America as the world’s largest film market for good. Even Charles Rivkin, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), conceded as much in a recent MPAA report, saying that "the Chinese film market is going to be the [world’s] largest film market in short order."

The same report also concluded that mounting trade tensions between the United States and China will do little to curtail the increasingly significant role Chinese audiences will play for Hollywood's future. With some Hollywood blockbusters now actually grossing more in China than they do at home, the most burning question occupying the minds of North America’s film producers at the moment seemingly is how to secure a piece of the pie. Xian Li, a Hollywood-based studio executive, recently told China’s official news agency Xinhua he believed that co-productions between the two countries could be “a way for indie productions to gain access to China's huge market” and that Hollywood likewise should adapt to the changing market. However, according to Li, the large Hollywood studios are not really into the co-production game. “They can't adapt fast enough to a rapidly changing market," Li told Xinhua, adding that this fact could be "a tremendous opportunity for smaller production companies to take advantage of the vacuum, develop those key relationships in China and grow with the industry there."

Annihilation Receives Parental Advisory Warning Label in China

The Alex Garland-directed psychological sci-fi thriller Annihilation is screening with a parental advisory warning in Chinese cinemas, according to its local distributor, China Film. It is only the second film to ever carry that label in the country after the X-Men franchise film Logan received a similar parental advisory warning last year. China Film apparently already started notifying theatre operators across the country about the parental advisory weeks ago. On April 12, the distributor disseminated film posters and a trailer ahead of the film’s release, which advise that children and teenagers under the age of 17 should be accompanied by a guardian when watching the film.

Although China currently doesn't have an actual film rating system in place, the country’s first film law, which took effect on March 1, 2017, incorporates an article which stipulates that films containing "physically and mentally uncomfortable images” should carry clear labels for parents and that they should accompany their offspring to the theatre in order to offer counseling as necessary if their children become scared by violent or psychologically disturbing scenes. Annihilation, based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, who also co-wrote the script with Garland, opened in China on April 13.  

First Movie Ticket QR Payment Service Debuts in Thailand

One of Thailand’s leading cinema chains, Major Cineplex Group, in collaboration with VISA and the Bank of Thailand, has introduced the country’s first QR payment service for admission tickets at e-ticketing machines installed at its theatres. The Bank of Thailand supports payments through its cashless 2C2P system while VISA enables payments through its credit cards. The service was launched on March 13 and April 1, respectively, and is in line with the “National Cashless Society” policy declared by the Thai government some time ago. To buy movie tickets, customers need to open the mobile banking app or e-wallet installed on their smartphone, then scan the QR code displayed on the e-ticketing screen, effecting instant payment.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, as customers have expressed excitement with the new service and adopted it very fast because of its convenience and because it is smarter than using cash,” Thotsaphon Maytheetanpongwanit, Major Cineplex Group’s director of mobile business, told FJI. He said the service, which will be “a permanent fixture at our cinemas,” negates the need for producing either cash or a physical credit card, as the transaction is carried out entirely virtually. Furthermore, it will enable Major Cineplex Group to “conduct specific promotional campaigns through this new payment channel.” This would also include prize competitions like a currently running one, in which the top prize is a fully paid trip for two to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, valued at THB600,000 ($19,000). “Each of the two winners will receive a round-trip air ticket Bangkok to Moscow, four nights’ hotel accommodations and a ticket to watch a live match of their choice in the tournament’s knockout stage. Every payment through our new QR system will earn one chance in the prize draw,” Thotsaphon explained.

For feedback and inquiries, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.