Jackie Chan's 'Railroad Tigers' gives strong finish to China's weak 2016 box office

Jackie Chan’s action-comedy “Railroad Tigers” topped China's box office charts last week, raking in $40.1 million and bringing its 10-day total to an impressive $71.4 million.

 Zhang Yimou’s “Great Wall” slipped to second place in its third week running, taking in $18.6 million, according to film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway. The U.S.-China co-production surpassed a symbolic 1 billion yuan ($144 million) in ticket sales, racking up $148.9 million in total. “Great Wall” will be released in North America on Feb 17.

Third place last week went to the domestic romantic comedy “Some Like It Hot,” starring Yan Ni and Xiao Shenyang, which earned $24.8 million in three days. Rounding out the week were Alibaba Pictures’ “See You Tomorrow,” which has grossed $62.5 million since its release on Dec. 23, and Cross Creek Pictures’ “Hacksaw Ridge,” which has taken in $52.8 million since Dec 8.

China’s box office in 2016 grossed 45.7 billion yuan ($6.5 billion), up 3.73% from 2015, according to the country's film watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The growth would be considered healthy in America, but marks a drastic fall compared with the Chinese box office's nearly 50% increase in 2015.

China's highest-grossing film of 2016 was director Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid,” a Hong Kong sci-fi fantasy that earned $527 million. Disney’s “Zootopia” took second place with $236 million, followed by “Warcraft,” Disney’s “Captain America: Civil War” and the Chinese action film “The Monkey King 2.”

Revenue for domestic films grew by only 1.7% last year, Artisan said. Hollywood films fared better — imported titles in 2016 saw 12.5% growth year on year, rising to 19 billion yuan ($2.7 billion).

“The slump [in China box office growth] implies that the quality of domestic films is not good enough,” said Li Xun, a research fellow at the China Film Art Research Center.

“The fast growth of 2015 was abnormal, [but so] is 2016’s slow growth," Li added. "Box office growth should be kept at a steady and sustainable pace, and that can only be achieved by improving the films’ quality."

The box office slowdown is partly attributable to the decrease of film subsidies from China’s online ticket platforms, according to Artisan. Chinese authorities began to strengthen box office fraud supervisions in March, after a government investigation revealed that at least $8.7 million in receipts for the martial arts movie "Ip Man 3" were fabricated.

In 2016, films in Chinese theaters were viewed more than 1.37 billion times, a rise of 8.9% over 2015. Around 1,600 cinemas were built in China in 2016, bringing its total to 41,179 screens, making China the world’s biggest theater owner.

Because of a rapid increase in the number of screens and more high-profile domestic films, Artisan predicts that China's box office will grow 20% to 30% in 2017.

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