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China is on track to surpass U.S. as world's biggest movie market by 2017

Despite the recent economic slowdown in China, the country's film market is growing even faster than anticipated.

China is now on track to overtake the United States as the world's largest film market by 2017, said Mike Ellis, who heads the Asia Pacific operations of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Previous industry estimates had predicted that China would not become the world's largest film market until 2018 or later. But Ellis told a crowd of Chinese and American executives at a summit in Los Angeles that China's film industry was growing faster than expected, with ticket sales projected to reach $6.5 billion this year, up 35% from 2014. Ticket sales in the United States and Canada last year were $10.4 billion.

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Much of the growth has been driven by the popularity of Hollywood blockbusters such as “Jurassic World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” as well as a rising middle class hungry for movies, and the rapid growth of multiplex cinemas.

China is adding about 15 screens a day, and that is likely to increase to 20 screens a day by next year, Ellis said.

“What we've seen in the domestic box office over the last decade is just unbelievable growth,” said Ellis, who was the keynote speaker at the U.S.-China Film Summit sponsored by the Asia Society Southern California.

The growing market has made China increasingly attractive to the major Hollywood studios. Warner Bros. recently announced a deal with China Media Capital, a state-backed investment fund, to produce Chinese-language movies.

On Wednesday, Chinese movie studio Bona Film Group announced it has invested $235 million in TSG Entertainment Finance, which finances major movies from 20th Century Fox. As part of the deal, Bona has acquired a stake in Fox's “The Martian,” which is set to debut in China on Nov. 25.

Chinese media mogul Bruno Wu also announced this week that his Sun Seven Stars company is partnering with online financial service company Yucheng Group of Beijing to launch a $1.6-billion investment fund. Based in Los Angeles, the fund will finance movies and TV shows aimed at the global marketplace.

“This is fantastic opportunity for many Chinese investors to participate in Hollywood, international filmmaking” and global intellectual properties, Wu said.

Wu is the founder and chief executive of Sun Seven Stars Entertainment and Media Group, one of the largest private media and investment companies in China. He drew headlines in 2013 over plans to raise a $500-million private equity fund for media investments focusing on companies expanding in China.

He also is a partner with Justin Lin, the Taiwan-born American director of several “Fast & Furious” movies. The pair formed a joint venture called Perfect Storm Entertainment three years ago to develop and produce English- and Chinese-language films.

The company has various feature films in the works. Perfect Storm Entertainment also produces the hit CBS television series “Scorpion.”

For the record: an earlier version of the post said Perfect Storm was producing a Chinese version of "Charlie's Angels" called "Mermaid Soldiers." Perfect Storm is not producing the film.

Twitter: @rverrier

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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