'Star Wars' and China drive global box-office record, even as U.S. market shrinks

"The Last Jedi" continues the episodic story of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a few original characters, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

A string of worldwide hits and a return to growth in China helped push global box-office revenue to a record $39.92 billion in 2017, even as movie theater attendance in the United States and Canada shrank to a two-decade low.

The worldwide box office grew 3% from 2016’s total of $38.8 billion, according to data from comScore. The uptick was due to several massive global hits, including “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “The Fate of the Furious” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Still, the domestic box office fell 2.4% to $11.12 billion last year, thanks to multiple high-profile flops and an unusually weak summer film season. Estimated admissions — the number of tickets sold — dropped 4% to roughly 1.26 billion, the lowest level since 1995, according to analysts.

Experts blamed the downturn on a handful of movies that failed to appeal to audiences, magnified by greater competition from streaming services that made consumers choosier about what they were willing to leave home to see.

“The decline in attendance was driven by a lackluster release slate, primarily during the middle of the year,” wrote Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter in a Tuesday research report. “Clearly, audiences have become more selective about content and what will drive them to the theater, given the vast array of home entertainment options including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video.”

‘Wolf’ boosts China

International grosses, however, continued to be a bright spot for the film industry. Box office receipts outside the U.S. and Canada hit $28.8 billion, up 5% from the year before, according to comScore. The bulk of that growth came from one country: China.

Already the second-largest film market, China rose to $8.47 billion in ticket sales, up 13% from the prior year, according to film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway. That’s a substantial uptick from 2016, when China’s box office grew only 4%, marking a substantial slowdown from previous years.

Much of the growth was propelled by the China-based production “Wolf Warrior 2,” a patriotic action film that took in a staggering $870 million, almost entirely from its home country.

Other China hits included “Never Say Die,” a martial body-swapping comedy; “Kung Fu Yoga” a Jackie Chan action film; and “Youth” a portrayal of a Chinese military art troupe during the 1970s.

Among Hollywood imports, Universal Pictures’ “The Fate of the Furious” led the pack last year with $392.8 million in ticket sales, the highest-grossing foreign film ever in China.

It’s a ‘Star Wars’ world, after all

Nothing is expected to dramatically shake up the multiplex this weekend as the Walt Disney Co.’s space juggernaut “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Sony Pictures’ successful reboot “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” battle for supremacy again. Each is expected to gross roughly $25 million domestically Friday through Sunday to kick off the new year.

“Jumanji,” starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in a video-gaming twist on the 2-decade-old concept, narrowly came in second place over New Year’s weekend. The $90-million production has grossed $185 million domestically, plus $175 million overseas for a global total of $360 million. “The Last Jedi” has totaled more than $1 billion so far, and opens Jan. 5 in China.

“Insidious: The Last Key,” the fourth movie in the low-budget Blumhouse horror franchise, is expected to be the biggest new release this weekend. “The Last Key,” distributed by Universal Pictures, is on track for an opening of $15 million to $19 million, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. The previous installment, 2015’s “Insidious: Chapter 3,” opened with $22.7 million, on its way to a healthy domestic tally of $52 million.

STX Entertainment’s movie label STXfilms is expanding its new Aaron Sorkin drama “Molly’s Game” to a wide release, which is expected to do $6 million to $8 million in nationwide ticket sales, analysts said. The well-reviewed film, starring Jessica Chastain as elite poker entrepreneur Molly Bloom, started its run Christmas Day in 271 theaters and has collected $6 million.

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Times special correspondent Goachao Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.


Jan. 3, 12:22 p.m.: This article was updated with additional box-office data from China.

This article was originally published on Jan. 2 at 2:10 p.m.