China’s top 10 box office hits of all time include four domestic films released in 2017

Saving the day.
Saving the day.
Image: Wolf Warrior 2
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China’s movie-ticket sales set a new record last year, and Hollywood was not the main reason.

Jumping 13% from 2016, sales hit 56 billion yuan ($8.6 billion), according to the latest figures (link in Chinese) from the country’s media regulator. 

The booming box office in the world’s second-largest film market was powered mostly by a string of homegrown blockbusters, with a bit of government help. Indeed, China’s top 10 box office hits of all time now include four domestically made films released last year.

The country’s highest-grossing film of all time is last year’s Wolf Warrior 2, an action sequel about a former special-forces soldier fighting Western mercenaries in a war-torn African nation. The film took in 5.7 billion yuan after its debut in July, according to official figures, more than 10% of China’s box-office total last year. That’s also more than twice the amount earned in China by The Fate of the Furious, the second-highest-earning film in the nation last year.

Behind Wolf Warrior 2’s success was its unabashedly patriotic tone, which meshed well with a rising nationalist sentiment among Chinese citizens, and with Beijing’s desire to play a leading role on the global stage. The movie has been submitted for the 2018 Oscars in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.

The comedy Never Say Die came in third place in 2017, with a gross of 2.2 billion yuan. Adapted from the popular stage play of the same name, the film tells the story of a male boxer who accidentally swaps bodies with a female journalist.

The other 2017 domestic titles making it to China’s all-time top 10 box office list are Kung Fu Yoga, an action comedy starring Jackie Chan, and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, a fantasy based on a classic Chinese mythological novel.

Together, domestic productions accounted for 54% of China’s total ticket sales last year, which was actually down from the 58% seen in 2016. On average, foreign offerings like the Fast & Furious and Transformers series earned nearly four times what domestically made films did. In order to protect the domestic film industry, China limits the number of foreign films allowed into the local market every year.

China’s box office expanded less than 4% in 2016 after averaging yearly growth of 35% for over a decade. For 2017, the country’s media regulator for the first time included online booking fees as part of movie ticket sales. 

North America’s total ticket sales for 2017 slid 2.3% year-over-year amid the worst summer movie season in a decade, while worldwide box office jumped 3% to a record high of $39.9 billion, thanks in large part to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.