China’s National Day holiday weekend slumps at the box office

The patriotic action film Homecoming dominated box office admissions in China over the weekend, grossing nearly $60 million. But the National Day holiday season is in a deep slump compared to recent years.

The film, directed by Rao Xiaozhi, is another story of a heroic rescue of Chinese citizens at risk in foreign lands. In this case, two Chinese diplomats must return to war-torn Libya in 2011 to rescue 125 people left behind.

The film opened on Friday and grossed an impressive US$59.3 million (RMB 421), according to consultancy Artisan Gateway. It captured an impressive 67% market share. Imax reported that the film was shot using Imax-certified cameras and that $3 million of the total came from its screens in China.

While the nationwide Friday-Sunday total of $88 million was an impressive jump from the past two weekends’ box office slump, in reality the numbers were a continuation of the box office weakness China has endured for most of this year. The weekend of October 1st should have been so much bigger.

The list of problems affecting the Chinese cinema sector includes: a dwindling supply of attractive local titles; growing reliance on holiday periods; a severe shortage of foreign titles, particularly Hollywood; and China’s ongoing ultra-tight anti-COVID measures, which require city lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

To the list can now be added China’s economic woes – notably rising unemployment and a deep housing crisis – which could hurt people’s spending power.

The opening of Homecoming is paltry compared to The Battle at Lake Changjin, which topped last year’s National Day weekend with $203 million in three days. “Homecoming” even falls short of second place film “My Country, My Parents,” which grossed $76 million in its first weekend in the same slot last year. And the nationwide weekend totals of $88 million represent a 70% drop compared to October 1-3, 2021.

A week ago, the box office outlook for the weekend had looked better. And local analysts had predicted the seven-day national holiday could bring in revenue of RMB 3.3 billion. This compares to RMB 4.2 billion in 2021 and RMB 5 billion in 2019 before COVID.

Seven films, with slightly staggered release dates, were slated to be released over the period. Four were said to fit the “main tune” description of “realistic patriotic works focusing on stories about the nation, the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army.” Another three are animated films.

Unfortunately, the launch of the frontrunner “Born to Fly” on Tuesday (09/27/2022), just three days before the scheduled launch, has been postponed indefinitely.

The film is an airborne action-adventure about Chinese test pilots that has been dubbed by some as China’s answer to Top Gun. (“Young, excellent Chinese pilots are putting China’s home-made stealth fighter through its paces, protecting the motherland’s territorial airspace without fear of trouble or danger,” according to the Global Times newspaper.) Directed by Liu Xiaoshi, a gruff-Hu Jun alongside Wang Yibo, Yu Yosh and Zhou Dongyu.

The producers’ explanation for the delay pointed to a need to improve the film’s special effects. However, online commentators pointed out several apparent similarities to “Top Gun.” The Born to Fly trailer will remain available outside of China on YouTube. “Top Gun Maverick” has been banned from a release in China.

Artisan Gateway data shows that “Ordinary Hero” took second place over the weekend at $8.6 million (61 million RMB), ahead of holdover “Give Me Five” on its fourth weekend of release at $4.9 million -dollars (34.7 million RMB).

Fourth place over the weekend belonged to one of the animation titles, New Happy Dad and Son 5: My Alien Friend, which released on Saturday and grossed US$3.5 million (RMB18.2 million) in two days. Fifth place belonged to another patriotic title “Steel Will”. It cost $2.6 million (RMB 18.2 million).

On an annual basis, Artisan Gateway calculates that the box office in China is down 27% this year compared to 2021. The running total is $3.70 billion compared to $5.09 billion.

“The year-to-date downtrend is most likely to continue over the next few weeks as year-on-year comparisons look challenging,” the company said. China’s National Day holiday weekend slumps at the box office

Charles Jones

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