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Will China’s Box Office Surpass the US’s This Year?

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With the Covid-19 pandemic relatively under control in China, moviegoers have started to venture back into theaters. And with cinemas still hurting in the US, some are wondering whether China’s box office may surpass the US’s in 2020.

These questions come after big numbers from war epic The Eight Hundred, which overtook Sony’s Bad Boys for Life to become the highest-earning film of 2020. So far, it has grossed 426.5 million USD and is projected to finish its run at roughly 445 million USD, although it’s obviously doing so when cinemas in many countries are still shuttered or running at limited capacity.

On Weibo, the hashtag “The Eight Hundred tops global box office for 2020” began trending in the past week, with netizens lauding the achievement. The Eight Hundred also dwarfed Disney’s Mulan, whose earnings have continued to decline in its most important theatrical market.

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Despite the hype surrounding Mulan, its setting in China, and the presence of big-name Chinese stars, it earned just 36.3 million USD in the mainland. Worldwide, it brought in just 57 million USD, in comparison to the reported 200 million USD it took to produce. Mulan is now forecast to complete its China run taking in just 41 million USD.

But China’s box office edge isn’t a one-off win — although about three-quarters of US theatres are open, Americans are still wary of returning to cinemas.

The Christopher Nolan-directed Tenet, for example, earned only 4.7 million USD in its third weekend from 2,930 locations across the US, outpaced significantly by its performance in the China market.

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China’s box office earnings in 2020 have reached 1.13 billion USD so far, closing in on the US’s 1.9 billion USD. Some are predicting that China’s regular Spring Festival movie rush — largely relocated in the calendar to the first week of October when China has a national holiday — could push it into the number one spot, as audiences anticipate Jackie Chan’s Vanguard, the Zhang Yimou-helmed comedy My People, My Homeland, and the animated Ne Zha follow up of sorts Legend of Deification.

Chloe Yorke
    Chloe was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Shanghai and San Francisco. She is currently studying Chinese at Durham University in the UK and is passionate about Chinese art and culture.