The Chinese film market has demonstrated an explosive growth in the first quarter of 2010, also thanks to local hits.

The Chinese film market has demonstrated an explosive growth in the first quarter of 2010, with the box office gross from January to March reaching $428.99m (RMB2.93bn), which is a 134% increase on the first quarter total of 2009, $183m (RMB1.25bn). 

Industry experts estimate that the annual box-office gross will reach $1.46bn (RMB10bn) if the market continues its strong performance in the coming months. Previously, Chinese film industry players estimated that the China market would not reach $1.46bn (RMB10m) until the end of 2011.

James Cameron’s Avatar contributed around 45% of the total gross of the quarter.  The film made $193.26m (RMB1.32 billion) through the end of March

Foreign films outdid location films during the first quarter. Foreign films made $256.22m (RMB1.75bn) while local films made $172.77m (RMB1.18bn).

Several local-language films that are co-produced between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies saw outstanding box office performance during the Chinese New Year holidays. Jackie Chan and Lee-hom Wang starring action film Little Big Soldier, released by Bona Entertainment, made $23.51m (RMB160.6m), making it the second biggest hit during the quarter.

Another action drama, 14 Blades, distributed by Shanghai Film Group, took in $21.02m (RMB143.6m), standing in third place for the quarter. Fox-star’s first Chinese-language production Hot Summer Days, distributed by Huayi Brothers Media, made $19.25m (RMB131.5m), putting it in fourth place. It is also the biggest romantic comedy so far in China.

Alice in Wonderland continued the 3D fever in China and took in $13.3m (RMB90.84m)until the end of March, having only been on release for one week. It stands second place among foreign films and eighth place in the top 10 chart of the first season.

In addition to the Avatar boost, industry experts said the explosive growth was also driven by the continuous growh of screen numbers and the overall expansion of the country’s movie-going population.

Weng Li, spokesperson of China Film Group Corporation, points out the number of 3D screens has been increasing rapidly. Before the release of Avatar, he said, there were only 600 3D screens in the whole country. However, three months after Avatar’s release, there are nearly 1000 3D digital screens in China. “The market is expanding,” Weng said. 

Jin Si, manager of Beijing-based Stellar International Cinema, said that Avatar had brought many atypical audiences to go to the cinemas. “These people normally never go to movie theaters. But once they entered the cinemas, they found out that the cinemas are nicer and more fun than home, it’s likely that they will come back to watch another movie,” Jin said. “The result is the movie-going population is bigger.”

Wanda Cinema Line, a completely privately-owned cinema circuit, is the best-performing cinema circuit during the first quarter. Among the total 11 IMAX screens in China, Wanda owns 4, so it benefitted from the release of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland.

Top 10 films in China: January to March 2010

1. Avatar $193.26m (RMB1.32bn)*

2. Little Big Solider  $23.51m (RM160.6m)

3. 14 Blades $21.02m (RMB143.6m)

4. Hot Summer Days $19.25m (RMB131.5m)

5. Pleasant Goat and the Big Bad Wolf II $18.53m (RMB126.6m)

6. Just Another Pandora’s Box $15.86m (RMB108.3m)

7. Confucius $14.79m (RMB101m)

8. Alice in Wonderland $13.3m (RMB90.84m)*

9. Sherlock Holmes $11.59m (RMB79.19m)

10. Spy Next Door $10.17m (RMB69.49m)

source: SARFT

*: still on release after the end of March 2010