The Olympic Gamesare drawing attention away from Chinese cinemas, especially in the host city of Beijing, where exhibitors estimate that box office sales dropped by 50% over the three-day weekend (August 8-10).

China's public services and private companies all had the day off on Friday (Aug 8), the opening day of the games. In Beijing, shops and malls were closed by 6pm. And all cinemas in Beijing were closed between 6pm and 7pm, at the end of their afternoon screenings.

In other cities such as Shanghai, several cinemas in major shopping malls were also closed around 6pm, following the early closure of shops, as people were getting ready to watch the opening ceremony at 8pm on Friday.

'Cinemas expected there would be low or even no business during the opening ceremony,' said Wu Hehu, deputy general manager of Shanghai United Cinema Circuit. SUC cinemas that were still open during the ceremony experienced the lowest business of the year.

Gao Jun, deputy general manager of Beijing-based New Film Association, said that Beijing's cinemas would be most affected by the games; he estimated that box office gross would drop by 50% during the games and it would not bounce back until September.

According to audience measurement organisation, CSM Media Research, over 842 million Chinese viewers, or 68.8% of the total national audience, watched the opening ceremony last Friday evening. And over 780 million viewers watched TV at home for the first day of the games.

August is expected to be a low business month for cinemas with only two films to be released during the Olympic Games. Speed Racer was released on Sunday, grossing around $440,000 (RMB3m) in one day, which is higher than expected according to Wu of Shanghai United Cinema Circuit.

The Incredible Hulk is scheduled for Aug 20. The rest of the films in cinemas are holdovers such as Red Cliff and Hancock, which have been on release for more than four weeks.

Meanwhile, Universal's The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor is now scheduled to be released in China on September 3, according to cinema owners. The film was originally scheduled for a day-and-date release at the beginning of August, andwas then delayedto September 24 to avoid the Games.

It is understood that the date was moved again to September 3in order to avoid going head-to-head with Chinese-language fantasy epic Painted Skin, which is scheduled for September 23.