With more than 16 heavyweight releases jamming the three-month period from November 20, Chinese exhibitors are estimating that box office during the year-end season will reach $146m (rmb1bn), up 10% on the same period last year.
China's year-end season, which traditionally takes place from late November to late February, combines the Christmas and Chinese New Year holidays. In contrast to last year's total black-out of foreign releases from December to mid-February, this year will see a more diverse line-up of product.
Three foreign titles, as well as Taiwanese hit Cape No 7, will be released in December and January, which is rare for the mainland China market.
Up until the end of September, China's overall box office stood at $392.1m (rmb2.678bn). The last quarter of 2008 is expected to take more than $87.9m (rmb600m). With the addition of box-office revenues from rural areas, the total should reach between $571m (rmb3.9bn) and $585.6m (rmb4bn), which is an increase of 19%-22% on total revenue last year.
The November 21-23 weekend will see five films battling for chart position - including two foreign films: Babylon AD, released on November 17, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which will open November 21. The latter films will be the last two Hollywood blockbusters to be released in China this year on a revenue-sharing basis.
The two films face challenges from three Chinese films: Ma Liwen's comedy Desire Of The Heart, featuring local stars such as Ge You, Fan Bingbing and Vivian Wu; Ip Man, an action biopic starring Donnie Yen; and action drama Beast Stalker, starring Nicholas Tse.
The following weekend (November 28-30) sees two local films go head to head: Fit Lover, another local all-star comedy with Karena Lam, Huang Xiaoming, Deng Chao and Tong Dawei, and The Underdog Knight, with Liu Ye and Anthony Wong.
December is also likely to see increased business as several high-profile films open. Tsui Hark's romantic comedy All About Women will be released on December 4, followed by Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled, a biopic starring Leon Lai and Zhang Ziyi set to enjoy a large-scale release on December 12. Another upcoming heavyweight, Feng Xiaogang's comedy If You Are the One, will open on December 23.
Towards the end on 2008 another round of releases will see Lady Cop & Papa Crook, starring Sammi Cheng, and local comedy Gao Xing competing against three foreign films - Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, August Rush and an as-yet unconfirmed foreign title - all of which will be imported on a flat-fee basis.
Cape No 7, which is Taiwan's highest-grossing local film ever, will be imported to mainland China during the year-end season. The release date will be in either December or January 2009, according to the China Film Import and Export Company. It will be the first Taiwanese film to be imported to the mainland since Mother, Love Me Once Again in 1988.
Historically the year-end movie season has proved to be lucrative for local comedies, which has prompted distributors to schedule such titles in the November-December period.
Another contributing factor to the product-heavy schedule is the Beijing Olympics, which caused a decrease in cinema admissions and pushed back several releases from the summer, making the year-end season particularly crowded.
The last major release of the season will be John Woo's eagerly anticipated second part of Red Cliff. Set to go out on January 23, the film is expected to gross around $36.6m (rmb250m), after the first instalment (currently number one in the Japanese chart) broke numerous box-office records in China earlier this year.