The first half of 2008 saw impressive growth at the China box office, with total receipts reaching $237.32m (RMB1.63bn), a 55% increase compared to the first half of 2007, according to government figures. Industry players estimate that the total box office for 2008 will reach $583.09m (RMB4bn).

Despite several natural disasters that hit China in the first six months, such as the snow storm in February and the Sichuan earthquake in May, which delayed the delivery of film prints and damaged a few cinemas in Sichuan, the overall market performance was not affected.

According to statistics from the Film Bureau, the total box office for the first six months of 2007 was RMB1.05bn ($138.8m at today's exchange rate), which was already a 30% increase from the first half of 2006.

The success of co-production films is one of the main reasons for the box office growth. In January, Feng Xiaogang's war drama Assembly and Peter Chan's The Warlords continued their success from December 2007. Then two co-production films - Stephen Chow's CJ7 and Jay Chow starrer Kungfu Dunk - shined in February, taking in $23.32m (RMB160m) and $15.31m (RMB105m) respectively.

In March, An Empress And The Warriors continued the co-production whirlwind taking $6.27m (RMB43m). And in April, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon and The Forbidden Kingdom, also co-production films, raked in $10.06m (RMB69m) and $27.19m (RMB186.5m) respectively.

In total there were three co-production films that grossed more than $14.58m (RMB100m) and five that grossed over $5.83m (RMB40m).

Hollywood blockbusters, on the other hand, did not perform as well as last year, due to a prolonged blackout from December to the end of February. Although China approved Sony's The Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep for release in mid-February, major blockbusters only arrived in the China market in mid-March with National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets, 10,000 B.C. and Golden Compass. The prolonged blackout proved effective as from January to March of this year, foreign films accounted for only 30% of the total market.

Last year there were four Hollywood blockbusters breaking the RMB100m benchmark by the end of June. However, this year only two films - Iron Man and Kung Fu Panda - have reached RMB100m.

Another factor behind overall box office growth is the rise in cinemas and screen count as the multiplex building boom spreads to China 's second and third tier cities. In addition, the number of digital screens has also increased from 200 screens in 2007 to 770 screens by March 2008.

Cinemas are also becoming better at marketing and promotion, with better facilities and more publicity and promotional events, according to Gao Jun, deputy general manager of Beijing-based New Film Association.

The number of admissions also increased by around 55%, reaching 63 million from Jan to June, marking an average of around 10 million admissions a month.

The Chinese box office for the total year in 2006 and 2007 stood at RMB2.6bn and RMB3.3bn respectively. The figure has been rising at a growth rate of over 20% for the past three years.