With huge growth in 2012, China finally became the second biggest theatrical market in the world, behind the US. Ian Sandwell charts its rise and explores the five highest-grossing international territories last year.

What has long been predicted has now been confirmed. China officially became the second biggest box-office market in the world in 2012 (behind the US, which achieved a colossal $10.8bn last year, 2% up on 2009’s $10.6bn domestic record) and the biggest internationally, overtaking Japan thanks to a blend of strong imported performers and huge local hits.

In total, 2012 saw China’s box office grow by 30% to reach a formidable $2.74bn, according to figures from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). Last year also marked the first time US and other foreign films accounted for more than half (51.54%) of the Chinese market, with hits including Titanic 3D ($156.5m), Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ($104.1m) and Life of Pi ($90.3m).

2012 saw China’s box office grow by 30% to reach a formidable $2.74bn

Not that China’s local market had a soft year, ending 2012 with the mighty performance of Enlight Pictures’ comedy Lost in Thailand [pictured], which became the highest-grossing Chinese-language film ever at $183.8m and is still going strong in 2013. Around the same period, Huayi Bros’ Chinese Zodiac accumulated $114.8m in 2012 while earlier in the year, Huayi also provided $116.6m with its 3D fantasy sequel Painted Skin: The Resurrection, released during local film protection month, which ran from June 28 to July 28.

As well as surpassing Japan’s box-office takings, China also overtook Japan in terms of screens with SARFT revealing that 3,832 new screens were opened in 2012 for a total of 13,118, of which 91% are digitised.

The fact Japan has been surpassed as the biggest international market is more to do with China’s boom rather than any Japanese decline, as that territory bounced back with a 7.2% rise on 2011 for a $2.15bn (¥195bn) haul in 2012 according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan.

The rise was powered by homegrown efforts that account for nine of the year’s top 10 films; Resident Evil: Retribution is the one exception. Toho led the way with the year’s three biggest hits — Umizaru 4: Brave Hearts ($91.5m), Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final ($74.9m) and Thermae Romae ($74m) — while late surges came from Toei’s One Piece Film Z ($61.4m in 2012 and still performing well in 2013) and T-Joy’s Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo ($60.3m).

The UK — thanks largely to the peerless performance of Skyfall, which saw it become the first film to break the £100m barrier to hit $162.8m — enjoyed a sturdy 4% rise on 2011’s $1.81bn return to post $1.88bn in 2012.

Second in the yearly UK box office was Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Rises (a UK production financed from the US) with $88.2m, which saw it narrowly defeat fellow superhero contender Marvel’s The Avengers ($84.1m). Two other end-of-year contenders came in the form of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($65.8m in 2012 and still going well in 2013) and the climactic Twilight film, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 ($56.4m), which also helped its distributor eOne become the UK’s biggest independent distributor in 2012.

However, independent local hits were more difficult to come by than in 2011, which saw the release of The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners Movie. The Woman in Black (the first ghost story from iconic producer Hammer) was the best UK independent performer at $33.5m.

A drop of 6.8% saw France record 204m admissions in 2012, down from 2011’s 217m, according to provisional figures released by France’s CNC. This roughly amounts to $1.65bn in grosses, using Rentrak’s conversion of $8.1657 per admission. Buoyed by the continued success of Gaumont’s behemoth Intouchables, 2012 started strongly and provided the year’s biggest local success in the form of Pathé’s Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami (5.2m admissions) as well as the second strongest homegrown performer of 2012, Mars Distribution’s La Vérité Si Je Mens! 3 (4.6m admissions).

However, admissions stagnated or dropped consistently over the final six months of the year, which even Wild Bunch’s Astérix & Obélix: God Save Britannia (3.8m admissions) failed to halt. Overall, entries to French films had fallen 7.7% to 82.3m but remained above the 10-year average of 75.4m in 2012, while entries to US pictures fell by 7% to 92.5m and admissions to films from the rest of the world rose 3.3% to 29.7m.

Despite a tough year for local films, which saw them account for just 13.8% of the country’s total box office, Russian box office rose 15% in 2012 to $1.35bn from 2011’s $1.16bn thanks to strong performances from the latest instalments of popular franchises, with the likes of Ice Age: Continental Drift ($50.1m), Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted ($49.4m) and Marvel’s The Avengers ($43.7m) leading the way.

Indeed, it took until the end of 2012 to provide the year’s leading local effort as Three Warriors on Distant Shores grossed $30.2m to land eighth on the yearly top 10. Analysts claim one reason behind the poor results for local films is the below-par performance of Russian blockbusters at the local box office, including those supported by the National Film Fund whose backing will be reduced from $129.4m (rub3.9bn) to $99.5m (rub3bn) in 2013.

Elsewhere in 2012, Germany rose 7.8% year-on-year and is expected to break the €1bn ($1.3bn) barrier, Spain fell 3.8% to $779.8m and Italy’s box office declined for the third consecutive year, down 7.9% to $783.7m. It was a healthier picture in Australia, Brazil and Mexico, however, with 2.8%, 15.6% and 9.4% rises, respectively, to $1.17bn, $783m and $841m.

Top five international territories in 2012

RankTerritory2012 gross% change on 2011

*Converted to gross based on Rentrak’s $8.1657 per admission conversion rate

China: top five films at the box office in 2012

RankFilm (country of origin)DistributorGross
1Lost in Thailand (Chn)Enlight Pictures$183.8m*
2Titanic 3D (US)Fox$156.5m
3Painted Skin: The Resurrection (Chn)Huayi Brothers$116.6m
4Chinese Zodiac (Chn-HK)Huayi Brothers$114.8m*
5Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (US)CFG & Disney$104.1m

*Still on release, 2012 grosses only. Source: SARFT, Screen International

Japan: top five films at the box office in 2012

RankFilm (country of origin)DistributorGross
1Umizaru 4: Brave Hearts (Jap)Toho$91.5m
2Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final (Jap)Toho$74.9m
3Thermae Romae (Jap)Toho$74m
4One Piece Film Z (Jap)Toei$61.4m*
5Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (Jap)T-Joy$60.3m*

*Still on release, 2012 grosses only. Source: Rentrak

UK: top five films at the box office in 2012

RankFilm (country of origin)DistributorGross
1Skyfall (UK-US)Sony$162.8m*
2The Dark Knight Rises (UK-US)Warner Bros$88.2m
3Marvel’s The Avengers (US)Disney$84.1m
4The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (US-NZ)Warner Bros$65.8m*
5The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (US)eOne$56.4m*

*Still on release, 2012 grosses only. Source: Rentrak

France: top five films at the box office in 2012

RankFilm (country of origin)DistributorAdmissions
1Skyfall (UK-US)Sony6.8m*
2Ice Age: Continental Drift (US)Fox6.6m
3Houba! On The Trail Of The Marsupilami (Fr)Pathe5.2m
4La Vérité Si Je Mens 3  (Fr)Mars Distribution4.6m
5The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (US)SND4.5m*

*Still on release, 2012 admissions only. Source: Rentrak

Russia: top five films at the box office in 2012

RankFilm (country of origin)DistributorGross
1Ice Age: Continental Drift (US)Fox$50.1m
2Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (US)Central Partnership$49.4m
3Marvel’s The Avengers (US)Sony/Disney$43.7m
4The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (US-NZ)Caro Premier$43.5m*
5The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (US)West$42.8m

*Still on release, 2012 grosses only. Source: Russian Film Business Today