China Box Office Gets May Day Bounce, But Lockdowns Drag on Releases

Theatrical box office in mainland China enjoyed a weekend bounce over the May Day holiday and a new market leader, despite a shortage of fresh titles and mounting cinema closures.

Romantic comedy “Stay With Me” was the top-scoring new release title with $8.4 million (RMB55.4 million), according to data from Artisan Gateway, a consultancy and research firm. The film about long distance relationships, distributed by Enlight Pictures, deposed “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” which had held the top spot for three previous weekends.

U.S. animation “The Bad Guys,” a major hit overseas, opened in second place in China with a three-day score of $4.5 million (RMB30.0 million).

In third place, “Fantastic Beasts” earned $3.0 million (RMB19.7 million), advancing its cumulative score to $20.6 million (RMB136 million) since first release on April 8, 2022.

China’s use of lockdowns to curb the spread of new COVID cases has kept cinemas in many parts of the country closed for several weeks. Shanghai has been the epicenter and endured the harshest restrictions, but the recent spread of the disease to Beijing has caused alarm.

The Friday-Sunday box office aggregate – $24.5 million – is the highest weekend haul in over eight weeks. But it is a small fraction of May Day holiday weekends in previous years.

May Day is normally one of the high points in the Chinese cinema year, with new releases lined up and ticket prices adjusted upwards. This year, instead, distributors have been postponing their new titles until unspecified future dates.

Making matters worse for Hollywood, the Chinese currency has weakened against the U.S. dollar over the past month. That has the effect of reducing the value of a film’s earnings in China. On May 1, the dollar was worth RMB6.61, compared with RMB6.36 a month earlier, a 4% depreciation.

In current terms, the year-to-date nationwide box office in China stood at $2.22 billion. Due to the currency impact, that appears lower in dollar terms than it did through much of April, though of course the local currency total increased.

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