Published: 11:02, May 3, 2023 | Updated: 11:02, May 3, 2023
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Box-office revenues jet toward recovery
By Xu Fan

Promotional materials of Born to Fly, one of the highest-grossing May Day holiday movies this year, at a cinema in Beijing on Monday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The record-breaking number of 18 new movies has set box-office coffers jingling this May Day holiday, demonstrating the Chinese film industry's continuing strong momentum toward recovery.

As of Tuesday, the holiday — which has become a lucrative box-office season in recent years — grossed over 1.3 billion yuan ($188.1 million), including presale figures, far exceeding last year's 297 million yuan during the same period, which was impacted by regional outbreaks of COVID-19, according to movie data tracker Beacon.

What is even more uplifting is that several new films have been announced for release later this year.

Yu Chao, deputy general manager of Beijing’s Capital Cinema

Currently, the two highest-grossing holiday movies are Born to Fly, China's first film featuring advanced fighter jets and elite pilots who risk their lives to conduct test flights, and Godspeed, a road comedy recounting a young man's attempts to impress his girlfriend's parents. By Tuesday afternoon, Born to Fly had generated revenue of 440 million yuan, while Godspeed had raked in 420 million yuan.

Although Born to Fly topped the country's single-day box-office charts between April 28 and 30, Godspeed replaced it as the new champion on May 1 and 2. It remains to be seen which of the two ultimately claims the May Day movie market crown.

In the third place on the charts is All These Years, a movie about two lovers reuniting after a long separation. It is followed by the animated blockbuster The First Slam Dunk, this year's second highest-grossing Japanese movie that was released in the Chinese mainland on April 20.

Usually, box-office earnings are the highest on the first day of a holiday, strongly boosted by the presale window opened about a week earlier. This year, however, the May Day holiday saw revenue increase with each passing day between April 29 and May 1, indicating that blockbusters have withstood the market test.

Yu Chao, deputy general manager of Beijing's Capital Cinema, said the May Day holiday figures hold greater reference value compared with the same periods in 2019 and 2021, as all Chinese cinemas were closed from January till July in 2020 due to COVID-19.

In 2019, nine new movies — eight Chinese titles and one French feature — competed for the holiday market, but it was Hollywood blockbuster Avengers: Endgame that opened one week before the festive break and won nearly 80 percent of the overall ticket revenue in China.

Chinese movies showed stronger appeal in 2021, with the homegrown romance My Love and renowned director Zhang Yimou's first spy movie Cliff Walkers earning around 61 percent of the May Day box-office revenues. The year 2021 was the previous record-holder, with the release of 12 movies during the May Day holiday that together raked in 1.67 billion yuan.

Yu pointed out that the three highest-grossing movies this holiday are Chinese stories and all holiday movies cover a range of genres — from action and suspense to romance — indicating that local film companies are regaining confidence in the market and are willing to release more films.

"What is even more uplifting is that several new films have been announced for release later this year, which will give distributors more time for promotion, enhancing our confidence that the Chinese film industry will rebound to its pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year," Yu said.

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, said the summer break and the National Day holiday will be the next two important seasons to significantly contribute to the box-office revenues.

Several of the May Day holiday titles such as Born to Fly and The Procurator were originally scheduled for release last year, but were postponed due to the pandemic, which shows that Chinese filmmakers still need to increase their production output in order to ensure sustained development, Rao added.