2016 China Box Office: Down but Independents Fare Well

As has been widely reported, the Chinese theatrical box office experienced a drop in revenue in 2016, falling by 1% from its 2015 take to $6.95 billion (IFTA analysis, Box Office Mojo). The slowdown follows a five year (2010 – 2015) burst of growth that averaged nearly 37% per year. Despite this overall retreat, foreign independent films experienced significant gains in both the number of films that were released and in the resulting box office revenues.

Twenty-two (22) U.S. independent films were released during 2016 - 10 more than 2015 and 8 above the previous six year average of 14 films. Box Office revenue reached $367.9 million for the year, again up dramatically from 2015’s $109 million. U.S. Independents’ Box Office share reached 5.3% of the total, up from 1.5% in 2015 and more in line with the 2010 – 2015 average of 4.65%. The average U.S. independent title took in $16.7 million at the box office. Fifteen of the U.S. independent films released theatrically were in the Action / Adventure genre with an average take of just over $22.7 million per film. Leading titles were Now You See Me 2 ($91.12 million), Hacksaw Ridge ($60.18 million), and London Has Fallen ($52.3 million).

Even more noticeable was the rise in Independent films from other territories that scored releases in 2016: 43 films from outside the U.S. were imported and released, a 138% increase over the 18 films released in 2015.  Box office reached $269 million, up 61%. However, just one film, Your Name, an anime film from Japan directed by Mikato Shinkai, scored big the box office with revenues of $83.56 million.  In terms of genre, 15 of the ON films were animated (with a collective box office of $169.5 million), and nine of these 15 titles were of Japanese origin (with a box office total of $148.9 million and a per film average of just over $16.5 million).

While the gains made in 2016 by foreign independent films are encouraging, it is important to also look at the overall context of this growth. First, the increases were in response to Chinese official concern over theatrical box office slowdown and without changes in official policy or market controls.  Moreover, there was little change in respective box office share. The relative box office shares for all film sources were maintained at approximately their six year averages, with China sourced films maintaining their box office majority at 51%. When China Co-Productions are included (11.5%), the Chinese box office share rises to 62%, slightly down from 2015’s 65%.  The U.S. majors claimed 29% down 1% from 2015. U.S. independent share (5.3%) stayed close to it six year average of 4.8% and Other Nationality films came in 3.9%.