Chinese box office takings surged 64 percent to 10.2 billion Chinese yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2010, although film officials say the figure still lags more developed markets and urged local filmmakers to make better movies that can compete with Hollywood blockbusters like "Avatar" and "Inception."
China’s Film Bureau also said in a report issued late last week that the country added 313 movie theaters and 1,533 new screens last year, for a total of just over 6,200 screens.
The box office figures were boosted by the huge success of "Avatar." The James Cameron 3-D sci-fi epic was the biggest hit in China last year with a total take of $204 million. The top-grossing Chinese film in 2010 was the Feng Xiaogang summer earthquake epic "Aftershock," which earned $100 million. Jiang Wen’s political satire "Let the Bullets Fly," released in December, was also a big local hit, with Chinese media saying its latest earnings have surpassed $75 million.
The Film Bureau, however, said the Chinese box office is still developing and urged local directors to improve the quality of their work.
"A 10 billion yuan box office … is still far from the value of a movie world power and is still far from keeping pace with the country’s economic growth," the report said.
By contrast, the North American box office totaled $10.6 billion in 2009, according to the latest statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America.
Chinese releases have increased in volume and popularity. There were 526 local releases last year — up from 456 the year before — with 59 of them bringing in more than 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) and 17 surpassing the 100 million ($15 million) mark. But the Film Bureau said "there weren’t enough Chinese productions that were truly critically acclaimed and were truly able to meet market demands and the cultural demands of the audience."
"The variety of Chinese movies isn’t rich enough. The development of genres still remains at the stage of simple imitation and duplication. It still lacks an improvement in creativity and localization … We lack a basic response to the creative pressure presented by new genres created by ‘Avatar’ and ‘Inception,’" the Film Bureau said.
Critics have complained that Chinese filmmakers have gravitated toward generic star-studded kung fu and historical epics that are easy crowd-pleasers instead of coming up with new ideas.
The Film Bureau added that Chinese producers were too reliant on the domestic market and didn’t do a good job of promoting their work abroad.
The comments came despite a prolific year for Chinese cinema’s biggest names. Most of the industry’s top directors had releases. Zhang Yimou released the romance "Under the Hawthorn Tree" in September and Chen Kaige directed "Sacrifice," the story of an orphan who avenges the death of his family that hit movie theaters in December. Besides "Aftershock," Feng, China’s most successful commercial director, also released a sequel to his 2008 romantic comedy "If You Are the One," also in December.
Hollywood’s ability to make inroads in the Chinese market comes in spite of a quota system. The Chinese government only shares revenue for 20 foreign imports a year — a formula that effectively limits the country to 20 foreign blockbusters per year.