China’s All-time Highest Grossing Imports

In 1994, China announced it would allow in ten imported films per year that “basically reflected the finest global cultural achievements and represented the latest artistic and technological accomplishments in contemporary world cinema.”

On November 12 of that year, The Fugitive, directed by Andrew Davis and starring Harrison Ford opened in fifty-six movie theaters across six major Chinese cities. A runaway success, it singlehandedly ushered in the age of the Hollywood blockbuster in China with 1.4 million admissions nationwide and RMB 25.8 million ($3.15 million) in ticket sales.

In the years to come, the quota would increase— first to twenty when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and then its current thirty-four after negotiations with the MPAA in 2012.

The chart above highlights the highest-grossing imported film per year during this era — from The Fugitive in 1994 to Zootopia in 2016, showing not only the scale of China’s growth as a market, but something of the tastes of Chinese moviegoers.

Year Title Chinese Gross (millons of RMB)
1994 The Fugitive 25.8
1995 True Lies 103
1996 Twister 54.5
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park 72.1
1998 Titanic 360
1999 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 33.94
2000 U-571 29
2001 Pearl Harbor 105
2002 The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring 56.2
2003 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 52.2
2004 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 86.3
2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 94
2006 The Da Vinci Code 105
2007 Transformers 282
2008 Kung Fu Panda 182
2009 2012 447
2010 Avatar 1,340
2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 1,070
2012 Titanic 3D 946
2013 Iron Man 755
2014 Transformers: Age of Extinction 1,980
2015 Furious 7 2,420
2016 Zootopia 1,530