CFI’s Top Five China Film Stories for 2016

CFI looks at the year’s most popular stories, and why they garnered so much attention.

Screenings on Warcraft’s second weekend fell nearly silent after record debut (Courtesy Weibo)

Screenings on Warcraft’s second weekend fell nearly silent after record debut (Courtesy Weibo)

The relationship between China and Hollywood received more attention in 2016 than ever before, for both bad and good reasons. China’s box office experienced its first slowdown in years, at a time when interest in the market has never been greater. Concerns arose over box office practices, such as possible fraud in reporting film grosses, and how to create resonant characters and content for Chinese audiences. Our top five most popular stories for the year are below.

1. China Box Office: ‘Warcraft’ Ticket Sales Come Under Scrutiny

Warcraft showed the bifurcation of the Chinese and North American markets. A record-setting US$156 million opening in China contrasted with a bomb of a $24 million debut in the latter. However, irregularities in the film’s take, especially the cinemas where Warcraft seemed to be making the most, began to shine the light on box office fraud as a serious issue.

2. Netizens Slam Animated ‘Knock-Off’ of Disney’s Zootopia

2016 was a good year for Hollywood animation, with the pack being led by Disney’s Zootopia. Wanting to jump on that film’s $235 million bandwagon, a movie called Crazy Toy City — similar to Zootopia‘s Chinese title Crazy Animal City — appeared as a direct-to-streaming release, and seemed to borrow heavily from the Disney hit. This trend continued later in the year with the release of Mad Shelia, a Chinese-produced desert adventure that looks rather similar to Mad Max, especially its most recent installment, Fury Road.

3. On Screen China: Japan’s Your Name Looks to Win the Weekend

One of the year’s biggest success stories was that of Japanese animated film Your Name, which not only won the weekend in the headline, but quickly went on to become the most successful Japanese film in Chinese cinema history. “Along with Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, Your Name is perhaps the most commercially successful, non-Hollywood film of 2016 and one that Western film fans should not overlook,” CFI‘s Jonathan Papish wrote prophetically.

4. Hacksaw Ridge Becomes Sixth Film to Exceed 2016 Box Office Quota

With 2016’s box office take flagging, China’s State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) went off-script by relaxing its 34-film foreign title quota, allowing an additional six imports. The sixth and final film given that approval, Mel Gibson’s war story Hacksaw Ridge, was the only break-out hit from that group, with a surprise $17.1 million opening. Hacksaw Ridge also took the unique step of giving itself a 12+ age rating due to its graphic violence, a first in China, where there is no official rating system.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Gets China Release

Audiences in China have embraced Hollywood technological spectacles, like the Transformers series, but Western science-fiction classics like Star Trek and Star Wars have not been hits the same way they are overseas. With Disney’s new parallel story, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Mouse House tries again, but this time with two major Chinese stars, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, playing strong supporting roles. Rogue One debuts in China January 6, where it will either become 2017’s first Hollywood hit, or a forgotten footnote in Star Wars‘ local history.