China Box Office: ‘League of Gods’ Rises to Top But Fails to Score Big

  • Star-studded big-budget CGI fantasy hit No.1 but failed to light up the box office
  • Drop in subsidized ticketing may deepen box office slump
  • Only quality films will entice Chinese moviegoers back into cinemas

Executive Producer and Hong Kong cinema icon Charles Heung signs a League of Gods poster (Weibo)

League of Gods, a big-budget CGI fantasy film starring some of the most recognizable names in Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese cinema, debuted in first place over Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace over the weekend, but failed to light up the box office and quickly became the worst-reviewed movie in China this year.

Featuring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Huang Xiaoming, Angelababy, and Fan Binbing, “Gods” opened to RMB 201 million ($30.9 million) over the weekend, edging out Chan’s action-comedy Skiptrace, which took in RMB 140 million ($21.1 million) on its second weekend in theaters. Skiptrace has grossed RMB 732 million ($112.6 million) since its debut and stands as the top-grossing film in an overall lackluster summer moviegoing season.

Preliminary numbers suggest July’s total box office hit just RMB 4.5 billion ($677 million), an 18% drop from the record-setting numbers put up in July 2015, and the third month this year to see negative growth.

China’s stagnating film market is partially being blamed on third-party ticketing platforms dropping ticketing subsidies, a practice whereby websites such as Maoyan and Gewara, backed by powerful Internet companies, sell tickets at heavily discounted and subsidized prices. The tactic has fueled China’s box office boom the last few years, but has also cultivated expectations from Chinese moviegoers for affordable tickets sometimes as low as $1.50. As prices begin to normalize, moviegoers are seemingly less willing to enter cinemas.

Analysts are missing another part of the equation. The quality of films has dropped drastically this year. Case in point, League of Gods has been bludgeoned by filmgoers and critics alike. The film sits at a lowly 3.1/10 on user review website Douban and a 2016-worst 2.5/10 from Chinese critics on review aggregator Iris Magazine.

Even Skiptrace, the highest-grossing film of the summer thus far, was mauled by poor reviews and won’t reach the heights of last summer’s three well-received blockbusters — Monster Hunt, Jianbing Man and Monkey King: Hero Is Back — which grossed a combined $700 million-plus.

Industry analysts can blame ticketing subsidies all they want — they are certainly hurting smaller exhibitors and inflating box office numbers — but the bottom line is that only quality films will entice Chinese moviegoers back into cinemas.