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.

YearTitleChinese Gross (millons of RMB)
1994The Fugitive25.8
1995True Lies103
1997The Lost World: Jurassic Park72.1
1999Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace33.94
2001Pearl Harbor105
2002The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring56.2
2003Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets52.2
2004The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King86.3
2005Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire94
2006The Da Vinci Code105
2008Kung Fu Panda182
2011Transformers: Dark of the Moon1,070
2012Titanic 3D946
2013Iron Man755
2014Transformers: Age of Extinction1,980
2015Furious 72,420