Despite General Box Office Slump, Animation Sizzles In China

During what’s been an otherwise bumpy year for China’s theatrical film exhibition business, one segment has been red hot: animation.

While overall box office growth in 2016 has been lackluster by Chinese standards, with year-over-year revenue rising just 11% in the January through August period, receipts for animated features have leaped by 63% over the same period in 2015. Year-to-date animated feature revenues now stand at $858 million, well above the previous full-year record of $698 million set last year.

Image credit: "Big Fish & Begonia" from BT Studios

The summer season was especially resilient, as animation receipts rose by 43% for the June-August season compared to the same period last year, even as the broader box office experienced an alarming 1% summer decline.

This year started strong with Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 setting a new animation record of $155 million off its late January release. That record was quickly beaten by Disney’s Zootopia, which took in $240 million in March and April. Another big performance came in June, when The Angry Birds Movie tallied $78 million. And although The Secret Life of Pets’ $58 million gross under-indexed in China relative to its $790 million worldwide total, it still handily beat Finding Dory’s disappointing $38 million cume.

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Chinese and other Asian productions have also fared well this year. No local toon has come close to the $155 million gross of last year’s Monkey King Hero Is Back, but the producers of the $5 million budgeted Big Fish & Begonia (大鱼海棠) were undoubtedly thrilled when their fantastical undersea adventure—12 years in the making—fished up $84 million in summer ticket sales.

Other solid earners this year include the latest sequel in the local Boonie Bears franchise, which earned $44 million in January, and a pair of Japanese imports, Boruto-Naruto, and the latest Doraemon toon (the 36th entry in that franchise in as many years), each of which took in $15 million.

Animation in China has come a long way in just a few years. In 2009 only a dozen animated features were released in Chinese theaters and their market share was about 8% of the total national gross. The biggest hit of that year, Ice Age: Dawn of Dinosaurs, earned $22 million. During the first eight months of 2016 nearly three dozen animated films screened in China’s multiplexes, capturing a 17% share of the market. As China phases out its one-child policy and a new, larger generation of kids comes of age, that share should continue to grow, and the animation market will continue to reach new heights.

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