Another box office themed newsletter this week. As in Europe and North America, summer box office revenues in East Asia’s biggest markets – China, Japan and South Korea – have given some cause for optimism. I recently wrote a report on post-pandemic box office recovery for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which I’m linking to and summarising in this week’s newsletter. However, as the article explains, before we can claim that real recovery is on the way, there are also a few notes of caution.
A short newsletter this week as I’m travelling from the UK to Mumbai. It’s the first time I’ve visited India since 2019 so I’m looking forward to catching up with the local industry. Spirits should be high as Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva appears to have broken the box office drought that has plagued Bollywood recently (short update also below).
1. East Asia’s Theatrical Markets Are More Top-Heavy Than Ever
Now that the pandemic is regarded as being firmly in the rearview mirror (despite the fact that half the world seems to be ill), the global industry is keenly looking for signs of box office recovery. There have been a few encouraging developments in East Asia’s more mature markets, but as this HKTDC report explains, we’re not out the woods yet. A quick summary:
CHINA: is having a worse year in 2022 than it did in 2021 as it plays pandemic ‘whack-a-mole’, closing cinemas in different regions as part of its zero-Covid policy. A few late summer hits boosted box office, but we’re now into a spate of releases for the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday (September 10-12), which have had mediocre box office takings, while the release schedule for the upcoming National Day holidays (October 1-7) does not look huge. According to Artisan Gateway, China’s box office is currently 25% behind the same point in 2021 (see HKTDC report for more details).
HONG KONG: after a devastating start to the year, during which cinemas were closed for nearly four months as part of Hong Kong’s zero-Covid policy, box office started to bounce back over the summer with Hollywood tentpoles and long-delayed local titles, including Chilli Laugh Story, Mama’s Affair and Warriors Of Future. According to UK-based consultancy Gower Street Analytics, Hong Kong box office is currently 57% down on the pre-pandemic average (see HKTDC report for more details).
KOREA: although cinemas have been open this year, box office didn’t start to bounce back until the May release of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness and local action hit The Roundup. Since then, a string of other local productions have performed decently, most recently Confidential Assignment 2: International, which opened ahead of the Chuseok holiday. According to UK-based consultancy Gower Street Analytics, Korea is currently 38% down from its pre-pandemic average.
JAPAN: one of the markets least affected by Covid, Japan started the year with a big anime hit, Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie, which has since been outgrossed by current release One Piece Film: Red. According to UK-based consultancy Gower Street Analytics, Japan is only 13% down on its pre-pandemic average.
So this is all good news, right? Well, yes, and no. As the HKTDC article explains, Hollywood has already released most of its big guns for the summer season and is entering a quiet period until Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Way Of Water towards the end of the year. And now that China, Japan and Korea have cleared a big chunk of their pandemic backlogs of local productions, it’s unclear what is coming down the pipeline next.
Also, audiences only seem to be turning up for the big films – Hollywood tentpoles in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, big-budget ‘main melody’ films or comedies in China, anime in Japan and local action dramas in Korea. Last week, Streamlined focused on the success of local arthouse drama Return To Dust at the China box office, but the film is really an exception. The space for mid-budget, specialist and arthouse films was being squeezed before the pandemic, and is even smaller now.
2. Brahmastra Brings Box Office Relief For Bollywood
The critical reaction to this big-budget fantasy action adventure has been mixed, but Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, has stemmed the box office rout for Bollywood releases this summer, grossing $28.2m on its opening weekend (September 9-11) in India and overseas.
Produced by Disney’s Star Studios India and Dharma Productions, and with Disney’s marketing muscle behind it, the film was released in 810 theatres and opened at number two in the North America market with a $4.4m weekend, while it had a $600k start at number three in the UK. In India, the film opened on more than 5,000 screens and scored the tenth biggest opening of all time in the market with $18.9m.
The next big release from the Hindi-language film industry will be Reliance Entertainment and T-Series’ Vikram Vedha, starring Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan, on September 30. The action thriller is being lined up for release in more than 100 countries, expanding beyond the traditional Indian diaspora territories.