Hollywood Misses $500M Potential Windfall as China Holds Line on Foreign Film Quota

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Studios had hoped the rumblings — that the republic would let in an additional 10 films — were true. They weren’t

If Hollywood was hoping for a big bottom-line boost out of China, it’s officially out of luck.

The republic’s box office grew 27 percent last year to $3.6 billion and analysts predict it will soon become the biggest market for theatrical releases, but won’t get there faster by increasing foreign films: Despite mutterings that China was flirting with expanding foreign releases from 34 to 44, the country’s official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday that the film quota will remain firmly in place.

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That could cost Hollywood studios between $350 million to $500 million in ticket sales, Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com estimated to TheWrap.

“It’s unfortunate,” Contrino said. “For the market to reach its full potential it needs to have a mix of maintaining national pride while letting in beneficial foreign products.”

China expanded the number of foreign films it allows from 20 to 34 in 2012 as part of a new trade agreement with the United States. It also increased the share of ticket revenue studios received from 17.5 percent to 25 percent.

China has a love/hate relationship with the U.S. movie business. It recognizes that they have the know-how to produce huge, special effects-driven releases, but it worries that if it allows too many U.S. productions to screen in the country, it will come at the expense of its own local film business.

To bolster its domestic product, the country has instituted black-out periods, barring foreign films from screening, and has scheduled major U.S. productions such as “Gravity” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” to open against one another, depressing their ticket sales.

That strategy seems to be paying off. Seven of the country’s top 10 grossing films in 2013 were Chinese. More recently,  Hong Kong-made “The Monkey King” dominated the Chinese box office, earning $35.4 million in its first two days of release.