China’s box office may not catch the U.S. anytime soon after flatlining last year, but the Middle Kingdom has just taken top billing on another notable movie metric: total screens.
At a press conference Friday to open the second annual BRICS International Film Festival in the Chinese city of Chengdu, Zhang Hongsen, the deputy director of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China, which oversees — and censors — all films and television programs shown in the country, told attendees that China now has more than 45,000 movie screens, more than any other market, according to Chinese film website Mtime. The festival celebrates filmmakers from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
To get to 45,000, China has added an average of 19 new screens every day since 2012. The country had 40,917 screens as of Dec. 20, while North America had 43,531.
China is home to the world’s largest cinema operator, AMC Theatres and Wanda Cinema Line parent Dalian Wanda Group, and has been building theaters at an aggressive pace over the last few years as the country’s appetite for movies has expanded along with its middle class. Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin — China’s richest man — unveiled the company’s $8 billion studio complex in the city of Qingdao at a Los Angeles gala late last year.
But after years of double-digit growth — including a whopping 48 percent increase in the country’s box office gross between 2015 and 2016, the Chinese box office ticked up just 4 percent last year as a weak slate of local films and the tightening of generous subsidies from online ticketing companies depressed demand. And as China’s yuan weakened relative to the dollar during 2016, its box office actually dipped about $200 million in dollar terms.
Paramount’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” which counts China’s Huahua Media as an investor and marketing partner, is currently at the top of the country’s charts, having grossed $138 million in its first four days.