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Why China’s Financial Crisis Could Boost Its Booming Box Office

Local product powers Mainland to highest-grossing week ever, while ”Pixels,“ ”Terminator: Genysis,“ ”Minions“ and Mission: Impossible 5” are cleared for release

China’s already booming box office may get a further boost from a slew of U.S. movies that have received release dates and an unlikely source: its ongoing economic turmoil.

On Tuesday Chinese media reported Mainland release dates for “Terminator: Genysis” (Aug. 23), “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (Sept. 8), and “Minions’ (Sept. 13), though Universal did not confirm. “Pixels” on Tuesday was set to debut on Sept. 15, so  Illumination Entertainment’s little yellow fellows are likely to move.

Though neither has a release date, Disney’s Marvel superhero saga “Ant-Man” and its Pixar Animation hit “Inside Out” have also been given approval by Chinese censors, according to the report.

That should provide a boost for the Chinese box office, but it hardly needs it. Last week was the biggest in history for the world’s second-largest moviegoing market, with more than $262 million.

That the record came during the “blackout period,” when Chinese government officials give homegrown movies preference over American imports, makes it all the more impressive.

“Monster Hunt,” a live action/animation hybrid (photo top) distributed by China’s Edko Films, delivered $107 million over four days. The comedy “Pancake Man” brought in $69 million, and its $22.4 million Friday debut was the best ever for a Chinese movie. “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” was third with $60 million. Its $75 million 10-day haul was tops for a Chinese animated film, but short of the $99.3 million taken in by “Kung Fu Panda” in 2008.

That the record came with the country in the midst of economic upheaval that has roiled financial indexes through the world isn’t totally surprising, according to BoxOffice.com senior analyst Phil Contrino.

“With their economy in the dumps right now, we don’t really know what to expect. But we do know that when the most recent U.S. recession was at its peak there was a huge rush to the movies.”

The same factors that drove that box office surge could well come into play in China, Contrino said. The U.S. box office jumped five percent as the housing bubble burst in 2007, stayed hot in 2008 then jumped 10 percent and crossed the $10 billion mark for the first time in 2009.

“When times are tough, people look for ways to escape some harsh realities, and movies are one of the most affordable ways to do that,” he said.