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3:11 AM PST 3/1/2016 by Patrick Brzeski
If the current rates of growth keep up in China, the country will surpass North America as the world's largest film market in early 2017.
Fueled by a raft of local blockbuster hits over the Lunar New Year holiday, monthly box office in China reached a record high in February, surpassing North America for the second time in history.
Already the world's second-biggest theatrical market, China is rapidly closing the gap with North America, still the world's largest.
Chinese cinemas took in 6.87 billion yuan ($1.05 billion) in February, the official Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday, citing the country's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The haul was a 50 percent increase over the same period last year, when China beat the full-month U.S. gross for the first time ever. The total also easily eclipsed last July's record monthly gross of 5.5 billion yuan.
Thanks to the breakout blockbuster performance of 20th Century Fox's Deadpool ($285.2 million domestically, and counting), North America's box-office total for February is expected to come in just shy of $800 million, according to Box Office Mojo, a substantial jump over last year's $765.9 million.
Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow's literal fish-out-of-water rom-com The Mermaid contributed nearly half of the huge Chinese haul, pulling in a historic $485 million from Feb. 8 to Feb. 29. Having already crushed Monster Hunt‘s former all-time record of $385.2 million, the film is expected to become China's first movie to cross the half-billion mark.
Further buoying the huge monthly numbers was fantasy sequel The Monkey King 2, starring Aaron Kwok and Gong Li, which earned $178.1 million over 22 days in February. Meanwhile, the latest installment in director Wong Jin's comedy-action gambling franchise, From Vegas to Macau 3, pulled in $167 million. Hollywood's contributions toward the historic gross were comprised by Kung Fu Panda 3, which has earned $149.5 million since its debut on Jan. 29 (a new record for animation in the territory), and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny, which has grossed a healthy $36.8 million in the Chinese market, despite withering local reviews.
China's total for 2016 thus far sits at $1.6 billion, representing a surge of 57 percent over the first two months of 2015. If the current rate of growth keeps up, China will reach $9.2 billion for the full year. In 2015, total box-office revenue in North America was $11.1 billion, and the region has totaled $1.83 billion in the first two months of this year.
China is currently on course to overtake North America in the first half of 2017.