China beat the US at the box office for the first time last month, bringing in $650 million compared to the United States' $640 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The milestone follows a month of surging ticket sales in China against a background of slowing box office results in the United States. In particular, the Reporter notes that the Lunar New Year played a big role in boosting China's ticket sales in February. February is also a famously bad month for movies in the US. That all said, this isn't exactly an anomaly, and it goes to underscore exactly how important Chinese audiences have become and will continue to be for Hollywood to cater to.
Hollywood movies weren't even the biggest players
What may scare Hollywood most about these figures is that its own movies didn't play a big role. The New York Times reports that foreign films aren't typically screened around the Lunar New Year, leaving room for films that were made, at least in part, domestically. The two biggest Hollywood movies in China during February were The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, which took in $36 million and $35.5 million respectively, according to the Reporter. That's not a huge sum, particularly compared to what the country's top films brought in: $104 million from The Man From Macau II; $95 million for Dragon Blade (which stars Jackie Chan, and — interestingly enough — John Cusack and Adrien Brody); and $72 million from Wolf Totem.
While Hollywood films didn't have a big presence last month, that isn't a sign that they aren't succeeding. The Reporter points out that China's second biggest box office month, July of 2014 with $580 million, succeeded in large part thanks to Transformers: Age of Extinction. The United States is still the largest movie market, according to the Times, but China, in second place, is quickly growing, adding thousands of more movie screens in response to that growth while the United States' total stays flat. Hollywood may not be able to reverse the box office trend in the US, but the growth in China suggests that it'll still have huge audiences to play to for some time.