China's box office revenue in 2014 hit 29.6 billion yuan ($4.77 billion), registering a 36-percent growth year on year. This performance has not only exhilarated domestic film producers but also become the envy of their foreign counterparts.
Chinese consumers have increased their recreational spending in recent years with rising income levels and an increase in discretionary funds. The large audience base has in turn boosted the film industry. The number of domestically produced films has seen explosive growth. What's more astounding is the growth of box office sales. In 2010, the country's total box office revenue was 10 billion yuan ($1.61 billion). It took three years for that number to double and only another year for it to reach a figure close to 30 billion yuan ($4.83 billion) last year.
Many Hollywood studios are eager to grab a share of China's huge film market. However, it's far from easy for foreign films to successfully break into the Chinese market. According to a quota system, only 34 foreign films can gain access to the domestic market each year on a revenue-sharing basis.
This protective measure has contributed to the domestic film industry's rapid expansion. However, Chinese films have yet to gain influence and recognition commensurate with this expansion. In terms of management and production technology, they still lag far behind Western countries. Opening the market wider to foreign movies may provide one way to help the Chinese film industry catch up.
In fact, the domestic film industry has continually opened up to its foreign rivals over the past decades. After the reform and opening-up drive was launched in the late 1970s, the film market experienced a period of recession due to insufficient funds, technology and talent. Against this backdrop, China started to reform its film industry and open the market to foreign productions. A quota system for imported films was introduced in 1994, through which box office revenue is shared between domestic distributors, cinemas and foreign producers. Before the revenue-sharing model was put in place, foreign films entered the Chinese market either as part of cultural exchange programs or by selling their copyrights to China.
The new system, which has made it possible for foreign films to compete with Chinese ones for domestic viewers, has injected impetus to the country's film market. The market, however, needs to further open up to the world so that filmmakers in China can emulate their foreign counterparts on a level-playing field. This would represent an effective way for Chinese films to enhance competitiveness in the global market.