A poster of Monkey King: Hero is Back (File photo)
BEIJING, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Chinese cinemas' box office hit a record high of 5.49 billion yuan (897.5 million U.S. dollars) in July, official figures show.
An office in charge of film funds under the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said on Saturday that a total of 159 million people went to cinemas last month and box office revenue this year has totaled 25.85 billion yuan.
The office said the new monthly record owes much the success to Chinese films, which raked in more than 5.2 billion yuan, about 95.6 percent of the overall figure.
The three biggest earners -- live-action animation "Monster Hunt," animated feature "Monkey King: Hero is Back," and comedy "Jian Bing Man" -- took up more than 60 percent of the ticket sales.
The SAPPRFT last week announced that "Monster Hunt" has overtaken 2012 low-budget comedy "Lost in Thailand" to become the most successful domestic film of all time in box office income.
According to a U.S. box office count, "Monster Hunt" has also outperformed Hollywood productions "Minions" and "Ant-Man" in total box office gains.
It is estimated that the film earnings in China last month exceeded the yearly numbers from 2002 to 2005 combined.
As with national holidays like Lunar New Year and National Day, the month of July has long been a busy time for cinemas as most Chinese schools and universities start their summer holidays in the month.
Over the last five years, the summer holiday period has contributed about a quarter of the annual box office takings.
PROTECTION AND COMPETITION
There has been much discussion about the role of Chinese movies in the July figures, as they had little foreign competition last month.
"It is true that domestic films lacked an international competitor in July," said a Chinese movie critic who insists on going by the name "Tubingenmujiang."
"However, the need to go to the cinema is not a rigid demand for people, and if the films being shown are not good enough, audiences may simply choose not to see them," he said. "In fact, China has experienced fallow seasons when fewer foreign movies were on screen and domestic films failed to attract movie-goers."
China started to import American movies in 1994 and competition between domestic and overseas titles has grown even more intense since 2012, when China announced a significant increase in its quota for overseas movies.
In 2014, about 70 percent of the top 30 films in North American were screened in China.
"Proper protection for domestic productions is needed so Chinese films are not stifled as they bud," said Tubingenmujiang, "but protectionism should be limited so Chinese movies don't become hothouse flowers."
Observers also attributed the success of domestic films to the country's "Internet Plus" strategy, which is encouraging Internet firms to integrate with other industries.
Most of the best-performing films in July featured investments from Internet enterprises, and the novel Internet finance mode of crowdfunding also weighed in.
The credits of "Monkey King: Hero is Back" listed as producers 109 children, whose parents pooled money to aid the movie's marketing.
"The Internet is no longer a simple technical assistant in China's film industry. With vigorous moves through financing, mergers and cooperation, it is reshaping the industry," said Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association.
Despite the huge success in China, experts noted that the Chinese film industry still has a long way to go if it is to reach a global market.
Shi Chuan, a professor with the Shanghai Theatre Academy, said Chinese movies need to be better if they are to compete with Hollywood and other overseas productions.
However, considering the enthusiastic consumers, most observers expressed confidence in domestic films.
"The July record should be regarded as a milestone in China's film industry," said Zhang Hongsen, head of the SAPPRFT film bureau. "Also, Chinese filmmakers should keep in mind what is really driving the success -- the audience."