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A dramatic box-office slowdown in China has Hollywood nervous

At the Wanda Imax theater in Beijing’s bustling Central Business District, shopping mall patrons passed the time on couches in the lobby as they waited to meet friends on a Wednesday afternoon — but many weren’t there to see movies.

Some in fact, like 21-year-old Tian Zhuanghui, said a lack of good films have kept them away from the multiplex.

“I watch movies a lot less now,” Tian, a recent university graduate, said with a shrug. “I just don’t have the desire to anymore. The excitement is gone.”

Tian, who prefers fantasy and science fiction pictures, is far from alone in her waning interest. Her sentiment reflects a surprising plot twist in the world’s second-largest film market: a dramatic box-office slowdown.

Ticket sales in China during the last six months have been down by 10% compared with the same period last year, according to EntGroup, a Beijing-based research firm. That’s a striking turnaround for a country that saw a nearly 50% jump in box office receipts in 2015 to $6.78 billion, leading many people to believe that mainland China would overtake the U.S. and Canada as the world’s No. 1 market as soon as next year. But a weak summer season has dampened the hype.

Movie ticket receipts are weakening even though cinema chains are still building theaters at a rapid pace.

The headwinds have caused growing anxiety in an increasingly global-focused Hollywood, which has placed big bets on the burgeoning appetite of Chinese consumers for entertainment. U.S. studios are increasingly gearing their would-be blockbusters to appeal to audiences in China, and doing deals with local companies to improve their chances of doing big business there.