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.