Does China’s May Day box office herald new opportunities for independent filmmakers?

Box office numbers over the five-day China May Day/Labor Day holiday showed at least 10 local titles grossing over a combined $125 million in US dollars. It’s a calendar event in which new local films usually compete against studio movies like Avengers: Endgame. In 2019, the superhero epic dominated. Do this year’s numbers for local movies indicate that the market may be cooling? If so, will Hollywood shift from comics-based tentpoles, perhaps putting greater focus on bringing out more independent pictures with smaller budgets?

It’s likely too soon to tell. But combined with the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the domestic box office (see the recent announcement that Pacific Theatres will close all 17 ArcLight and Pacific cinemas), independent producers may be justified in feeling inspired. The top earner among the holiday weekend pictures in China was “the story of unrequited love between two former high school classmates, tracking their romance over a 15-year period until the female character marries another man.” Beijing Enlight Pictures youth romance “My Love” pulled in $65.1 million in three days despite highly critical reviews.

Compelling, well-crafted, and distribution-ready cinematic stories by independent filmmakers may not generate the $629 million that Marvel’s Avengers did just in China in 2019. But such films don’t require $400 million budgets either. For their indie producers, China’s May Day numbers may well indicate greater opportunities ahead.

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