A second Hollywood movie has shattered the Chinese box office record in a year, as Beijing faces increased pressure to ease its annual quota of 20 foreign blockbusters.
The American disaster film "2012" has made 460 million Chinese yuan ($67.3 million) as of Dec. 23, eclipsing the previous of mark of 450 million yuan set by another Hollywood blockbuster, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" earlier this year, Weng Li, spokesman for the state-owned film importer, China Film Group, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Beijing on Monday.
The new record came just days after the World Trade Organization on Dec. 21 upheld an earlier ruling that China is illegally restricting U.S. music, film and book imports. China only shares revenues with foreign movie studios on 20 imports a year _ a restriction that amounts to a quota on foreign blockbusters.
Hollywood's success in China in 2009 may justify to Chinese officials that local movies still need protection _ although domestic fare has also enjoyed a strong year.
The Chinese propaganda movie "The Founding of a Republic," made 415 million yuan earlier this year, landing it the No. 3 spot in the all-time box office ranking after "2012" and "Transformers." That star-studded production featuring cameos by Jackie Chan and Jet Li, however, was a politically important film made to mark 60 years of communist rule, with many movie theater operators saturating their screens with showings.
Weng said Monday that he had not read the WTO ruling and had no immediate comment, but he added that foreign imports were going "smoothly," noting that the James Cameron 3-D sci-fi blockbuster "Avatar," is scheduled to hit Chinese screens on Jan. 4. Cameron was China's box office champion for 11 years with "Titanic" until his record of 360 million was broken by "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" in July.
The strong Chinese results of "2012" and "Transformers" highlights the huge potential of the mainland box office. In 2008, Chinese box office revenues surged 30.5 percent to 4.3 billion Chinese yuan ($629 million).
"2012" was also helped by a plot that was politically correct for patriotic Chinese audiences. As the Earth's core overheats, world leaders build an ark in the mountains of central China to house people and animals that can repopulate the planet. Scenes from the nearly 3-hour movie feature a U.S. military officer saying that only the Chinese could build an ark of such a scale so quickly.
Since opening in China on Nov. 13, the Roland Emmerich movie has been shown on as many as 1,900 screens and is currently still showing on about 300, according to Li Chow, Sony Pictures Releasing International's general manager for China. China had 4,100 screens as of the end of 2008.