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China Says They Now Have More Movie Screens Than The U.S.

At a screening of David O. Russell's 'Past Forward' in Beijing. (Photo by Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images)
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As of Tuesday, there are 40,917 movie screens in mainland China, says the Global Times, which cites statistics from the film bureau of China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. If the numbers hold up, this means that China has surpassed the U.S. when it comes to the number of movie screens in a single nation. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, there are 40,759 movie screens in the U.S. in 2016.

It’s the rate of expansion that is perhaps the most telling sign. The Times says that, on average, 26 screens were added each day in China in 2016. By contrast, the U.S. has averaged about two new screens a day since 2015, and six new screens a day in the past 10 years. And in 2014 we actually lost about 100 screens.

Certainly, this shift is indicative of the growing middle class in China, which now has more disposable income to spend on the film industry. Earlier this year, professional service firms IHS Markit and PwC predicted that the Chinese film industry would rake in $10.4 billion in 2017, compared to the estimated $10.2 billion for the U.S. market, reports Deadline. This would make it the first time that Chinese moviegoers have spent more than their American counterparts. According to Bloomberg, the movie market in China grew about 48 percent in 2015, bringing in $6.8 billion, with Chinese-made films accounting for more than 61 percent of the offerings in theaters.

Of course, this means that Hollywood has found some new bedfellows in Chinese investors. In October, it was announced that Jack Ma (owner of Alibaba and China's richest man) had bought a stake in Steven Spielberg's Amblin Pictures to market and distribute films in China. Earlier this year, the Wanda Group, a massive Chinese conglomerate who owns everything from hotels to soccer clubs, put down a cool $3.5 Billion for Legendary Entertainment, the studio that brought us Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, as well as Pacific Rim and Jurassic World. (It should also be noted that Legendary brought us the recent The Great Wall, which has been lambasted for shoe-horning a white lead (Matt Damon) into a story about one of China's most storied monuments.)

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As noted at Vox, the partnership between Chinese investors and the U.S. film industry is a complicated one. While U.S. studios want to tap into the potential for large revenue with Chinese audiences, they also face a couple of hurdles; for one thing, the Chinese government only allows a certain number of foreign films to be screened in the country per year (in 2012, only 34 foreign movies were allowed into China), and those films will have to pass through a pretty stringent censorship agency. One of the ways that U.S. studios can get a movie into China is through revenue sharing, which means that a Chinese studio will cover some of the production costs, which also means that that studio has some input in the decision making. It's only natural, then, that we've been seeing more cameos from Chinese stars, as well as product placement with Chinese goods. One of the more obvious recent examples was the Independence Day sequel, which featured "Moon Milk" and Chinese media personality Angelababy.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]