The homegrown fantasy-adventure-comedy Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons was the highest grossing film in 2013, netting $205 million at the box office. Moreover, six other domestically produced films made it into China's top 10 box-office earners, with the remaining three all being Hollywood blockbusters. In 2012, it was the reverse: Only three Chinese movies made it into China's box office top 10, while U.S.-made movies accounted for the remaining seven.
A waning interest in the repetitive themes of Hollywood blockbusters—unbeatable superheroes, animated adventures and disaster epics all rendered with computer-generated imagery—plus the forced creation of "Chinese elements" inserted from time to time in an effort to draw in Chinese viewers, may account for the increasing number of cinemagoers choosing homegrown productions.
What is most important behind this sharp change though, is Chinese movies themselves are getting better. Captivating stories are being presented by new directors to reflect the real lives of today's young people. With the average age of moviegoers in China being only 21.7 years old, the success of such productions is understandable. 2013 also saw more screens added; more variation in films' subject matter, covering a wider range of audiences; and more professional and comprehensive marketing campaigns.
However, the better performance of China's films at home did not guarantee their box-office takings overseas. Unclear plots, unrecognized casts and poor translation have been chronic obstacles facing Chinese filmmakers for decades. Forming partnerships with Hollywood production companies might be an option for breaking into the international market. Partnership models involving a mixture of financing and casting need to be revised to create productions that are both uniquely Chinese and internationally accessible. After all, telling local stories in a way that is easy for overseas viewers to understand is the most challenging task for any artists seeking cross-cultural success—filmmakers are no exception.