Major flops cause a weak year at the local box office: Foreign flicks nearly surpass local movies for first time since 2010

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Major flops cause a weak year at the local box office: Foreign flicks nearly surpass local movies for first time since 2010


Among this year’s releases, only “A Taxi Driver” sold more than 10 million tickets as of Wednesday. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was the top-selling foreign feature with 7.25 million tickets sold, while animation “Your Name” became the best-selling Japanese movie in Korea. [SHOWBOX, SONY PICTURES RELEASING INTERNATIONAL, MEGABOX PLUS M]

It’s hard to say that 2017 has been an impressive year for the local box office. Of the 1,731 movies that hit theaters this year (158 more than last year), only the period epic “A Taxi Driver” starring Song Kang-ho surpassed 10 million ticket sales, with 12.2 million admissions sold.

Korean movies in particular failed to fulfill expectations despite a string of ambitious, big-budget movies like “The Battleship Island” and “The Fortress” which both cost at least 10 billion won ($8.97 million) to make.

Of the 10 highest-grossing movies this year, three spots were taken by foreign films, including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” as of Dec. 27. In fact, for the first time in seven years, the total ticket sales for local films came close to being outpaced by foreign movies.

As of Dec. 25, Korean films have pulled in a total of 853.1 billion won with 175.6 million tickets sold, accounting for 50.5 percent of the market share. The performance is weaker than the 927.8 billion won raked in last year. Foreign movies, on the other hand, sold 152.3 million tickets this year, taking in a total of 848.2 billion won. But considering the popularity of “Steel Rain” and “Along with the Gods,” which sold more than three million admissions over the Christmas holiday, the gap is expected to widen slightly, with an additional boost from “1987: When the Day Comes,” which sold 332,000 tickets in its debut on Wednesday.

One of the biggest contributors to Korean films’ relatively weak box office outcome is the poor performance of this summer’s big-budget films. Historical action drama “The Battleship Island,” and adventure drama “Okja” were both tent-pole movies for studios, but they failed to draw large audiences, hinting at the waning influence of seasonal releases, possibly due to the growth of streaming services like Netflix and Watcha Play.

Among domestic films, political thrillers, crime action flicks and period films were particularly abundant this year. Of the limited genres on offer, action flicks were especially well-received, as can be seen by “Confidential Assignment,” “The Outlaws” and “Midnight Runners” which ranked in the second, fourth and seventh spots on the top 10 best-selling movies of this year.

Movies that raised civic awareness captured moviegoers’ attention throughout the year. “Our President,” a documentary shedding light on late president Roh Moo-hyun, became the best-selling documentary this year. The film, which focuses on the miracle of Roh winning the Millennium Democratic Party’s primary in 2002 by unexpectedly defeating frontrunner Rhee In-je, sold 18.5 million tickets. Also, “The King,” about two corrupt prosecutors that director Han Jae-rim made “to portray the absurdities of Korean society with satire and farce,” sold 5.32 million tickets.

Unsolved historical issues were also commonly depicted in films this year. “The Battleship Island,” which drew an audience of 6.59 million, portrayed Korean forced laborers on Japan’s Hashima Island during World War II, while “I Can Speak” (3.28 million) dealt with “comfort women,” a euphemistic term for victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, and won actor Na Mu-ni multiple awards.


Among foreign releases, superhero movies were well-received, as expected. Audiences especially enjoyed films that got creative with the genre. Marvel and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was similar to a high school comedy while Hugh Jackman-fronted “Logan” was more of a modern-day Western about family, love and redemption.

Another notable trend among foreign features was the increased popularity of Japanese romance dramas. Japanese films drew around 7.92 million audiences to cinemas, which is more than double last year’s 3.45 million. The number of audiences that watched Japanese films accounted for four percent of the entire ticket sales. This was the first time that Japanese films took up more than three percent of the market share since 2003.

Director Makoto Shinkai’s animated feature “Your Name” became the highest-selling Japanese movie ever in Korea with 3.67 million admissions sold. Backed by the popularity, the animation will be re-released in theaters on Jan. 4, exactly a year after its initial release date.

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