For the latest entertainment industry data and analysis, sign up for our entertainment briefing here.
U.S. film studios have never felt so perplexed by the Chinese market. The country this year resumed importing American films at pre-pandemic levels, but ticket sales for such titles over the first half of 2023 are still down 69% from the same period in 2019, according to film industry advisory group Artisan Gateway.
There’s only so much studios can do to engender success in China given the gatekeeper status of state regulators, but ensuring that films reach more than just the largest demographics certainly helps. “Barbie,” which fared better than expected in China thanks largely to women viewers, is a recent example.
Studios would be well served by creating more moments that resonate with women moviegoers. In fact, Morning Consult data shows that women are about as likely as men to be moviegoers, despite China having one of the most severe gender imbalances globally. Studios can better appeal to the country’s women by more intentionally targeting them in marketing campaigns for the types of films they report being more interested in relative to men, such as musicals, romantic comedies and family-friendly features. In the long term, taking chances by greenlighting more films from these genres is another way of capitalizing on female audiences.
However, global film studios should think twice before overtly implementing a China-first strategy, as basing decisions solely on Chinese box office potential can seem inauthentic to moviegoers in the country while also running the risk of stoking backlash in the United States.
China’s women will increasingly drive box office success
Though China’s gender imbalance has narrowed over the past two decades, the gap remains one of the widest globally. But men outnumbering women isn’t reflected in China’s moviegoer base: Morning Consult data shows that 52% of monthly moviegoers in China are women. This figure, combined with the fact that women account for less than half of China’s population, shows that women have a sizable influence on box office revenue.
This finding is surprising, given that the gender breakdown of moviegoers in the United States and Canada skewed 53% male in 2021, according to the Motion Picture Association. Moreover, despite some studios explicitly targeting Chinese women in recent years, it’s rare to see major productions with feminist themes — like those central to the recent “Barbie” movie — in Chinese theaters. This suggests there’s still work to be done to appeal to female audiences in the country.
Less surprising is how younger generations in China tend to frequent movie theaters more than older ones, as is the case in the United States, while those living in urban communities are more likely to be moviegoers compared with their nonurban counterparts.
Roughly Half of China’s Moviegoers Are Women
Regardless of the specific titles favored by Chinese men or women when our survey was fielded in late July, women going to theaters at higher rates than expected should not be discounted. Our data shows that 32% of women in China reported going to the movies three or more times in the past month, compared with just 27% of men. This suggests that even after adjusting for one-off “Barbie” viewers, moviegoing levels for the two groups remain comparable.
The surprising moviegoing frequency of women in China can be explained by their increasing purchasing power. Despite still trailing men, women’s average monthly salary was 8,545 yuan (roughly $1,170) in 2022, up 5% from 2022 and 30% from 2018, according to Zhaopin, one of China’s biggest recruiting platforms. This helps explain why women purchased 56% of the movie tickets sold in China last year, a figure up slightly from 2021, according to a film industry research platform owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.
Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”
In the year ahead, some studios may become more bullish on catering to female moviegoers given that fewer women in China are marrying, likely leaving them with more time for leisure activities like moviegoing that might otherwise have been allocated for child care (China continues to reinforce traditional gender roles).
China’s women favor musicals, rom-coms and family-friendly fare much more than men
Women report favoring science fiction titles and movies about China, but because these genres are more likely to be mass-market plays, studios likely won’t want to limit their marketing efforts to just one demographic. Accordingly, a robust campaign to win over women moviegoers should include driving up awareness of films that are much more likely to appeal to them. Morning Consult data shows that the two movie genres with particularly disproportionate interest among Chinese women are musicals and romantic comedies, with gender gaps of 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively.
Women in China Prefer Musicals, Romantic Comedies Much More Than Men
In addition to the usual plot-focused trailers, marketing materials that showcase actors’ personalities and backgrounds could be particularly beneficial. While 47% of women in China said a film’s actors are a major factor in their decision to watch it, that figure was just 38% for men. A China-specific marketing campaign would only work with ample lead time, but it is possible. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which performed well in China, was able to mount a market-specific promotional campaign featuring major Chinese brands, including online retailer JD.com and mobile payments platform Alipay.
Given the difficulty nonlocal studios face in nailing down specific cultural norms and pop culture references in China, it could make sense for U.S. studios to more heavily invest in Chinese productions of musicals and romantic comedies as a longer-term strategy. These investments would be one way to ensure that studios’ slates are balanced with genres beyond the typical big-budget action blockbusters they’ve traditionally relied upon for global box office success.
Certain U.S. companies are exploring co-production opportunities with Chinese film studios, though many have cooled on that idea over the past few years due to the difficulty of capitalizing on Chinese moviegoers’ tastes. However, co-productions could improve Hollywood’s track record in China by more effectively targeting women moviegoers and reigniting the U.S. movie industry’s interest in the country.