BEIJING, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- China's box office has broken its single-day record as people flocked to cinemas to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.
According to Maoyan, a professional box office tracker, Chinese cinemas raked in more than 1.43 billion yuan (210 million U.S. dollars) in sales on Tuesday -- the first day of the Year of the Pig.
The holiday around the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, is a peak season for Chinese cinema screens. The previous single-day record, 1.27 billion yuan, was set during the last Spring Festival.
Eight new releases in diverse genres including comedy, sci-fi, thriller, and animation are battling to be box office champion.
China has the world's second largest film market, grossing over 60.9 billion yuan in revenue last year.
The sector's performance during Spring Festival is highly watched as it gives indications for the whole year revenue and viewers' favorite titles.
Last year, the season contributed nearly 10 percent to revenues and produced "Operation Red Sea" and "Detective Chinatown II", two of the year-round box office hit films.
"SEA OF PEOPLE"
The government-run China Movie Data Information Network reported that though slightly lower than last year, there were still over 31 million people who went to cinemas on the Lunar New Year's Day this year.
Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen -- the four mega-cities -- led the national box office tally.
The number of movie-goers in smaller cities, however, has been rapidly rising. And more retirees are spotted in cinemas too. The trends reflect Chinese spending power and the potential for the entertainment industry.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, long cinema queues were reported in both big cities and small towns.
People complained about the crowds and sold-outs screens on social media.
"I decided to take a raincheck, after being scared by the 'sea of people' at the cinema," one said.
"I almost got lost. All the five cinemas in town were full," another said.
Rao Shuguang, a senior official of China Film Association, told China Film News that he expected the Spring Festival box office to at least hit 8 billion yuan this year.
"The watershed is the third day of the new year," said Yu Chao, a cinema manger in Beijing. "After that day, people usually have done with visiting family and friends and may go traveling or to the cinema."
Yu said a good rating would then pull more viewers to certain films.
CHINA CONTENTS POPULAR
The season is usually dominated by domestic productions. This year is no exception.
Tuesday's top three were all comedies released that day. Ning Hao's "Crazy Alien" topped the list with more than 403 million yuan, followed by Han Han's "Pegasus" and Stephen Chow's "The New King of Comedy."
China's first big-budget sci-fi "The Wandering Earth" and animation "Boonie Bears: Blast Into The Past" came in the fourth and fifth place respectively.
Three other new titles for this season are China-Britain co-produced animation "Peppa Pig," crime thriller "Integrity", and Jackie Chan-starred action drama "The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang."
"Compared to previous years, the new releases this year are overall of higher quality and get better ratings," Fu Haifang, a manager of Zhejiang Starlights Cinema Chain, told China Film News.
"They demonstrate that China-made films have elevated to a new level," Fu said.
Domestic films have already gained a solid foothold in the Chinese market. More than 1,000 domestic films were produced last year. And among the 82 films grossing over 100 million yuan in 2018, more than half were domestic ones.
Rao said films like "Crazy Alien" and "The Wandering Earth," with their good reviews and revenues, represent the standard for China's film industry.
"The Wandering Earth," adapted from a short story by Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, especially sent ripples of excitement across China's sci-fi sector.
In the film mankind is threatened by a dying and swelling sun, and giant thrusters propel the planet out of the solar system on a 2,500-year journey in search of a new sun. It focuses on a Chinese astronaut and his emotionally estranged son, as they join a global mission to prevent Earth from crashing into Jupiter.
"Doubts on China's capabilities to make sci-fi blockbusters have shrouded the film industry for years," said Ji Shaoting, a Beijing-based sci-fi enthusiastic and founder of a startup for sci-fi writers. "'The Wandering Earth' will mark a new start..."