There was a time in movie history when the entirety of the Chinese market was an afterthought. The country, despite its size, was not producing major blockbusters, and Hollywood didn’t attempt to appeal to Chinese audiences. Ever since the start of the 21st century, however, things have changed dramatically and China now has a film industry that rivals just about any other major country in the world.
In recent years, China has invested a lot more into its films to the point where budgets are starting to resemble that of Hollywood blockbusters. That’s because these films are making money left and right at the box office, setting global records in the process. Let’s take a look at the five highest-grossing Chinese films and how they fared both financially and critically.
The Battle at Lake Changjin
The Battle at Lake Changjin is the top-grossing Chinese film, earning a total of ¥5.77 billion ($913 million US) at the box office. The film’s $200 million US budget makes it the most expensive film to come out of China.
The film came out in 2021 and was co-directed by Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, and Tsui Hark. Wu Jing and Jackson Lee star in the film, which serves as a fictional depiction of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. The success of the film was so unprecedented that it warranted a sequel, which was released in February 2022 despite neither being a critical favorite outside of China.
Wolf Warrior 2
Wolf Warrior 2 is the second highest-grossing Chinese film, earning a total of ¥5.68 billion ($874 million US) at the box office. The film had a budget of 30.1 million US and was released in 2017. Previously mentioned Wu Jing co-wrote, co-produced, co-directed, and even starred in the film.
A sequel to the 2015 film Wolf Warrior, Wolf Warrior 2 follows Chinese soldier Leng Feng as he finds himself wandering around Africa after leaving for the continent following his release from military prison. The film had mostly positive reviews, and won multiple awards including Best Actor at the Huading Awards for Wu Jing.
Hi, Mom is the third highest-grossing Chinese film, earning a total of ¥5.4 billion ($805 million US) at the box office. The 2021 film had a budget of $59 million US, and was written, directed by, and stars Jia Ling. Hi, Mom follows Jia Ling’s character Jia Xiaoling as she is transported back in time to 1981 after her mother’s tragic and fatal car accident in 2001.
Jia Xiaoling does her best to bring her mother joy, even going as far as trying to find her a better husband so that her mother might end up with a family that can make her happier than her daughter feels she did.
Ne Zha is the fourth highest-grossing Chinese film, earning a total of ¥5 billion ($742 million US) at the box office. The 2019 film had a budget of $20 million US and is a 3D computer animation, written and directed by Yu Yang. Ne Zha is based on the novel Investiture of the Gods, which was written in the 1500s.
Upon its initial release, Ne Zha was the highest-grossing movie in Chinese history, and became one of the highest-grossing computer-animated films in worldwide history. Directed by Yu Yang, Ne Zha was recognized by critics in China and around the globe, earning consideration for the Academy Awards. Though it ultimately wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature, Ne Zha still left a big impression on American audiences.
The Wandering Earth
The Wandering Earth is the fifth highest-grossing Chinese film, earning a total of ¥4.6 billion ($700 million US) at the box office. Released in 2019, The Wandering Earth is a science fiction title based on a short story released nearly 20 years prior by Liu Cixin. The Wandering Earth carried a budget of $50 million.
In The Wandering Earth, a group of astronauts is working hard to get away from a sun that’s expanding and attempting to get the entire Earth to a safe distance. The film showed a huge leap forward for Chinese cinema, and the blockbuster ended up being a huge hit with audiences. Netflix would wind up getting the rights to air the film on their streaming service, and a sequel was announced upon its worldwide success.