BEIJING (AFP) - Moviegoers in China spent 17 billion yuan (S$3 billion) on tickets last year, turning the country into the second-largest film market in the world, the state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.
Sales rose 30 per cent from 2011, it said, citing the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), underscoring the rapid growth that has long attracted Hollywood despite China's tight restrictions on foreign films.
After years of pressure, China in 2012 agreed to increase the number of films allowed in annually from the United States - which is the world's largest movie market - from 20 to 34, whereas 893 domestic films were produced last year.
Nonetheless foreign films generated 51 per cent of the revenue, beating domestic film ticket sales for the first time in nine years, and Hollywood's share in China rose from 18 to 25 per cent.
But Mr Tong Gang, head of the film bureau at SARFT, told Xinhua that domestic films' percentage of the box office "still exceeds market expectations".
The SARFT vice-minister Tian Jin last November urged domestic filmmakers to "enhance creativity", saying that domestic films faced great pressure and needed to be more competitive.
China imposes strict rules over what films are allowed to be seen by the public, banning what it considers any negative portrayal of contemporary politics or issues it says might lead to social unrest.
But Lost in Thailand, a low-budget Chinese comedy, overwhelmed expectations in December to earn 1.2 billion yuan within a month and become the country's biggest-ever box office hit, Xinhua said.