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Foreign films in China

Foreign films in China are generally limited to two import methods: the revenue-sharing method and the buy-out method. The former is mainly preferred by capitalists but has a strict quota, while the latter allows China to keep the revenue inside the country for a one-time flat fee.

In addition, producers may attempt a co-production for a higher revenue cut, but there are strict requirements on top of the films challenging the generally negative reputation against co-production films. Otherwise, it will be downgraded to an assisted production film.

Import methods

Revenue-share film

A “revenue-share film” (分账片, fēnzhàng piàn)1) is a foreign film where the copyright holder, typically one of the major film studios, allows a distribution agency to screen the film(s) for a contracted revenue split. The split is commonly among the lines of 35% going towards the producer, 17% to the distributor, and 48% to the theaters.2) Due to capital control and protectionist policies, it has a set limit of 34.

Historically, the limit was initially set to 10 in 1994, then it was raised to 20 in 2002 after the country entered the World Trade Organization, and the current limit of 34 was set in 2014,3) specifically because 14 are expected to be 3D or IMAX films.4) Despite this, there has been some leniency, pushing the limit as high as 40 in 2017,5) though it has since dropped below the quota.6)

Buy-out film

A “buy-out film” (买断片, mǎiduàn piàn)7) is a foreign film whose screening rights are bought by a domestic film company for a relatively low price (e.g. $7 million),8) allowing revenue to remain inside the country. Of course, these carry a risk since the films are usually more obscure and prone to flopping. On the other hand, there appears to be no hard limits for buy-out films, which has gone as high as 87 in 2019.9)

Joint production methods

Co-production film

A “co-production film” (合拍片, hépāi piàn)10) is a film which involves domestic and foreign producers. To qualify, the domestic side must contribute at least one-third of the film, must include some Chinese actors playing the main roles, and must be filmed in China. This would allow producers to earn 43% of the box office revenue, compared to the 25% that they get from importing.11)12)13)

Historically, the reputation of co-production films has been mixed in China as they would usually get panned as a “bad movie” (烂片, làn piàn)14) and the Chinese elements can be egregious at times, which is why the Mulan remake was controversial.15)16) Despite this, there's been some recent success encompassing films like The Karate Kid (2010), Kung Fu Panda 3, Skiptrace, and The Meg.17)

Assisted production film

An “assisted production film” (协拍片, xiépāi piàn) is a co-production film that generally doesn't meet the requirements. In most cases, the domestic side will simply be in charge of the camerawork, but there has been cases where co-production films were downgraded for failing to qualify, which can either be good or bad depending on your stance on the co-production issue.


  • I wanted to translate a list of foreign revenue-share films here, since it's such a low number and it'd help people connect, but it doesn't seem like anyone has ever documented them.
    • Prior to 1994, it's known that the 1982 film Rambo: First Blood had released in China in 1985.18) However, it was done by a non-major film studio, so it likely falls under buy-out film instead.
    • The first known revenue-share film was the 1993 Warner Bros. film The Fugitive, which released in China on November 11, 1994, according to various sources.19)20)21)
  • This is such a niche subject that it's kinda funny when Western sources use “censorship” to explain everything, like: How is this even relevant here? Maybe the movie just fucking sucks?
The formal term is “revenue-share blockbuster” (分账大片, fēnzhàng dàpiàn), but it's often abbreviated as “revenue-share film” (分账片, fēnzhàng piàn) instead.
"Film in China". China Film Europe.
4) , 8)
"Foreign Films in China: How Does It Work?" (March 2, 2017). China Film Insider.
"China quietly opens door to more foreign films" (October 23, 2018). South China Morning Post.
The formal term is “import buy-out film” (进口买断片, jìnkǒu mǎiduàn piàn), but it's often abbreviated as “buyout film” (买断片, mǎiduàn piàn) instead. It may also be called a “batch film” (批片, pī piàn).
As a side note, a “co-production film” (合拍片, hépāi piàn) in Hong Kong describes a Hong Kong movie that co-stars actors from both Mainland China and the Hong Kong SAR.
"The Future Is Now: China and US Co-Produced Films" (June 12, 2015). Hollywood Branded.
"给合拍片一点关注" (September 14, 2020). Sohu.
"REBELLIOUS RAMBO A HIT BEHIND THE BAMBOO CURTAIN" (September 23, 1985). The Chigago Tribune.
"1994流行记录:第一部大片《亡命天涯》" (November 18, 2008). Phoenix New Media.
foreign_films_in_china.txt · Last modified: 2024-04-03 07:13:21 by namelessrumia