Korea Box Office: Low Attendance Adding Quota Issues to Cinemas’ Mounting Woes

South Korea’s nationwide box office dropped to a miserable $3.44 million over the weekend, despite the presence of a local film in top spot. The country ‘s cinemas earned 32% less than the previous weekend and are beginning to struggle with quota issues, according to local media.

“Nothing Serious,” a Korean-made comedy romance, floated from third place to the top, despite its weekend takings shrinking by 30% to just $670,000. After three weekends on release, it has earned just $4.57 million, according to data from Kobis, the tracking service operated by the Korean Film Council (Kofic).

The previous top title, “Spiritwalker” slipped to second, earning $648,000. Its cumulative after nearly three weeks on release, stands at $6.33 million.

Disney’s “Encanto,” another Nov. 24 release, slipped from second place to third. It earned $540,000 over the weekend, for a cumulative total of $4.35 million.

Star-studded, “Don’t Look Up” (with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance and Timothee Chalamet) had a limited release and opened with $300,000, good enough for fourth place. Over its opening five days it made $458,000. The film has limited theatrical outings in market including Denmark, Mexico, Argentina and Mexico. In others it releases straight to Netflix on Dec. 24.

“Dune” held on in fifth place with $289,000 for a $14.4 million cumulative since its release in October.

Korean boy band Monsta X are the subject of “Monsta X: The Dreaming,” a film which opened in seventh place with $159,000 over the weekend and $315,000 over five days. The film’s release coincided with the MAMA awards show over the weekend and the Friday release of the band’s English-language album also called “The Dreaming.”

The continued box office slowdown has hurt the revenues of distributors (causing some to delay releases or switch titles to streaming) and that of exhibitors (which are losing money and have closed some venues). Now, it is making scheduling more complicated.

In recent days, Korean Bizwire has reported that cinemas are having difficulty fulfilling the country’s mandatory screen quotas. These require that all theaters give at least 73 days of screenings per year to local movies.

In pre-COVID years this was easily achieved as Korean titles were plentiful and frequently accounted for the lion’s share of the box office. This year, however, local titles arriving in cinemas have been fewer in number and performed less well than imports. In order to be able to optimize their earnings potential, some cinemas operators have called for a relaxation of the quotas, according to the publication.

More pressure to program Hollywood titles, rather than Korean, is already on the horizon. Pre-sales of tickets for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” were the highest for any film this year after just three days of pre-sales.

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