Zombie ‘Train,’ Local Fare Power Korea’s Box Office

Sonia Kil
Variety

The first nine months of 2016, were a relatively hot time for Korean films. Among the 167 million tickets sold between January and September, homegrown pics accounted for some 90 million, which is 54% of the total box office revenue, according to Korean Film Council data.

In addition, eight of the 10 highest-grossing films of the year were local titles. Of foreign films, only “Captain America: Civil War” and “Zootopia,” both distributed by Disney, made it to the top 10.
The country’s top four distributors — CJ Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, Next Entertainment World, and Showbox — all had hits, but at different levels.

Kofic’s data shows that NEW bulleted to the top of charts with zombie actioner “Train to Busan.”
Animation maverick Yeon Sang-ho’s live-action directorial debut, “Train” broke several box office records in South Korea, including the highest single-day gross, $9.9 million from 1.28 million admissions.

“Train” opened in Korean cinemas in July after premiering in Cannes’ Midnight Screening, and earned $82.1 million from 11.57 million admissions — technically a fifth of the population. It is currently the only 2016 film to cross the 10 million admissions mark.

The zombie thriller helped NEW stand out even stronger among major Korean companies that were generally strong this year, not only in box office terms but also rights sales. According to NEW’s international sales arm, Contents Panda, “Train” was sold to some 156 countries after its Cannes premiere, and has become the biggest Korean film of all time in territories including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Though Showbox releases did not make it to the top of the box office, that company is also considered a winner in terms of the revenue. Its two big titles, crime comedy “A Violent Prosecutor” and disaster movie “Tunnel,” made $68.17 million from 9.7 million admissions and $50.73 million from 7.12 million admissions, respectively. Together the two movies have exceeded the revenue of “Train,” which was NEW’s only film in top 10.

Showbox is running at a steady pace with October release “Luck-key,” which is dominating the box office with a cumulative gross of $32.97 million from 4.53 million admissions after two weekends. “Luck-key” has recently become the seventh-biggest local release of the year, and the third Showbox movie to land in the top-10 chart.

Major Hollywood studios’ Korean-language productions also took winners’ slots. Warner Bros. Korea’s first local production, “The Age of Shadows” was released in early September and earned $54 million from 7.5 million admissions.

Directed by top Kim Jee-woon, “Shadows” became the third-biggest Korean movie of the year, brightening the prospects for Warner. “Shadows” is also the country’s entry in the foreign-language Academy Awards race.

Fox Intl. Production also saw its first fruit in South Korea with Na Hong-jin’s Cannes entry “The Wailing.” The occult thriller was Fox’s fourth full-scale Korean-language production.

Unlike the studio’s previous Korean titles such as “Running Man” and “Intimate Enemies,” which all flopped, “Wailing” earned $49.26 million from 6.88 million admissions and became the sixth-biggest local film of the year.

Both Warner and Fox are looking to produce a maximum four Korean-language films per year.

Related stories

Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Klown' Remake Sells Out All Foreign Markets

'Shaun the Sheep 2,' 'Madame,' 'Guernsey' Proved Hot AFM Sellers for Studiocanal (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix Circling Jared Leto Crime Thriller 'The Outsider' (EXCLUSIVE)

Get more from Variety and Variety411: Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Newsletter