China's box office is the fastest growing film market and is expected to surpass the U.S. by 2020

Story highlights

'Monster Hunt' became the highest-grossing Chinese film made, earning over a billion yuan in just eight days

An average of 16 new screens opened each day in China last year

American studios are adding Chinese stars to the movie line up in an effort to appeal to the country's moviegoers

(CNN) —  

The setting is a fantasy world where monsters live among humans.

But when the queen monster comes under attack, she transfers her unborn child into a human man, impregnating him. After the man gives birth to the baby monster, he and a female monster hunter journey to a city to try and sell it for money.

Not familiar with this story?

Most English-speaking audiences wouldn’t be but that’s the plotline of “Monster Hunt,” this summer’s Chinese box office smash hit. The fantasy martial arts film debuted on July 16 and quickly became the highest-grossing Chinese movie ever made, netting over 1.6 billion yuan ($257.6 million).

Not only did it race past the 1 billion yuan mark in just eight days, it also earned more in a single day at the Chinese box office on July 18 than any other homegrown movie to date.

A booming box office

It’s yet another sign of how Chinese cinema is quickly gaining on Hollywood.

China’s film industry was the fastest growing market in 2014, with an average of 16 new screens added each day, research from Deloitte showed. Total box office revenue last year was 29.6 billion yuan (US$4.76 billion), up 36.2% in 2013, according to data from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

The U.S. box office is still twice as large as China’s, but Deloitte forecasts China’s box office will surpass the U.S. by 2020.

The power of the international box office was evident in the most recent Forbes list of highest paid actors announced earlier this month.

Veteran Hong Kong action hero Jackie Chan was ranked as the second highest paid actor in the world despite the fact the last movie he was involved in to have a wide release in the U.S. was “Kung Fu Panda 2” back in 2011, and the last movie he actually appeared on American screens in was “Karate Kid,” a year earlier.

Even Robert Downey Jr. who topped the list, owes much of his fat paycheck to the success of the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie in China, as does third-place Vin Diesel. Diesel starred in the movie “Furious 7,” which made more in China than in the U.S.

The influence of the Chinese cinema can be seen domestically in the U.S. too. Film studios are adding Chinese stars to their movie line up in order to appeal to Chinese audiences – even if they’re bit parts. Actress Li Bingbing, a huge star in China, played a small role in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” while fellow star Fan Bingbing, appeared briefly in “Iron Man 3.”

China’s answer to Hollywood

With a burgeoning middle class, China’s movie industry shows little sign of slowing down. Come 2017, the $8.2 billion entertainment complex Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis will open. It’s the brainchild of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, who bought up cinema chain AMC in 2012, and includes plans for 20 studios and the world’s only fixed underwater studio.

Major executives from American film studios attended the launch party as did A-list celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

If all goes to plan, the metropolis will become a global magnet for film stars, movie studios and tourists alike.

Top ten grossing movies in China

1. Furious 7 (2015) – 2.425 billion RMB

2. Monster Hunt (2015) – 2.073 billion RMB (up to Aug 11)

3. Transformers 4 (2014) – 1.981 billion RMB

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – 1.47 billion RMB

5. Jurassic World (2015) – 1.42 billion RMB

6. Avatar (2010) – 1.379 billion RMB

7. Lost in Thailand (2012) – 1.255 billion RMB

8. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) – 1.246 billion RMB

9. Breakup Buddies (2014) – 1.167 billion RMB

10. Jian Bing Man (2015) – 1.107 billion RMB (up to Aug 11)