Cinema box office sales are booming with Korean movies continuing to enjoy their renaissance into the new year. "The Thieves" and "Masquerade" set box-office records of more than 10 million viewers late last year, and now "Miracle in Cell No. 7" and "The Berlin File" look set to achieve a similar feat, drawing more than 9 million and 6 million viewers so far.
According to the Korean Film Council on Tuesday, the total number of moviegoers rose 23.8 percent on-year in January to 20.36 million. Korean movie ticket sales and overall ticket sales rose 40.2 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively.
A record of 109.4 million cinema tickets were sold last year and one brokerage forecast that the number would double this year to some 218 million. But what is behind the trend?
◆ Going Solo
There has been a sharp increase in the number of people going to the movies alone. According to Maxmovie, Korea's largest online movie ticket seller, solo moviegoers accounted for 17 percent of movie viewers this year, up more than three times compared to 2003.
A staffer at the Megabox theater chain said, "In the past, solo viewers came mostly on weekdays in the daytime, but these days they are evenly spread throughout both weekdays and weekends." The staffer added that Koreans no longer find it awkward to watch movies alone.
Movie industry insiders attribute this trend to the growth in single households, which are forecast to account for 25.3 percent of all households in the country this year, according to Statistics Korea.
◆ Older Viewers
Moviegoers in their 20s, who used to form the bulk of viewers, were overtaken by moviegoers in their 30s last year. This year, people in their 40s make up a sizeable contingent. For "Les Misérables," audiences in their 40s accounted for 40.66 percent of ticket sales, according to Moviemax. They accounted for 37.06 percent of ticket sales for "Miracle in Cell No. 7," while those in their 20s accounted for just 29.6 percent.
For "The Berlin File," which was expected to be a hit among young people, moviegoers in their 40s in fact made up 35.87 percent versus just 17.81 percent for those in their 20s.
CJ CGV, Korea's biggest theater chain, started offering different ticket prices at some theaters last week. This has to do with the latest trend in viewer demographics. Seoul's Sangam and Mokdong branches and the Yatap and Ori branches in Seongnam began offering discounts on weekdays before 4 p.m. to attract housewives over 40.
◆ Repeat Viewers
According to Maxmovie, 6.4 percent of viewers of "Miracle in Cell No. 7," 6.3 percent of viewers of "Les Misérables," and 5.5 percent of viewers of "The Berlin File," this year's Top 3 hits so far, had seen the films more than once. That marks an average 2 to 3 percentage point rise compared to last year's big three "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," "Dancing Queen" and "Unbowed."
"Repeat viewers include those watching the same film twice or more and people buying tickets for others after watching it themselves," said Kim Hyung-ho at Maxmovie.
He added that many repeat viewers this year are in their 40s who return to the cinema with their families to watch a film again.