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Box office roundup for second half: stronger showings for Korean films

In the first half of the year, more foreign films than Korean films ruled at box office, including “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Black Panther.”

Although, Korean films actually managed to sell more tickets than the year before, it was largely due to the success of films released last year, particularly “Along with the God: The Two Worlds Days” and “1987: When the Day Comes.”

“Believer” was the only film released in 2018 to surpass 4 million ticket sales, with the rest falling flat.

The second half of the year was marked by better performances from Korean films at the box office.

Korean movies in second half

The second half of this year started with auteur Lee Joon-ik’s “Sunset in My Hometown.” And while some viewed it as charming and fun, it completely flopped at the box office.

In spite of Gang Dong-won’s popularity, his acting prowess still leaves some doubting, and he once again fell short in the sub-1-million-ticket failure of “Illang: The Wolf Brigade.”
“Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days” / Lotte Entertainment
“Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days” / Lotte Entertainment

But things started to look up with “Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days,” the second part of the “Along With the Gods” trilogy that has already become the most commercially successful Korean movie franchise of all time. The comic book-based film sold a whopping 12.3 million tickets, becoming the hottest film of 2018.

Its mega success made things bleaker at the box office for “Spy Gone North” by director Yoon Jong-bin, a young director with a number of commercially and critically acclaimed films. But the tastefully clever and suspenseful film managed to break even and add a little profit, selling a little under 5 million seats.

“On Your Wedding Day” from Lee Seok-geun was a small-budget film that was never going to break any records, but the cute, coming-of-age romance sold 2.8 million tickets, nearly doubling the 1.5 million needed to break even.

“Monstrum” in September, a period piece and monster film starring a marquee name in Kim Myung-min, turned out to be a monstrous flop bashed by critics and fans alike. Its failure was yet another major blow for distributor Lotte Entertainment, which had been shooting bricks all year long with the exception of “Along With the Gods.”

“Intimate Strangers” / Lotte Entertainment
“Intimate Strangers” / Lotte Entertainment

Fortunately for Lotte, “Intimate Strangers” became one of the most successful comedy films of the year, selling 5.1 million tickets.

September is an important time in Korean cinema, as it is usually the month in which the Chuseok holidays fall. Three films butted heads for the Chuseok crown this year: “The Negotiation,” “The Great Battle” and “Feng Shui.”

All three had their strengths, though none were deemed masterpieces by virtually anyone. “The Great Battle” came out victorious with 5.4 million seats sold, although its massive budget meant it had just barely broken even.

October is usually considered offseason in terms of the box office, but the month did have two critical successes and did not do half bad commercially either. The small budget “Miss Baek” featured perhaps the best acting in Han Ji-min’s career, but barely broke even at 700,000.

“Dark Figure of Crime” received praise from critics across the country, and well surpassed the breakeven point of 2 million tickets, with 3.5 million sold.

“Rampant,” though, with an abysmal 1.5 million tickets sold and downpour of criticism, became another big-budget blockbuster flop distributed by NEW. The company’s first blockbuster, “Psychokinesis” in January, did not even sell a quarter of the 4.1 million tickets it needed to break even.

More flops came down the road. “Default” was a film with the potential to be a hit, with big names like Yoo Ah-in and Kim Hye-soo. Yet, the film failed to take off, with its flat plot and one-dimensional characters, selling a little over 3 million tickets to compensate for its budget of 7 billion won ($6.25 million).

Aqua Man/
Aqua Man/

The last hurrah for Korean movies of the year may be “The Drug King” and Jung-woo’s “Take Point,” which opened Wednesday. But “Aquaman” from Warner Bros. has been flooding the box office, and has already claimed Korea’s “Swing Kids” as a victim.

Notable foreign movies in second half

Box office behemoths like “Avengers: Infinity War” were absent for the second half among foreign films, but there were still some heavy hitters.

Koreans’ love for Tom Cruise once again endured, as “Mission: Impossible - Fallout” finished strong with 6.6 million tickets sold.

Despite mixed reviews, “Venom,” Sony’s attempt to revitalize its superhero franchise, sold 3.9 million tickets, a decent tally considering initial expectations.

Marvel Cinematic Universe rarely fails in Korean market, and “Ant-man and the Wasp” -- while not a megahit -- had a passable run with 3.8 million. “Deadpool 2,” which earned a following here with the success of the first movie, did well for an R-rated film by selling 3.8 million tickets.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” / 20th Century Fox Korea
“Bohemian Rhapsody” / 20th Century Fox Korea

“Searching,” a powerful drama starring John Cho, was a real unexpected success with 2.9 million tickets sold, resulting in the film making nearly a third of the money it made worldwide in Korea. “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” finished with a ho-hum 2.4 million sold.

“Incredibles 2” did okay with 3 million tickets. Outside of Pixar, however, animation feature films have had a relatively poor track record in Korea. Such was the case for the performance of the globally well-received “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” at a meager 550,000 tickets.

Perhaps the biggest success story among foreign films in the second half was biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” centered on iconic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Contrary to most hits, the film never had a point where it was dwarfing every other film in the theaters. But its strong, steady run has made it one of the most successful foreign films of the year, currently standing at 8.5 million tickets.

By Yoon Min-sik (