China's appetite for movies -- both American and local -- is far from being satisfied, setting up the Chinese box office for more explosive growth in coming years.

That was the overriding sentiment expressed at Saturday night's "China's Entertainment Industry: The Next Chapter" panel at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as part of the awards ceremonies for the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition.

"I don't think it's quite registered in Hollywood how important China will be," noted moderator Robert Cain, a partner in production company Pacific Bridges.

Cain predicted that the the Chinese box office will be double the U.S. box office within 10 to 15 years.

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"There's an immediacy to the hunger of the Chinese audience for films," noted Michael Andreen, veteran Hollywood exec who became CEO of Beijing-based Le Vision Pictures earlier this year.

The surging Chinese box office was up 36% in the first half of this year to $1.79 billion, and it's seen impressive grosses for homegrown films such as "Tiny Times," "Journey to the West," "So Young" and "Lost in Thailand," which has topped $200 million.

Chinese audiences are also offering solid support to U.S. films -- so much so that China was the world's top box office market for "Pacific Rim" ($112 million vs. $101 million in the U.S.), "Jurassic Park 3D" ($56 million vs. $45 million in the U.S.) and "Cloud Atlas" ($27.7 million vs. $27 million in the US).

Christopher DeHau Lee, whose Dreams of Dragon Pictures noted that "Cloud Atlas" was able to achieve its gross in China despite opening three months after the U.S. release -- meaning that pirated versions were widely available by then. Chinese censors also cut more than half an hour of the film.

"That's quite a feat for a film that most people didn't understand," Lee noted. "It really is a spectacular film. It really gives the audiences what they want, and it has one of China's biggest stars in Zhou Xun."

Bennett C. Pozil of East West Bank, who was involved in financing "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2000, said he's hopeful that American audiences of the new Chinese films from young directors. "They are as good as anything we are turning out here," he added.

Veteran producer Sid Ganis agreed. "In terms of storytelling, the Chinese know what they're doing," he noted.

Ganis, the former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, recently helped broker a deal for Raleigh Studios to manage the massive Wuxi Studio project outside of Shanghai -- which is aimed at drawing Hollywood productions when it's completed.

Wall Street analyst Jessica Reif Cohen recently noted that BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research estimates the Chinese box office could yield $5 billion in value potential for Hollywood studios by 2017 vs. approximately $2.2 billion today, including imported and local productions (with this figure potentially doubling under further relaxed regulatory conditions).

Saturday's event concluded with Galen Tong receiving the $15,000 grand prize for his script "The Monkey King," set amid the Boxer Rebellion.


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