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China’s Favorite Movies

The top 20 movies of all time rated by Chinese audiences

It would be an understatement to say that cinema in China is a big deal. With The Fate of the Furious breaking all manner of records and an ever-increasing presence of Chinese actors in Hollywood films—many of whom no narrative purpose whatever—it is clear that Chinese audiences hold huge sway over a film’s commercial success.

But while these movies may be the ones that are able to take the hard-earned RMBs from the average Chinese, they are not necessarily the ones that earn the most acclaim.

Douban has long been a source for all things art-related for Chinese internet-users, and it is no different when it comes to cinema. They have their own rating system and, just like IMDB, have collected their 250 highest-rated movies into a list.

Let’s have a look at the top 20 and see what films Chinese audiences most admire.

Movie and Rank Country Douban Rating / 10 IMDB Rating / 10
20. Cinema Paradiso (1988) Italy 9.1 8.5
19. Gone with the Wind (1940) USA 9.2 8.2
18. The Truman Show (1998) USA 9 8.1
17. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Japan 9.1 8.2
16. The Godfather (1972) USA 9.2 9.2
15. A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella (1995) Hong Kong 9.2 8.1
14. The Chorus (2004) France 9.2 7.9
13. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009) USA 9.2 8.1
12. 3 Idiots (2009) India 9.1 8.4
11. The Legend of 1900 (1998) Italy 9.2 8.1
10. WALL·E (2008) USA 9.3 8.4
9. Inception (2010) USA 9.2 8.8
8. Titanic (1997) USA 9.2 7.7
7. Schindler’s List (1993) USA 9.4 8.9
6. Spirited Away (2001) Japan 9.2 8.6
5. Life Is Beautiful (1997) Italy 9.5 8.6
4. Forrest Gump (1994) USA 9.4 8.8
3. Farewell My Concubine (1993) China 9.5 8.1
2. Léon: The Professional (1994) France 9.4 8.6
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) USA 9.6 9.3

The first thing to notice is that the number one film on the list is exactly the same that of IMDB’s top 250. However, this is where the similarities end. Only five films make both the Douban and IMDB top twenty list.

Chinese audiences are also obviously more generous with their ratings. Every one of the top twenty has a rating in the nines. IMDB, on the other hand, only has the top three with ratings of nine or greater. Speaking of ratings, apparently this is not the sole determinant of ranking. According to Douban, they also take into account the number of people who have seen the film and the reviews they leave. How they do this is unclear.

There are only two films in the top 20 that can be regarded as Chinese films—one of which is not natively in the Mandarin dialect. While American films dominate the standings, there are a fair few number of European films (three Italian and two French), most notably Léon: The Professional which takes the number two spot. Japan has a couple of animations in the mix and India is represented by 3 Idiots, a fact that is no longer surprising given the massive success that Indian blockbuster Dangal recently achieved in China.

Almost all the films in the list are made post-1990. Two are just on the cusp, while The Godfather and Gone with the Wind are significantly older. Compare this with IMDB where nearly half of their twenty are pre-1990. This could be due to the increased availability of foreign films in China in recent decades or recency-bias of the younger generation—we don’t know for sure.

Fun Facts:

Most popular nation: USA (11 films)

Biggest IMDB-to-Douban rating disparity: Titanic (+1.5)

Favorite director: Hayao Miyazaki (2 films)

Favorite actor: Leonardo Di Caprio (2 films)

Oldest film: Gone with the Wind (1940)

Newest film: Inception (2010)

Longest film: Gone with the Wind (238 mins)

Shortest film: My Neighbor Totoro (86 mins)

Best film on IMDB not in Douban top 20: The Godfather: Part II (no. 45 on Douban)

Best film on Douban not in IMDB top 20: Léon: The Professional (no. 27 on IMDB)


Cover image from Douban


Ethan Yun is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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