China monthly box office surpasses North America's

Chinese cinemas took a record 6.87 billion yuan (about 1.05 billion U.S. dollars) in ticket sales in February, with the monthly box office overtaking that of North America for the first time, official data showed on Tuesday.

The box office, nearly 70 percent higher than in February 2014, topped the North American market's by about 250 million U.S. dollars, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

Chinese sci-fi comedy "The Mermaid" was the most popular film, pulling in about 3.17 billion yuan after opening on Feb. 8, or Lunar New Year's Day.

"The Mermaid" set a new Chinese box office record, surpassing another domestic movie, "Monster Hunt."

"The Monkey King 2" came in in second place, earning 1.16 billion yuan in February. The comedy-fantasy was also released on Feb. 8.

Comedy-action "From Vegas to Macau III" took in about 1.09 billion yuan after opening on Feb. 8 to place third in the month.

More than 192 million people went to the cinema in China last month, according to the SAPPRFT. The market was largely driven by the movie-going fever around the Chinese New Year holiday and Valentine's Day.

Beating North America for the first time will add to belief that China will soon become the world's largest film market on an annual basis. Many observers think this will happen in 2017.

The Chinese film market has boomed in the past few years. Box office in 2015 reached 44 billion yuan, up 48.7 percent from 2014, while the number of film-goers totaled 1.26 billion throughout the year, a year-on-year increase of 51.08 percent.

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