Wang Hua, a cinema manager in a small county in Guangdong Province, felt relieved when the Spring Festival holiday -- and long nights at work -- finally came to an end.
During the seven-day holiday, watching movies was a popular activity in Boluo County, which has a population of less than one million.
According to Wang, box office revenue at his China Film Xingji cinema is usually around 2,500 yuan (395 U.S. dollars) per day, but it jumped to 119,300 yuan on Feb. 16, the second day of the holiday.
The cinema saw total box office sales of more than 470,000 yuan during the holiday.
Wang said many moviegoers were people who were returning to their hometowns from elsewhere to spend the holiday with families.
"Spring Festival is the only time of year when the whole family gets together, and it's good to sit down and watch a movie with them," said a local resident surnamed Xu. He said his daughter and son are working and studying in cities, and they bought the tickets for the family.
In the small city of Heyuan, Guangdong, the cinemas were also busy during the Spring Festival. The China Film Xingmei cinema reported it sold 150,000 tickets during the holiday, almost equal to box offices in big cities.
Statistics from box office tracker EntGroup showed that third- and fourth-tier cities saw box office earnings reach 2.48 billion yuan during this year's Spring Festival holiday, surpassing the 2.423 billion yuan in first- and second-tier cities.
China's annual box office revenue is about 50 billion yuan, more than 60 percent of which comes from first- and second-tier cities, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
Hu Gang, professor at Jinan University, said the box office boom in small cities during the Spring Festival reflected the fact that big cities are still destinations for migration, and it also indicated that recreational facilities in many small cities are still inadequate.
Still, others see strong potential in the culture market in small cities based on the box office boom.
Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association, said China's film industry will have more room to develop if more people in small and medium-sized cities go to cinemas on a more regular basis.