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2023 Was Another Big Year for Indonesian Cinema

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Pacific Money | Economy | Southeast Asia

2023 Was Another Big Year for Indonesian Cinema

Box office receipts have to return to their pre-pandemic levels, but locally-made films are making up a greater proportion of ticket sales.

2023 Was Another Big Year for Indonesian Cinema

A Cinema 21 movie theater in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, in January 2019.

Credit: Photo 138414451 © Olan Dah |

2022 was a banner year for the Indonesian movie business. As pandemic-era restrictions began to ease, moviegoers flocked back to theaters. KKN di Desa Penari, a relatively low-budget horror film about rural spirits with conservative social values, became the highest-grossing Indonesian film of all time. Including re-releases it sold over 10 million tickets. According to industry analyst Bicara Box Office Indonesian theaters sold 100 million total tickets in 2022, about 57 million of which were for locally made films like KKN.

In 2023, the market strengthened further with an estimated 114.5 million total ticket sales. There was no record-setting blockbuster like KKN, but Indonesian films still accounted for over 53 million admissions. Looking purely at ticket sales, the industry has yet to fully recover to its pre-pandemic levels which Bicara Box Office estimates hit 152 million admissions in 2019. But much of that was driven by imported Western blockbusters, like Avengers: Endgame. What we are seeing today is that Indonesian films catering to local tastes, especially horror, are playing a bigger role.

Looking to capitalize on this growth, at least two movie theater chains went public in 2023. Platinum Cineplex, which manages a modest number of theaters mostly in smaller cities, raised about $14 million. But it was Cinema 21, by far the largest movie theater chain in Indonesia that made the biggest splash. At current exchange rates, Cinema 21 raised around $130 million with its IPO, which it used to pay down debt and invest in expansion.

According to financial reports revenue at Cinema 21 was up to $326 million in 2023, with a net profit of $46 million. It’s not quite back at 2019 levels, when the theater chain did $432 million in revenue and $81 million in net profit. But it is clear evidence that the box office in Indonesia is on its way toward recovery.

And it’s not just theaters that stand to benefit. On the production side, Indonesian film companies are becoming more active and more profitable. MD Pictures, the production company behind KKN, had $27 million in sales in 2022 and followed it up with $23 million in 2023.

Director Joko Anwar, one of Indonesia’s most talented filmmakers, recently opened his own production company, Come and See Pictures. They released a film called Siksa Kubur in theaters earlier this year which sold nearly 4 million tickets in its first three weeks of release, as 2024 shapes up to be another big year for locally produced films.

Streaming is starting to play a larger role in driving demand for Indonesian content as well. Joko Anwar’s Come and See Pictures is currently developing a supernatural sci-fi series called Nightmares and Daydreams that will be released later this year on Netflix. In the last few years, Netflix has become an increasingly important outlet for Indonesian productions, including last year’s well-received Gadis Kretek.

The influx of Indonesian productions on the streamer did not happen in a vacuum. Telkom Group is the largest provider of wireless and broadband services in Indonesia. It has over a hundred million users, and until just a few years ago Netflix was blocked on Telkom-owned networks. The ban was lifted around 2020, and shortly thereafter I noticed more Indonesian content showing up on the streamer.

This included, as mentioned above, quite a few shows and films produced specifically for Netflix by Indonesian production companies. I don’t have any specific knowledge about how this was all worked out, but I know that Telkom is majority-owned by the Indonesian state. And if I was the state, I would think it was a good idea to use market access as leverage to get Netflix to carry more Indonesian content and invest in local production.

Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that there are more Indonesian movies and series hitting Netflix and other streaming services these days, and we are seeing a wave of local productions doing big business in theaters as well. Overall ticket sales are rising, production companies and theater chains are tapping the local stock exchange to raise capital, and Indonesian consumers are turning up in large numbers, especially for popular genres like horror. And this momentum seems likely to be sustained in the near-term, as we are not even halfway through 2024, and according to Bicara Box Office Indonesian films have already sold 28 million tickets.