China has experienced an unprecedented boom in box office takings in recent years – and is already off to an impressive start to 2016.

Chinese theatres took in a record 6.87

billion yuan (US$1.05 billion) in February, according to Xinhua, surpassing North America for the first time.

Here are the top five highest-grossing films in China, three of which were in the last year.

1. The Mermaid (2016, 3.19 billion yuan by Wednesday)

Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s romantic comedy, took a staggering 3.1 billion yuan alone in the three weeks since the Lunar New Year holiday and is expected to continue its record-breaking splash.

Chow, the king of mo lei tau (nonsensical) comedies in the ’90s and early 2000s, tells the story of a young real estate tycoon who falls in love with a mermaid sent by her half-fish clan to assassinate him to protect their waters.

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s The Mermaid is part of an emerging trend: Chinese dominance at the box office

Chow continues in the mo lei tau comedy style in the film but also adds new flavours to deliver a message about China’s real estate frenzy and humanity’s relationship with nature.

The film is 53-year-old Chow’s second directorial outing, and some mainland media say its total gross revenue will reach 3.5 billion yuan.

READ MORE: Film review: Mermaid – Stephen Chow’s environmental morality tale

2. Monster Hunt (2015, nearly 2.44 billion yuan)

Despite accusations of manipulated box-office figures, the mainland-Hong Kong 3D fantasy action comedy adventure was the mainland’s highest-grossing film last year.

Director Hong Kong-born Raman Hui was a codirector of DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third”, and drew on this experience in the US to give a Chinese take on an American hero’s journey.

READ MORE: Eight of Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow’s funniest scenes

The live action-animation film tells the tale of a young man who accidentally becomes pregnant with a monster and his adventures with the baby monster and a female monster-hunter.

3. Furious 7 (2015, 2.42 billion yuan)

The highest-grossing Hollywood film on the mainland took 2.42 billion yuan at the box office last year, surpassing the previous benchmark set by James Cameron’s “Avatar”.

The latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise raised the interests of mainland movie fans with its tribute to Paul Walker, who was killed in a car accident in late 2013.

Another reason behind its success is its high screening time in mainland’s theatres, taking up about 70 per cent of mainland screens during its screening period since April last year.

4. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014, 1.97 billion yuan)

The movie’s Chinese elements are thought to have been a big factor in its success. Paramount worked with a Chinese production company, cast Chinese actors in some roles and filmed some sequences on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

It could point to new ways for the Chinese and US film industries to work together, not just in terms of film companies but also commercial sponsorship, with many Chinese companies, from dairy firms to real estate developers, featuring in the film.

5. Mojin: The Lost Legend (2015, 1.68 billion yuan)

The 2015 action adventure fantasy thriller was based on the adventure novel “Ghost Blows Out the Light” about a trio of legendary grave robbers, and the book’s popularity was seen as key to the movie’s success.

Director Wu Ershan wove various genres, including fantasy, horror, romance, and martial arts, into one production, building on his previous success with “The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman” in 2010 and “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” in 2012.

(Figures: EntGroup)