Chinese documentary features made a staggering 21.46 million yuan (3.42 million U.S. dollars) at the box office last year, but many hardly qualified in the genre.
A report on the country's documentary industry released on Wednesday said Mayday Nowhere, a compilation of concert performances by Taiwan's pop rock band Mayday, contributed the lion's share with 21.06 million yuan.
Transcendence, a documentary on the first rock-classical crossover concert by China's rock 'n' roll godfather Cui Jian, earned only 300,000 yuan.
The critically-acclaimed China Heavyweight, detailing Olympic boxing training of rural teenagers, scraped a mere 70,000 yuan.
This year "Dad, Where Are We Going?", a theatrical spin-off of a popular TV reality show, raked in 696 million yuan.
"The film relies on a huge fanbase fostered by the TV show to become a box office sensation, but its identity as a documentary should be seriously reconsidered," said He Suliu, director of the Chinese documentary research center under the Communication University of China, which drafted the report.
"TV show spin-offs are the main push behind China's documentary prosperity, but real deals remain obscure," He added.
The genre's entire 2012 box office in China was only 1.3 million yuan.