Furious 7 has only been in theaters two weeks and it's already breaking records across the globe. It is currently the highest grossing movie of 2015, while it has also broken the record for a single day's box office earnings... in China.
In fact, it seems China has been just as lucrative for Furious 7 as the domestic North American audience, bringing in roughly the exactly same first day earnings. On April 3rd, Furious 7 made $67.4 million in the US and Canada, while its premiere date in China delivered a record $67.2 million.
This figure smashes the previous record which was held by last year's Transformers: Age of Extinction. The fourth movie in the Transformers franchise - which was developed as a co-production with Chinese studios - 'only' made $36.6 million on the first day.
Although this might seem like good news, it could have some implications for the future of the franchise. Let's take a look at why.
Made In China - Hollywood's Shift East
China has become a massive market for movies in recent years, in fact it recently eclipsed Japan as the second biggest market and is expected to take over America by the end of the decade. This means it is becoming increasingly attractive to studios from all over the world. However, there is a catch.
Due to Chinese laws, only a certain amount of foreign movies are permitted to be shown each year - with the number recently being increased to 34. Furthermore, foreign studios can currently only expect to take 25% of the revenue earned by ticket sales, while Chinese movies enjoy 43% of ticket sales.
The only way for American or foreign studios to take home a bigger cut, is if the film is made as a co-production with a Chinese studio, examples of such movies include Transformers: Age of Extinction and Iron Man 3. However, to qualify as a co-production, your movie must satisfy several strict criteria set by the Chinese state.
Firstly, it must feature scenes set in China, and at least a third of the cast should ideally be Chinese. Secondly, it must also positively feature Chinese culture and not include any storylines which are critical of authority. Other culturally sensitive issues, such as homosexuality, mental illness and race are also viewed with suspicion by Chinese censors. Robert Cain, partner in film co-production company Pacific Bridge Pictures (which works extensively in China) told the Telegraph:
Of course, any sort of political movie or political discourse is really prohibited, whether it's critical of the Chinese government or critical of other governments, that's just not allowed, [as is] excessive violence - although that seems to fluctuate with what they'll allow - and anything that appears to make fun of Chinese culture or doesn't honor Chinese culture properly.
Now, no one really expects the Fast and Furious franchise to deliver any kind of nuanced social commentary, so this might not be seen as a major issue for the franchise. Furthermore, it's probably a good thing that mainstream cinema becomes less US and Western centric, and of course, setting a US film in China and using Chinese actors is, obviously, no problem. However, I'm concerned the decision to do so often hasn't come from a ‘creative’ or story-teller, but from a producer who simply has to say: “Great, I love the idea, but can we shoehorn in a scene in China so we can make some more dough?”
Maybe I'm being naive, but this shouldn't be how stories are told. Perhaps most importantly, the Chinese government’s requirement for the film not to be politically subversive can result in certain important issues disappearing from the mainstream.
Of course, there is no confirmation that this is the way the franchise is heading and we know that at least part of Fast and Furious 8 will be set in New York. However, with box office figures like these, the temptation might be starting to grab more of those Chinese dollars could become too good to pass up.
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