Move over, Hollywood, because this year's the year for the Chinese movie industry. Having brought in impressive box office numbers over the last year, it looks like China is getting ready to overtake American movies at the global box office.
As a result, Hollywood is naturally gearing up to secure partnerships with the Asian giant, and blockbuster movies are emerging with a mix of A-list stars and Chinese attributes. Time will tell if the American and Chinese film industries will succeed in working hand in hand, or become competitors — in the latter case, Hollywood better brace themselves.
China Is Taking Over The Global Box Office
Hollywood has always been considered the lion king of the movie industry savanna, with the majority of mainstream movies aimed for global success being produced in the United States. And even there, the number of movies taking over theaters is decreasing, which makes the few winning studios even more powerful. In 2015, the top 10 movies at the North American box office brought in 35% of ticket sales, up from 25% in 2014, thanks to a small number of giant movies such as Furious 7, Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens.
But there's been a new player on board for quite some time now. The Chinese movie industry is boasting an average growth of 34 percent per year. In 2015, China's box office went up 49 percent from the previous year, reaching a staggering total of $6.8 billion — and most importantly, it beat the global box office record for a single week earlier this year, leading analysts to predict that by 2017, Chinese movie ticket sales would have surpassed the US. From February 8 to February 14, ticket sales accounted for $557 million, just above the previous record set by the US in December 2015, when total sales in a week reached $534.7 million. China don't need no Star Wars: The record was set with only local productions showing.
Marc Ganis, co-founder of Chinese distributor Jiaflix Enterprises, says Chinese studios now have their own means of producing blockbusters:
"What we are finding is that the technical expertise is getting far better than it was, and the Chinese audience is responding. The Hollywood blockbusters were just so far superior, many Chinese would go and watch those and live with subtitles and voice-overs. Now they don’t have to."
So how can Hollywood secure their place in the Chinese market?
Hollywood And China Are Creating More Projects Together
This brings us to the specificity of the Chinese market: As Chinese culture is heavily monitored by the government, American movie imports are limited to 34 a year. Add that to the fact that Hollywood's share of the Chinese box office has gone from 49 percent to 32 percent since 2012, and there's little room left to maneuver.
Still, Hollywood might have found a way in. While some movies are altered to better fit the Chinese market, slowly but surely, movies are created involving both the attributes of a North American blockbuster and a Chinese cast or setting. The Rock's latest project, an action movie described as "Die Hard in China," is receiving several seven-figure offers from the likes of Universal and Legendary Entertainment.
The Great Wall is also a prodigy of Sino-American melange. Directed by Zhang Yimou, it's starring Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal as well as a roster of Chinese A-list stars such as Andy Lau and Jing Tian. According to Legendary Entertainment, it's "the largest film ever shot entirely in China for global distribution." It's set for release on February 17, 2017.
China Has Now Been Acknowledged As A Main Player In The Movie Business
As for acknowledging China as a main player in the movie industry, Marvel might have done just that. When the upcoming Doctor Strange made waves by casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One — a Tibetan character in the comics — the movie's co-writer C. Robert Cargill said that involving Tibet in the movie would have been a political mistake considering the importance of the Chinese movie market. Meanwhile, Marvel's Manager of Licensed Publishing expressed their enthusiasm to create "Chinese heroes and stories" if the demand was there.
Beyond the movie releases, business partnerships are also strengthening the bond between Hollywood and its Chinese equivalent. Take Dalian Wanda Group's purchase of Legendary Entertainment, the studio behind the worldwide hit Jurassic World, for $3.5 billion in January — it's the biggest deal between the two industries to date. From Paramount Pictures' training program in Los Angeles aimed at Chinese directors, to agreements between studios such as Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. with local movie companies in China, the sharp divide is starting to soften.