A New Box Office Champion? What Does China’s Growing Movie Industry Mean For Hollywood

A new Box Office juggernaut has arrived. Yes after saving several films from becoming flops, it is undisputable that China’s rapidly growing economy has had a strong impact on a movie’s blockbuster formula. So what does that mean for movies going forward?

In 2016, the yearly Chinese box office was at $6.52 billion. This revenue was contributed by the 34 movies quota China Film gives Hollywood each year. These movies include Warcraft: The Beginning managed to cast $221 million into its magic cloke. XXX: Return of Xander Cage surfed its way to $164 million. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter will live to fight another apocalypse with $159 million total and finally, The Great Wall remains unbreakable with $171 million.

Now you can see why movie studios are so desperate to get their movie into the Middle Kingdom. Remember, China only allows 34 Hollywood movies to make it into their slate each year. That means unfortunately for some movies, they just don’t make the cut. This means that it is imperative that Hollywood understands what China like and does not like in their films.


What works?

  1. Actors

It’s no surprise that Chinese audiences want to see their local actors on the big screen. Due to this, Hollywood has been committed to include at least one famous Chinese actor in their blockbusters. You can see this with actors such as Fan Bing Bing (Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past), Donnie Yen (Rogue One and XXX: Return of Xander Cage), Li Bing Bing (Transformers: Age of Extinction), Daniel Wu (Warcraft: The Beginning), AngelaBaby (Independence Day: Resurgence), Jiang Wen (Rogue One) and Jing Tian (Kong: Skull Island and The Great Wall). Even franchise as big as Star Wars is following this strategy and it’s paying off literally. All the movies listed above (not including Rogue One and Independence Day: Resurgence) did over $100 million in the Middle Kingdom.



  1. Location

Having China as a location is always a great way to appeal to Chinese audiences. The most blatant example of this was in 2014 where Paramount decided to shoot the last third of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Hong Kong. Thanks to their efforts, it exploded in China with $320 million and was one the first blockbusters to out gross the domestic box office. Now You See Me 2 (2016) also pandered to China by having most of the movie take place in Macau. That movie also made more of it gross in China with $97 million compared to $65 million in America. Finally, Skyfall (2012) decided to use Shanghai as one of its exotic locations for the film. Whilst it did not out gross the Transformers 4 or Now You See Me 2, it did significantly higher than it predecessor with $59 million compared to Quantum of Solace’s (2008) $21 million.


  1. Joint Production

China wants a share in Hollywood’s growing business. Due to this, Hollywood frequently shares production with China’s film companies on their blockbuster films. The most renowned production company is Legendary Pictures, which was acquired by Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group in 2016. Since then, Legendary Pictures has worked with several Hollywood studios such as Warner Brothers and Universal to produce films such as The Great Wall (2017) and Kong: Skull Island. Alibaba Pictures is also on the map producing movies such as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Star Trek Beyond with Paramount studios. Finally, China Film Group has become one of the most important Chinese production companies with movies such as Fast and Furious 7 (2015) and 8 (2017), Warcraft: The Beginning (2016) and Pixels (2015).



What doesn’t work?

  1. Ghosts

China has strong censorship against films, which promotes ‘cults or superstition’ as it goes against the Chinese Communist secular principles. This is illustrated where 2016’s Ghostbusters was banned from playing in Chinese theatres because it obviously has ghosts in the film. Crimson Peak (2015) was also banned because it had also featured ghosts in their film. Both these movies ended up flopping at the box office without the help from the second biggest movie market.



  1. Violence

For Hollywood movies to get a release date in China, the movie must be appropriate for all ages. This means that graphic violence will result in a rejection from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). You can see this in 2016’s blockbuster hits Deadpool and Suicide Squad. Although both films ended in the top 10 films of 2016, a release date in China could have given another 100 million plus for each of those movies given the love of Superhero films there.


  1. Politics Against China

China has a history of being very political about their films. For Hollywood, this means that they must be sensitive to Chinese culture and values. For instance, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) was banned in China because they were concerned that the movie would spark a real life revolution. Doctor Strange (2016) changed the ethnicity of The Ancient One from Tibetan to Celtic. This is because of China and Tibet’s strained relationship and due to this, the inclusion on a Tibetan character would have risked the movie’s potential to get a China release date. Red Dawn (2012) was initially going to have China as the main antagonists of their film. However, they decided to change all the Chinese flags in the film to North Korean after realising how much China could contribute to their box office total.



So there you have it. No matter what others have to say about it, China has a massive influence on Hollywood’s final box office result. As the Middle Kingdom continues to out gross Hollywood’s blockbusters, it is certain that we will see more Chinese actors, locations and production companies in the future. Yes maybe China will become more lenient with ghosts and graphic violence but as for now you know the rules Hollywood.


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