James Cameron’s “The Way of Water” continues the pattern of Hollywood blockbusters – but not Chinese blockbusters – struggling in the Middle Kingdom
“We may never know how the second Pandora set picture would have performed in China if it had opened in non-COVID conditions,” said attorney Stephen Saltzman. The head of the international entertainment group at law firm Fieldfisher noted that the film’s opening weekend came shortly after the lifting of special COVID restrictions and an increase in infections.
Whatever the reasons for the softer than expected performance, the result is just following a trend. After the last few years, Hollywood, as previously reported by TheWrap, is treating the Chinese box office again as a real luxury.
Asian Studies Professor Deepak Sarma of Case Western Reserve University noted that “China’s financial money is declining and Hollywood is a few steps behind. ” He noted that tech companies are “moving out of China to Vietnam to diversify their manufacturing capabilities. “
As previously explained, Hollywood’s share of Chinese box office has gone from a peak of $3.3 billion in 2017 to a likely end of over/under $500 million in 2022, with the number of non-Chinese films a is allowed there falling from a high of 73 in 2022. 2018 to less than 30 this year. Fewer movies are getting in and the ones that do (with rare exceptions like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which earned $188 million in 2021) are earning less compared to pre-COVID times.
Meanwhile, Hollywood disasters like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($965 million sans China) or “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ($37 million in China out of $935 million worldwide) earn business-as-usual gross everywhere else. while Chinese tentpoles like “The Eight Hundred” ($460 million in 2020) or “Hi, Mom” ($835 million in 2021) pull in pre-COVID level business in China.
Saltzman reminded TheWrap that “the idea of China saving a tent in Hollywood was mostly a myth. In fact, even in the 2010s, films like “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” earn $164 million in China out of $385 million worldwide or “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” with a full $159 million in China and $312 million worldwide as an exception to the rule. Most of the big Hollywood movies that started in China were the same MCU movies, “Jurassic” series and “Fast Saga” flicks that started around the world.
Former DMG president Chris Fenton explained to TheWrap that “anything that comes out of Hollywood now, more than any time in the last decade, is clearly seen by Beijing as propaganda from the West. ” The author of “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business further noted that even facing the “soft power” of American propaganda like Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequel and apparently harmless. Coms like “Crazy Rich Asians” (which show people living in relative wealth and freedom and behaving like they couldn’t in China) are often viewed with government disapproval or stronger cultural.
“Case in point,” Fenton said, “the Canadian-born James Cameron — who has done everything right over the past two decades to align himself with China — and its latest “Avatar” sequel currently represents too much of America in Beijing’s eyes.”
“You play by the rules, look at the riches you’ll get,” Fenton said, suddenly describing the definitive agreement between the two major filmmaking powers of the previous decade. He also said that “Beijing just feels that they don’t need Hollywood anymore, because they now have a successful tentpole business and keep all their income from the domestic films.”
Therefore, even a total decline in theater revenue (the first half of 2022 in China was down, in terms of total theater earnings, 38% compared to 2021) could be considered a price appropriate to be paid by the Chinese government to maintain cultural supremacy. and prioritizing their own tents.
Part of the implied quid-pro-quo in China was using Hollywood’s interest to learn the tools of the filmmaking trade. China has been releasing its high production value, culturally specific, big budget, crowd pullers for nearly a decade. Arguably, the success of “Wolf Warrior II” ($854 million in 2017) showed that China could do it for themselves, which is also an interesting subtext of Wu Jing’s “Government operator will Chinese save Africa from genocidal arms dealers without American help” slam-bang amazing action.
While some of these films were globally mainstream enough to serve as potential cultural ambassadors, a shift in priorities (and worsening tensions between America and China amid Donald Trump’s presidency), China began to emphasize domestic patriotism over global proselytizing.
“It was not the only priority to use cinema to project an image specific to a culture beyond its borders,” Saltzman said. This could mean fewer Poles made Standard Chinese/global such as Jackie Chan’s “Kung Fu Yoga” or Yi-Mou Zhang’s “The Great Wall” – starring Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal – and a more stereotypically nationalistic quasi-propaganda war (but as usually not jingoistic).epics like the two-part “Battle of Lake Changjin,” shot in, which earned $910 million in 2021 and $610 million in 2022.
The new normal in the future could be one of independence with mutual certainty. However, the success of the global box office (so far) “Avatar: The Way of Water” with an expected total of less than $ 100 million from China again shows, especially when the situation of COVID improves , that China’s theater industry may need more Hollywood blockbusters than Tinseltown. need chinese box office. That, just by targeting the theatrical filming industry, could have an undue impact on another industry.
“I want to [Hollywood] to be successful, to be the bedrock of free speech and American/Western values, and will do it again,” said Fenton. He often expresses mixed feelings about his key role in bringing Hollywood, including the MCU, to China, after helping “Iron Man 3” become the biggest move summer 2013. “It is important that our films are popular in China, but not at the cost of our own cultural values.”
This article has been updated to reflect most of the worldwide box office numbers from Disney.