James Cameron’s “The Way of Water” continues the pattern of Hollywood blockbusters — but not Chinese tentpoles — struggling in the Middle Kingdom
“We may never know how the second Pandora-set picture in China would have performed under non-COVID conditions,” said attorney Stephen Saltzman. The head of the international entertainment group at law firm Fieldfisher said the film’s opening weekend came soon after the lifting of COVID-specific restrictions and a surge in infections.
Whatever the reasons for the below-expectation, the result simply continues a trend. After these past few years, Hollywood, as TheWrap previously reported, is once again treating the Chinese box office as a mere luxury.
Deepak Sarma, professor of Asian studies at Case Western Reserve University, said that “China’s financial allure is waning and Hollywood is a few steps behind.” He said tech companies are “moving from China to Vietnam to diversify their manufacturing capabilities.”
As previously detailed, Hollywood’s share of the Chinese box office is expected to grow from a peak of $3.3 billion in 2017 to over/under $500 million in 2022, with the number of non-Chinese films making a high of 73. Decline is allowed. Less than 30 this year from 2018. Fewer movies are coming out and the ones that are doing (with rare exceptions like “Godzilla vs. Kong”, which made $188 million in 2021) are earning less than in pre-Covid times.
Meanwhile, Hollywood biggies 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) are doing business everywhere. -earning modest returns while Chinese tentpoles like “The Eight Hundred” ($460 million in 2020) or “Hi, Mom” ($835 million in 2021) pull in pre-COVID levels of business in China .
Saltzman reminded TheWrap that “the notion of China saving the Hollywood tentpole was mostly a myth.” Indeed, even during 2010, films such as “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” made $164 million in China out of $385 million worldwide, or “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” made $159 million in China and $312 million worldwide. Earned Rs. rules. Most of the big Hollywood movies that opened in China were the same MCU movies, “Jurassic” sequels, and “Fast Saga” movies that went on worldwide.
Former DMG president Chris Fenton explained to TheWrap that “whatever comes out of Hollywood, more so than at any other time within the past 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, and American Business” further noted that American propaganda such as Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequels and seemingly harmless romances have contributed to “soft power”. also. Coms such as “Crazy Rich Asians” (which show people living in comparative wealth and freedom and behaving as if they could not in China) are often viewed with strong governmental or cultural disapproval.
“Case in point,” argued Fenton, “Canadian-born James Cameron — who has done everything right over the past two decades to eliminate China himself — and his latest “Avatar” sequel are currently very much in America’s eyes. Beijing represents more.
“You play by the rules, see the money you’ll have,” Fenton said, apparently describing the tacit agreement between the two moviemaking superpowers over the past decade. He also said that “Beijing thinks they don’t need Hollywood anymore, because they now have a thriving tentpole industry and get all their revenue from domestic movies.”
As such, the overall decline in theatrical revenue (the first half of 2022 in China was down, in terms of overall theatrical earnings, 38% compared to 2021) may be considered an acceptable price to pay by the Chinese government for maintaining cultural supremacy. Could And prioritizing their own tentpoles.
Part of the implicit retribution was in China, using Hollywood’s interest to learn the tools of the filmmaking trade. China has been releasing its own culturally distinctive, big budget, high production values and crowd pleasers for nearly a decade. The success of “Wolf Warrior II” ($854 million in 2017) arguably signaled that China could do it for itself, which is reflected in Wu Jing’s “Chinese government operative saves Africa from genocidal arms dealers without US help”. There’s also an implicit subtext of slam-bang. action great.
While some of these films were mainstream enough globally to act as potential cultural ambassadors, changes in priorities (and worsening tensions between the US and China during the Donald Trump presidency) have led to China becoming a country rather than a global convert. I started stressing on patriotism.
Saltzman argued, “Using cinema to project a culturally specific image beyond its borders is not a priority like it used to be.” This means more conventionally nationalistic (but not usually nationalistic) quasi-propaganda wars, such as Jackie Chan’s “Kung Fu Yoga” or Yi-Mou Zhang’s “The Great Wall” starring Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal. / may be the mainstream Chinese tent globally. Two-part, shot-in-IMAX epics like “Battle of Lake Changjin” are set to earn $910 million in 2021 and $610 million in 2022.
The new normal moving forward may be one of mutually assured apathy. However, the (so far) global box office success of “Avatar: The Way of Water” with an estimated $100 million total from China shows again that, especially when the COVID situation improves, China’s theatrical industry may need more Hollywood blockbusters from Tinseltown. The Chinese box office is needed. That, as a result of focusing solely on the theatrical film business, neither industry could influence the other.
“I want [Hollywood] to succeed, to be a bastion of freedom of speech and American/Western values, and it will happen again,” declared Fenton. After helping “Iron Man 3” become a trendsetter in the summer of 2013, he Often express mixed feelings on its key role in bringing Hollywood to China, including the MCU, at the cost of our own cultural values.
This article was updated to reflect the most current global box office totals from Disney.