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Chinese box office becomes giant puzzle for Hollywood




(Bloomberg) – When Godzilla vs. Kong opened with weekend sales of nearly $ 70 million in China in March, it looked like the market would be a bright spot for Hollywood studios: Most theaters were open, while American moviegoers still stayed at home because of the coronavirus.

But 2021 is turning into a bummer for film companies in China, which overtook the United States last year to become the world’s largest film market. US films landed around 15% of the box office, on par with sales affected by the pandemic in 2020 and far less than the 32% they claimed in 2019, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Chinese ticket service. Maoyan Entertainment.

Rather than becoming a lifeline for Hollywood, China is turning into another puzzle, made worse by local politics, the pandemic, and the country’s complicated relations with US President Xi Jinping’s efforts to focus on Chinese nationalism and cracking down on anything perceived as too Western or immoral will complicate things for American studios, perhaps for years to come.

This will make it increasingly difficult for Hollywood blockbusters to find interest in China and if they manage to achieve the same box office popularity they have had in the past, said Stephen Saltzman, a lawyer with a number of client films in China.

Seventeen American films have been released in China this year, up from 30 last year and 52 in 2019, according to data from Maoyan. Some of the top-grossing US releases of the year, including Walt Disney Co.s Black Widow and Warner Bros.’s Space Jam, have yet to receive premiere dates. It’s a big loss. In 2019, China generated $ 629 million in revenue for Disneys Avengers: Endgame.

China’s potential for American films still looked strong at the end of May, when Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures released the Fast & Furious F9 episode for what would ultimately be $ 204 million local transport.

Then China imposed one of its unofficial blackouts for Hollywood films. These times, usually during the summer months or around the holidays, are meant to give local studios a boost. This year’s blackout was particularly significant, coming with the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, celebrated in July.

With the virus coming back in August, the Chinese government entity that oversees the industry has closed theaters in high-risk markets and reduced capacity in others. This has hurt both American films and local language releases, according to James Li, co-founder of Beijing-based consulting firm Fanink Research.

National pride

Xi’s campaign of nationalism and China’s own version of the culture of cancellation posed more challenges for American filmmakers. In late August, officials also cracked down on Chinese celebrities who appeared insufficiently sympathetic to the party’s values. Actress Zhao Wei has been deleted from the internet and social media.

Disneys Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel superhero film to feature an Asian actor in the lead role. It is the highest grossing film in U.S. theaters since the pandemic, with sales of $ 198 million.

The image attracted unwanted attention locally because in the original comics the protagonist’s father was Fu Manchu, a character seen as perpetuating racist stereotypes. The Disneys Marvel division has changed the names of its films and studio president Kevin Feige has given interviews to Chinese media in an attempt to highlight it. However, there is no release date.

Another problem for Disney could be lurking with the upcoming Marvel Eternals film, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao, which won the Oscar for Best Director in February for Nomadland. Shes has commented in the past critical of the country. Nomadland initially received a release date in April in China, but was ultimately not licensed in the country. Eternals, which premieres November 5 in the US, also doesn’t have an opening date there.

Not all dark

Still, there are prospects for American images in China. Two films are slated for October: Warner Bros. Dune and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers, the new James Bond film No Time to Die, distributed internationally by Universal.

Dune may have received favorable treatment because it is a co-production with Legendary Entertainment, a branch of Chinese group Dalian Wanda, said Chris Fenton, writer and former film director. The Bond film, meanwhile, could be helped by its ties to Universal, whose parent company will broadcast the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, he said.

The coming months will decide whether American filmmakers can reclaim their lost market share, but they face competition from major local titles. The Battle of Changjin Lake, a Korean War epic, is set to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

While next year may bring better results for American films in China, the country will continue to present challenges for American studios, according to Stanley Rosen, professor of political science at the University of Southern California.

They don’t need Hollywood as much as they used to, Rosen said. Given the China-US relationship now, they can afford to play hard to get and keep Hollywood thinking about what they need to do to mend the relationship.

2021 Bloomberg LP




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