China’s US$7 billion movie box office shakes up Hollywood

Kung Fu Panda 3: targeting a wider market

A fast-emerging player is shaking up the multi-billion-dollar global movie industry.

It’s a script to make a producer’s heart soar. In 2010, China’s reported movie box office was US$1.5 billion. Just five years later it topped US$6.7 billion, more than a third of that from the small number of Hollywood movies allowed into the market.

Market pull is now reshaping how movies are made outside China, with some American movies becoming less US-centric. IHS analyst David Hancock told the BBC last year that overseas revenues now dominate decisions to approve high-budget movies, with actors from nations such as China and Australia being cast in major movies to increase their local appeal.

Producers have added extra Chinese actors and scenes to movies like Iron Man 3 in an attempt to increase sales in China. Pacific Rim was released in 2013 and has already spawned a sequel, largely because of its Chinese success – it made more in China than in the US.

“The huge US market will remain important, of course. But more and more, Americans are going to be seeing brands and titles and products where the US market is just one among several – and not necessarily the most important one.” Timothy Taylor, Journal of Economic Perspectives

DreamWorks Animation took things one step further in January when it released its animated Kung Fu Panda 3 in English and Chinese versions. The film was not merely dubbed into Mandarin but re-done to reflect Chinese dialogue and local body language.

China’s quota system on foreign movies is forcing overseas studios into Chinese co-productions to extract revenue from the burgeoning market. Some things simply don’t translate: talk comedies and movies with political messages may face shrinking budgets due to potential hurdles to success.

What sort of movie would a company make that could be shown with minimal change across major international markets? Movies heavy on action and sound effects but light on complex dialogue, according to economist Timothy Taylor, editor of the famed Journal of Economic Perspectives.

There are also “movies with a number of comic-book characters and aliens, who can appeal across conventional lines of ethnicity,” Taylor wrote in a recent blog post. Those characteristics match most of Hollywood’s most expensive recent releases.

“Global demand is shifting,” he says. “The huge US market will remain important, of course. But more and more, Americans are going to be seeing brands and titles and products where the US market is just one among several – and not necessarily the most important one.”

China set to become the top movie market

China is reportedly closing in on the world’s number one box office market – the US and Canada combined, which reached US$11 billion in 2015. While China’s growth trend is undeniable, questions have been raised over the accuracy of some Chinese figures.

Reuters analyst Robyn Mak wrote in October 2015 that “heavy discounts from cinema chains and online sites may be exaggerating top-line growth”. However, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television reports that the country installed 8035 new cinema screens in 2015. Even the head of the Motion Picture Association of America now projects that China will be the world’s largest movie market within three years.

This article is from the March issue of INTHEBLACK.

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