The U.S. film industry is plateauing while China’s is rebounding in record form. Domestic box office totals are down virtually across the board amid a peak and valley type of year. China, meanwhile, is seeing a 20 percent-plus surge in box office totals and is on pace for a record-setting $8.31 billion, according to the country’s media regulator (per Reuters).
In terms of dollars, this represents a 26 percent increase and, more importantly, a return to China’s growing influence in global movie revenue. For nearly a decade, the country saw 35 percent yearly gains before 2016 slowed to a 3.7 percent rise ($6.58 billion). In retrospect, this looks more like a blip on the radar.
Zhang Hongsen, Vice Minister of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, made the 2017 forecast during a press conference on the sidelines of China’s 19th Party Congress, per the outlet.
“The rapid development of the film industry has been a big bright spot for China’s culture industry,” Zhang said.
Double-digit growth puts China back on pace to overtake North America as the No. 1 box office territory in the world within the next few years. In 2016, North American box office totals saw just a 2.1 percent rise to $11.36 billion, a number we may or may not beat this year.
Much of China’s growth this year was buoyed by the popular Chinese action sequel Wolf Warrior II, which earned $867 million outside of the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. It is the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time and the second highest-grossing single market movie behind J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($936.6 million in North America in 2015). Hollywood’s biggest earner in China this year has been The Fate of the Furious, which took in $392.8 million in April, the biggest gross for an imported feature in Chinese history.
So what does all of this mean for North American Hollywood releases? Well, you can bet that you’ll be seeing a greater Chinese emphasis in our blockbusters going forward. Michael Bay has already begun catering to the Chinese market with his recent Transformers movies, Blade Runner 2049 built on the Asian-futurism visual aesthetic of its 1982 predecessor. Hell, even A Dog’s Purpose is getting a sequel with Chinese audiences in mind. Beyond that, Zhang is determined to build up local production so that Hollywood doesn’t dominate China’s domestic box office. He wants more homegrown features and less American releases in his theaters.
Look for Hollywood to start adding more Asian actors to its main casts as well. This is a good thing as there’s only so many stories that can be told about straight white men. But the growing Chinese box office may lead to more co-productions that leave mid-major American studios in the dust. Alcon Entertainment needed Blade Runner 2049 to gross at least $400 million worldwide to be considered a win, a number the film won’t come anywhere close to. Now, Alcon is facing some tough times ahead while more and more Chinese-American movie partnerships are being struck.
It’s always about the all mighty dollar in Hollywood and right now, China is where the money’s at.