How can Hollywood blockbusters make even more money? Answer: get your film screened in China, or better yet, make your film’s content more accessible to a Chinese audience.
Filmmakers and Hollywood executives have already been tapping into this Chinese goldmine. Films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction (Transformers 4), Iron Man 3 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon all made nice piles of cash in the East. This trend only seems to growing as more and more people in the industry are clambering to gain access to China’s ludicrously lucrative luxuries (i.e a lot of people to see their movies).
The numbers speak for themselves: Michael Bay’s 2014 fourth instalment of his robots-hitting-one-another blockbuster franchise, Transformers 4, made a ridiculous $301,000,000 in China alone, which accounts for 27.7% of its staggering $1,087,404,499 worldwide box office total. It is the third highest grossing movie of all time in China, and is the only movie this year to gross over $1 billion at the box office.
When asked whether Hollywood movies are becoming more orientated towards a Chinese market, Editorial Director of Entertainment Content at IGN Entertainment, Chris Carle, said: “You want to be there [China] due to the sheer amount of bodies in China”. Of course, China has the biggest population in the world. The last count was 1.3 billion people; therefore, you would naturally want that huge proportion of the world’s population – 19% to be exact – to see your film.
Crucially, he also went on to mention that, “in order to be in China, you have to make creative decisions that aren’t necessarily in line with your movie. You have to make your movie way longer, for instance.” This is mostly definitely the case with Michael Bay’s Transformers 4, which clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes. It also practically has a whole fourth act set in Hong Kong, strictly for the benefit of Chinese audiences who, according to Bay and his executives, would recognise the bustling Asian city and want to watch the film. Say what you will about Bay and Co., but the numbers don’t lie, and their plan certainly worked in their favour.
Iron Man 3 went a step further to grab the attention of Chinese audiences by actually adding scenes and Chinese actors into the Chinese cut of the film. However, the scenes involving famous mainland Chinese actor Wang Xueqi as a character called Dr. Wu appeared to be blatant product placement for a Chinese milk drink called Gu Li Duo, on sale for less than $1 a carton, and are nothing to get excited about. Despite these four minutes of extra footage being utterly uninteresting and an obvious cash-grab, the film made $121,200,000 in China, and is the fifth highest grossing movie of all time in China.
Chris Tilly, IGN’s resident film critic and IGN UK editor makes an interesting point on the matter: “Will a whole country not go to see a film if the film is not set in their country or does not feature characters from that country? Because we certainly don’t work that way in England.” Why should setting a film in their country, or shoehorning in scenes and actors from China make any difference to whether people go to see the film or not?
Certain film directors and studios, such as Paramount and Disney, have seen China to be a very lucrative market, especially regarding the number of people who go to see their movies in their droves. Yet it’s more than that: these film companies have made substantial deals with other Chinese production companies and commercial brands in order to bolster their big budgets. In some cases, certain Hollywood blockbusters rely heavily on Chinese investment.
Disney, for example, joined forces with Beijing-based DMG Entertainment when making Iron Man 3. Transformers 4 was littered with Chinese product placement: Lenovo (Computers), C’est bon Water (bottled water), Zhou Hei Ya (Duck products), China Construction Bank (this Chinese bank appeared in the middle of nowhere in Texas for some reason) … the list is endless. All of these companies paid good money to appear in the film, all of which went into Transformers 4’s enormous $210 million budget.
It would seem that Chinese influence is actually creeping into Hollywood movies as well, and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that. Carle went on to explain that: “China takes a humongous, humongous cut of a Hollywood movie.” He’s spot on. Delving deeper into how much money Hollywood retrieves from the box office in China, the number turns out to be laughably small.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, foreign companies (in this case ‘foreign’ actually means ‘Hollywood’) only earn “25% of their movies’ ticket sales in China, up from between 13.5 and 17.5% in 2011”. Hollywood companies still get to say that their movie made over $1 billion, which then spawns subsequent sequels, which in turn generates more cash for those greedy western businessmen (and the Michael Bays of the world).
Despite these drawbacks, As Chris Carle said: “It might come down to who is the best negotiator with these financing companies”. Hollywood still sees China as an incredibly important territory in which to sell their movies. The fact that Hollywood executives all clamour to be part of the 34 foreign movies (set to go up to 44 in 2017-2018) allowed entry into China, and that certain Hollywood films are going out of their way to set their films in the communist super power, everything points to China becoming an increasingly pivotal area for Hollywood blockbusters.
Here’s a trailer for the money-making machine which is otherwise known as Transformers: Age of Extinction: