Last week the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture (AICCC) released the results of its 2014 survey on the impact of Chinese films on global audiences. Based on 1,592 valid questionnaires from 66 countries across 5 continents, 53% people had only seen one Chinese film in the past year and 26% hadn't seen any. It is clear that China has been unable to gain an international foothold despite massive investment and a state-sponsored "soft power" push.
Cultural curiosity drove those viewers who did watch Chinese films, and kung fu films or films based on Chinese myth and legend continue to pique the interest of most foreign audiences. However, those seeking Chinese cinema rarely go to the movie theater and instead find material through free channels, such as television or online streaming.
China's box office currently sits at #2 globally behind Hollywood -- reaching almost $5 billion in 2014 -- and is growing at an incredible rate every year. Every new record or milestone is reported on with fanfare across media outlets as China tries to contend with Hollywood's global dominance. However, the rapid development of China's domestic box office isn't translating to success on the international scene. Inexpensive movies catering to the middle class Post-80s/Post 90s demographic nostalgic for their "lost youth" have led the Chinese box office in past years along with films about contemporary city life, but commentators have criticized these films for being "vapid" and "materialistic". Accordingly, some are calling on industry insiders to stop pursuing fleeting economic benefits by pandering to domestic audiences and adopt a clear global strategy.
AICCC's deputy director Luo Jun sees television and online streaming as one way for Chinese productions to reach global audiences: "We've noticed that more and more Chinese elements have been shown in American drama, whether it's a character or a storyline or a place, like Marco Polo. For me it's a westernized narrative of Chinese culture. It's like Chinese food in America, it's not just Chinese food, it's their interpretation and imagination about Chinese culture."
It remains to be seen what the secrets to a globalized and popular Chinese cinema are, and even if they can even be "strategized" or "manufactured", but AICCC's survey clearly shows that global audiences aren't connecting with what domestic Chinese audiences find popular.
The Wrap reported this morning that three Chinese companies -- China Movie Channel, Jiaflix and 1905 Films -- will partner with Electronic Arts, to finance a sequel to Need For Speed (极品飞车). The original film based on EA's hit video game and starring Aaron Paul, Michael Keaton, and Dominic Cooper, grossed $200 million globally with $65 million coming from China alone. The sequel's cast and crew have yet to be announced, but suffice to say it will be targeted more towards Chinese audiences than the original with Chinese set pieces, talent, and product tie-ins.
China Movie Channel, Jiaflix, and 1905 Films last teamed up with Paramount Pictures for 2014's release of Transformers: The Age of Extinction (变形金刚4：绝迹重生), which became the highest grossing film in Chinese box office history.
Schools and businesses took off Monday in China for the annual Tomb Sweeping Holiday (清明节) and filmgoers flocked to cinemas across the country.
Wolf Warriors (战狼) continued its strong run tallying $7.91 million for a 5-day total of $41.25 million. The war flick is performing particularly well in smaller cities in China, so called 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier cities, which is a good sign for China's developing film industry. Traditionally, films have relied on 1st tier cities, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, where wealthier residents and higher ticket prices have driven box office success. We can expect film studios to increase marketing and push publicity into these smaller cities as they continue to discover their full, untapped potential.
Second place went to Kingsman: The Secret Service with $5.28 million raising its cume to $61.30 million. The film had dropped to 3rd over the weekend, but positive reviews are bringing in the crowds.
Let's Get Married (咱们结婚吧), a romantic comedy loosely tying together four stories about single women searching for Mr. Right, came in 3rd with $5.27 million. The poorly reviewed film has grossed a respectable $28.58 million in 5 days, but expect that number to level off as cinemas drop screenings and give priority to Wolf Warriors and Kingsman throughout the week.
This year's holiday (Saturday-Monday) brought in $81.06 million, and while last year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($38.91 million) beat out Wolf Warriors ($28.41 million), total box office sales for this year's Tomb Sweeping Holiday were 39% higher than 2014.
The weekend also saw China's box office surpass the 10 billion RMB ($1.61 billion) mark, taking just 95 days which is the quickest in its history. To put that into perspective, China's entire box office haul for the year of 2010 was 10 billion RMB. The impressive start to this year can be attributed to a huge expansion of cinema construction (325 total new theaters in Q1 2015), and the rise in popularity of cheap, yet convenient and fast online ticketing outlets.
By EntGroup Consulting and Phil Contrino
As of Sunday, Furious 7 has already earned a staggering $391.6 million globally. The film's launch in China this week will boost that sum by a huge margin.
Furious 7 should have no problem raking in more than $125 million during its entire theatrical run in China, which means it will outgross the previous two installments combined. Fast Five earned $38.8 million in 2011 and Fast & Furious 6 tallied $67 million in 2013. A recent publicity appearance from Vin Diesel helped boost enthusiasm that was already quite high. According to EntGroup's EFMT Marketing Index, Furious 7 boasts very strong awareness, intent to purchase and word of mouth levels.
Globally, Furious 7 is definitely on pace to become the next member of the $1 billion global club. The last film to hit that mark was 2014's Transformers: Age of Extinction. 2015 boasts a lot of potential $1 billion films: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Minions, Spectre and Star Wars: Age of Ultron all could reach that mark.
Wolf Warriors, the current #1 film in China, should hold up well even though Furious 7 is bound to steal a lot of attention away. The war flick has earned a solid $33 million so far.
The only other new title opening this week is Kung Fu Style, a homegrown animated flick. According to EntGroup's EFMT Marketing Index, the film's awareness and intent to purchase levels are very low.
Martial artist Wu Jing's action/war film Wolf Warriors came out of the gate strong, opening on Thursday with $5.98 million, while Let's Get Married, the film widely thought to have broader appeal this week thanks to a star studded cast and an excellent fan base from the television show it was based on, opened in second with $4.38 million. This led to some early speculation that SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) had ordered cinemas to give priority to the nationalistic war film and even to fill seats with PLA soldiers. However, Warriors continued to pull away from Married as the weekend went on thanks to great word of mouth, heavy attendance in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier cities, and a relentless publicity push by director and star Wu Jing on Saturday and Sunday. Wolf Warriors ended the weekend with $33.32 million, while Let's Get Married faltered amid weak reviews calling the film "cliched" and "vapid", managing only $22.33 million. Kingsman: The Secret Service held well in its second weekend, dropping 34% to take in $16.51 million for a $56.49 million cume. See below for the complete top ten with data from China's EntGroup.