Are American action films popular in China?

China's cinema record leaves Hollywood behind

Like the rest of the economy, the cinema industry in China has largely survived the pandemic and enjoyed a strong upturn. This is particularly evident in comparison with the USA, where curfews and other lockdown measures are currently being imposed in many large cities due to the continuing increase in the number of infections. No wonder that China achieved more box office sales than the USA or the North American market for the first time this year. This is based on figures from the consulting firm cited by various film media Artisan Gateway emerged.

(Archive) Movie poster "Fate of the Furious 8" in China

The cinemas in China were closed for almost six months, until July. Since September cinema halls have been allowed to be filled to 75 percent of their capacity again and are now almost back to normal. In view of the current global pandemic, it is already foreseeable that China will have achieved the highest box office sales for the first time at the end of the year. Entrance to the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai can cost the equivalent of 15 euros.

Made in China more popular

Even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, market observers had predicted that China's theatrical sales would soon be the largest in the world. The desire of billions of people to go to the cinema has grown over the past few years. The industry's turnover was loud in 2019 Internet Movie Database (IMDb) the equivalent of over nine billion US dollars, in 2012 it was less than a billion.

Foyer of a cinema in Shanghai

A new development is that domestic productions in particular are now satisfying the enthusiasm of the Chinese for cinema. Those also played a decisive role in the reopening of the cinemas in China. Unlike in the US, where many blockbusters, such as the new James Bond, were postponed until 2021, domestic films produced with large budgets could be seen in China. Apparently the Hollywood products were not missed.

According to IMDb, the five most successful films in China in 2011 came from the US, but only one has been in the top five in the past two years. "One of the main reasons for the success of Chinese films is their significantly improved production quality. Special effects and scripts are now at a very high level," says Stanley Rosen, an expert on the Chinese film industry and professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Hollywood has to make an effort

So Hollywood studios have to come up with something if they want to get more of the cake of the Chinese film market. The previous attempts in this direction have not been the yellow of the egg, says film expert Rosen. "In films like 'Mulan', 'The Farewell' and 'Crazy Rich Asians'The Americans tried to win over audiences in China through their Chinese motifs and actors. But all three films fared worse than hoped. Chinese viewers are very skeptical of Western attempts to tell a Chinese story. "

See it differently with the typical American action and superhero films like "The avengers" of Marvel Studios out . These remained the most popular films from the USA in China, even if, as shown, no longer on par with Chinese productions. For future success in China, Hollywood must concentrate even more on developing superhero series and the like, says Rosen.

Chinese films are not export hits

Conversely, income from abroad hardly contributes to the economic success of the Chinese film industry. "With the exception of the brief boom in kung fu films between 2001 and 2006, Chinese films have always had a hard time overseas," says Rosen. From that time are mainly "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"(German title:"Tiger and Dragon") of the Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who produced the film with the participation of the mainland, as well as"House of Flying Daggers"by mainland star director Zhang Yimou.

Science fiction film "The Wandering Earth": $ 700 million in box office receipts in China, only ten million abroad

"The Wandering Earth"(German title:"The Wandering Earth") on the other hand, which had sales of around 700 million US dollars in 2019 and can even be found on Netflix, took in less than ten million US dollars abroad. Also the world's most successful film of 2020, the patriotic Chinese flick 'The Eight Hundred'About an episode from the Sino-Japanese War, of its estimated $ 460 million in sales, it made less than one million overseas.

"The only places overseas where Chinese films have some success are in those with significant Chinese populations, like Singapore and Malaysia, or big cities like Los Angeles and London," explains Rosen. But the idea of ​​using Chinese films as "soft power" to strengthen Beijing's influence abroad has largely been adopted by China's major film producers.

Niche existence for independent films

And what about the independent films, which are produced relatively independently of the party line? "Although the independent films are very popular with film critics, they often do even worse than the Chinese blockbusters at the box office," said Rosen. "So long my son"(German title:"See you then, my son"), which was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale 2019 and won the prizes for best actor and best actress, earned only one and a half million US dollars abroad.

Film crew of "Until then, my son" at the 69th Berlinale

According to Rosen, one of the reasons for the poor performance abroad, and particularly in the US, is that foreign-language films - in Chinese or not - are generally difficult there. There are exceptions, for example the South Korean film "Parasite" was a surprising international success in 2019. Whether the Oscar winner can trigger a wave of more successful Asian films abroad is still pending. According to Rosen, cartoons, where the Chinese film industry is getting stronger and stronger, have better export opportunities. But it might take a while to reach the level of Pixar or Disney.