In recent years, the worldwide box office has arguably usurped the domestic marketplace in terms of importance. Even when a movie struggles to leave an impact in the U.S., it can still end up as a profitable endeavor for the distributor. A recent example of this is the video game adaptation Warcraft, which made a measly $47.2 million Stateside, but grossed $433.5 million globally – in large part due to a record-breaking run in China, where it made a whopping $220.8 million.
China in particular has become a hotbed for the film industry, and currently ranks as the second-largest market after only America. The territory averaged a growth of 30 percent annually for the past decade, but stagnated a bit in 2016, with a projected growth of just 4.5 percent. This lead some to wonder what the cause of the downward trend was. It’s become common lately for poorly-received movies to falter commercially, and word-of-mouth seems to be the reason for China’s lower commercial figures this year, with the country’s various film pundits receiving the blame.
According to THR, professional film critics in China have come under fire for their negative reviews of recent domestic blockbusters, such as The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, See You Tomorrow, and Jackie Chan’s Railroad Tigers. The Chinese media has claimed that “vicious and irresponsible” reviews are harming the Chinese film industry. The Great Wall debuted to $67.4 million before sliding down to just $26.4 million for the following weekend. It scored just 4.9 out of 10 on Douban, a Chinese aggregator site. One influential critic writing as ‘Xiedu Film’ slammed the film’s Chinese director with the vicious critique: “Zhang Yimou has died.” The Chinese co-production wasn’t alone in its relative failure. Alibaba Pictures’ romantic comedy See You Tomorrow earned $40 million with a rating of 3.8, while Railroad Tigers took just $31 million and was rated 4.7.
In response to the backlash from the Chinese Communist Party, aggregator Maoyan has gone so far as to remove the reviews of professional film critics from its main page, leaving only user-generated scores that are far more positive. A report from The Global Times, another Chinese newspaper, claims that officials from the State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) held discussions with both Maoyan and Douban about their ratings prior to the aforementioned removal of professional negative reviews.
The ongoing debate highlights the woes of the Chinese box office, which was hotly tipped to become the world’s largest film industry by the end of 2017. Particularly disappointing is the failure of The Great Wall, which marked the largest meeting of production companies from Hollywood and China of all time with a budget of $150 million. Featuring a host of A-list talent like iconic Chinese director Yimou, and action star Damon, the movie had the potential to break ground in the field of movie production. However, it was hindered by early controversies of white-washing, and this latest blow is likely to act as a warning for future fusion projects.