These days, the international box office is arguably more important than domestic. A strong performance overseas can be the difference between flop and profit. Pacific Rim is getting a sequel because it grossed high figures worldwide, and there’s a debate about whether or not Warcraft can be considered a success after it broke records globally. Because of this, Hollywood studios typically look for ways to increase the appeal of their projects, allowing them to reach the largest audience possible (ideally maximizing revenue).
China has become a massive market in the film industry; it’s currently second only to the U.S. As such, that country in particular is highly coveted, but not every American film can capitalize on China’s booming business. Only around 25 foreign films per year are admitted into the nation, and audiences there can miss out on some of the biggest movies. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has become one of the most buzzed-about titles of the summer (for many reasons), but Chinese moviegoers won’t be able to see what all the fuss is about.
According to THR, it has been confirmed that the reboot will not be released in China. Some had thought this would be the case, since the Chinese censorship guidelines block films that “promote cults or superstition.” This stipulation has been used to ban works that depict ghosts or other supernatural creatures. In 2006, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was denied access for its use of ghouls and cannibalism. However, the reasoning for Ghostbusters is far more simple than this.
Neither of the two movies from the 1980s played theatrically in the country, so Chinese officials are convinced that demand for the remake would be low. An executive told THR, “They think it’s not really attractive to Chinese audiences.” That’s an interesting perspective to have, and there could be some truth to it. Ghostbusters became a pop culture phenomenon well before China was seen as a viable Hollywood enterprise, meaning awareness could have been an issue. There are certain properties that are more of an American institution due to when they debuted; Star Wars: The Force Awakens “underperformed” (relatively speaking) in some international markets. At the same time, Ghostbusters is a reboot and is connected to the early installments by name only, so nostalgia was never really part of the game plan.
This is something of a blow to Sony. They spent $144 million on the production of the remake, which does not include the marketing costs. It’s expected to have a solid opening weekend in the States, but faces stiff competition from high-profile tentpoles in the coming weeks. Depending on how things shake out, Ghostbusters could rely on foreign numbers to turn a sizable profit – one large enough to warrant the possible investment of “endless” sequels. Missing out on a key market could come back to haunt the paranormal investigators.
At the same time, this isn’t a death sentence. Viewers may recall that Deadpool was banned from China earlier this year due to its explicit content, and it ended up becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film ever made. Ghostbusters will still be playing in several countries and has plenty of opportunities to gross a decent amount of money. It has its work cut out for it – particularly with the hyped Suicide Squad on the horizon – but chances are it ends up doing just fine.
Ghostbusters hits U.S. theaters July 15, 2016.