Much has been made in recent years of the growing importance of China to the box office bottom line of Hollywood films and the ability of Chinese audience tastes to shape the industry’s future. While some major releases have seen their earnings blunted by lack of a Chinese opening, other films, like this summer’s Warcraft, would not be considered successful at all without the success they had in mainland China.
Following Warcraft’s lopsided draw overseas, a new industry rumor suggests that future entries in the franchise may opt to skip the United States entirely.
While plenty of features have had tremendous success in China versus their take in Western theaters (Pacific Rim, for example, is considered sequel-worthy almost entirely because of a passionate Chinese fanbase) nowhere has the difference been as stark as in the case of Duncan Jones’ big budget video game adaptation. The film’s release was disappointing in the U.S., earning mostly negative reviews and a suffering from a sluggish run at the box office. But in China the film was a massive success, earning $220 million compared to just $47 million in the U.S. and setting a record for the biggest ticket sales disparity between the two countries.
This has led to speculation that the film’s planned sequel (still on the table largely because of Chinese enthusiasm) may forego U.S. theaters altogether. The Wrap reports on a quote from Skye Moore, a partner at the production-dealmaking law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, saying as much regarding the potential for Warcraft 2:
“Who says it needs to have American actors? I would suspect that the sequel would be more China-centric. It’s very possible it wouldn’t be released here.”
It should be noted that none of this talk has (publicly) originated from anyone close to or associated with Legendary Pictures or the Warcraft brand itself. While lower-budget films slated for digital-only or direct-to-DVD release in the U.S. getting major rollouts overseas has been common practice for awhile now, for a big-budget tentpole sequel to follow that release pattern would be brand new territory for the movie business. Granted, the Chinese film industry routinely sees its own multi-million dollar grossing domestic hits like The Mermaid receive little to no distribution in the U.S., it would be a first for a Western-backed production. That math could change, however, if Warcraft 2 were to become a China/U.S. co-production — a business model Legendary is aggressively pursuing for the Matt Damon vehicle The Great Wall.
Cracking the unique cultural preferences of the ever-growing Chinese market has become an increasing challenge for Hollywood studios, confronting a massive audience that often views popular entertainment differently from Western viewers. It’s widely believed, for example, that China mainly prefers Western films heavy on CGI and in 3D; but 3D applied to the frenetic shooting-style of Jason Bourne was considered so unpleasant by Chinese audiences as to draw public protest. Also, while some pop-culture exports like the Marvel Cinematic Universe have proven just as (if not more) popular with Chinese fans as in the U.S., Star Wars performed below expectations there. Fans should expect to hear of more such disparities to come, as the world of global movie distribution continues to evolve.
Warcraft will be released on Blu-ray on September 27, 2016.
Source: The Wrap