Hollywood Is Still Trying To Bait China
For some franchises, China truly is a key market. The two most recent Fast & Furious movies, for example, brought in nearly $400 million each (from which 25%, or about $100 million, goes to Universal), and Pacific Rim Uprising is largely being shaped towards the sensibilities of Chinese audiences since the first film proved to be a surprisingly strong performer in the country. It's likely that Uprising wouldn't exist without the aforementioned Dalian Wanda/Legendary acquisition; though Pacific Rim is a certifiable cult classic, it didn't do so well at the box office, and it remains to be seen if this long-awaited sequel will be able to succeed where the original failed. Maybe the possibility of a Warcraft sequel hinges on the success of Uprising, but it will take more than just a Chinese box office victory to justify these big-budget global blockbusters.
When a movie does well in China, the first and biggest beneficiary of that success is China. Movie studios only get 25% of the Chinese box office. That leaves a lot of money going to the state-run theaters and associated businesses. Hollywood definitely got the short end of the stick on that deal, but they were so desperate to get a foothold in the country that they thought it was worth investing in what was once a rapidly-growing market. In 2018, the Chinese box office has not expanded at the exponential rate many were predicting. Combined with the results of the recent audit on the country which found that China had under-reported their box office numbers by 9%, stealing millions of dollars from Hollywood studios, a big question needs to be asked.
Is China Worth It?
Is courting China worth compromising Hollywood movies, America's greatest export? Independence Day: Resurgence was lambasted for, among other reasons, its overuse of Chinese product placement, from milk to instant messaging services, and Tony Stark himself used a Vivo cell phone in Captain America: Civil War. Vivo is a low-rent brand which is only sold in China, certainly not something that Iron Man would use. Hollywood is willing to compromise the cohesion of their fiction and undermine their own characters just to try to get in China's good graces. It's shameless pandering to the farthest and most offensive degree, and it's a reality of the industry today.
Related: The Biggest Box Office Hits of 2017
But it doesn't have to be this way. Films like Deadpool and Suicide Squad - not to mention three Star Wars movies on the trot - managed to be quite successful without getting Chinese releases, but the fact is that studios (not to mention the trade websites) are just too interested in watching films hit that billion-dollar milestone. Indeed, if not for China's box office results, movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Fate of the Furious, and the aforementioned Captain America: Civil War would have fallen short of joining the esteemed "Billion Dollar Club." Maybe entrance to that club isn't worth the price of admission.
Cinema is a business, and it's the fiduciary duty of those involved to make as much money as they possibly can, but the industry also has a responsibility to the art they create, and to not eschew their values and integrity just to make an extra buck. Hollywood was successful before the Chinese box office boom, and they can be successful today. If China wants a piece of Hollywood's action, they're welcome to it, but on Hollywood's terms, not theirs. Simply put, China's not worth it, especially when every dollar is only worth twenty-five cents.