In China, blockbuster films still a big draw

By Amy He in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-03 10:23

Despite sluggish growth at the Chinese box office so far this year, the success of The Fate of the Furious shows that the appetite for Hollywood blockbusters is still there and won't be going away for a long time, industry experts said.

The eighth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise has made more than $360 million since opening on April 14, and had the biggest opening weekend in China. The previous movie in the series made $390 million in 2015 and was the highest-grossing film in China that year.

Hollywood blockbusters didn't perform as well in China last year, with the industry speculating that blockbuster fatigue was settling in with Chinese moviegoers, who were tired of superhero movies. Chinese box office growth in 2016 was stagnant, and many worried about what it would mean for Hollywood films exported to the second-largest movie market in the world.

Michael Berry, professor of Chinese cultural studies at UCLA, said that blockbuster fatigue "comes and goes" and that attention diverted from tent-pole productions doesn't reflect a long-term shift.

"Hollywood films that perform well in the Chinese market continue to be the bloated, loud, popcorn franchise films - the superhero movies, the action movies, with cars and aliens and robots and superheroes," he said.

"There are ebbs and flows - I don't think it's a long-term shift. It's like the stock market, it goes up and down, and there are a lot of reasons for it, and sometimes it's just the quality of the pictures being released at certain times," he added.

Aynne Kokas, author of Hollywood in China, said exporting Hollywood blockbusters is still a strategic approach, given the uncertainty of the quota system, which is being renegotiated by the Chinese and US governments and may potentially be more than the 34 films currently allowed.

"The most basic thing is that you still need to make things that people want to watch, as opposed to only things that are the next installment in their big franchise," Kokas said.

But she also cautioned that as Chinese audiences become more sophisticated, the market is "paradoxically becoming more like other film markets"-pickier about what they watch and less inclined to watch sequels or blockbusters just because they are part of a brand-name franchise.

"I think that we're definitely entering a point at which just assuming the Chinese box office will be a point of growth because it's a big Hollywood film is over," she said.

Stanley Rosen, politics professor at the University of Southern California, said that blockbusters are more of an assurance at the Chinese box office than other genres, but it's hard to predict what blockbusters will do well and which subsequently can be turned into major franchises.

"You don't know until you actually do the film how well it's going to be received," he said.

"Once you establish a blockbuster success through a series of sequels, then you're pretty much [guaranteed], assuming you don't mess it up too much. But not every blockbuster is going to do that."

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