China’s financial success in cinema is not a pandemic story
As Janus Studios looks back on the past year and searches for lessons for the next 12 months, this imaginary institution may find its two heads spinning. What the hell did 2021 tell us about the future of cinema? What do you need to do to thrive in this changed environment?
Here is lesson number one. All other lessons lose importance. You should be Chinese. It would obviously be nice if you could appeal to the rest of the world, but that isn’t strictly necessary. What were the top two grossing films of 2021? You mumble about Marvel and James Bond, right? No, this year’s charts were The Battle of Changjin Lake at number one and Hi, Mum (not Brian De Palma’s old movie) at number two. Both are productions of the People’s Republic.
The American bias in box office journalism (arguably the most boring of all journalism) has somewhat obstructed the success of No Time to Die
Lest you believe the theory that the theater show is dead, note that The Battle of Changjin Lake, the story of a Chinese victory over the Americans in the Korean War, is the highest grossing film ever. released in English. The stubborn prevalence of Covid elsewhere in the world has contributed to Lake Changjin’s triumph in the annual chart, but it is riding a wave that has been swelling for a decade. The six highest-grossing non-English films in media history are all Mandarin-language feature films released since 2017. None have accumulated more than a few brass outside their home country. It is not a pandemic story. For the first time since pioneers set up tripods in the Hollywood Hills, America’s financial dominance in cinema has been properly questioned. Chinese films might not translate across borders as well as James Bond, but it doesn’t matter if your biggest movie can total $ 130 million more than the total of 007 just for Chinese revenue alone.
There is another lesson in the international nature of business in Bond’s story. The American bias in box office journalism (arguably the most annoying of all journalism) has somewhat hampered the success of No Time to Die. That film was only the sixth-highest grossing in North America – arguably “underperforming” there – but it faded F9 to become the biggest English-language film of 2021 in the world. The post here is not really about the venerable secret agent. The moral is that, more than ever, this is an international company. If you can’t actually be Chinese (and only 1.4 billion people can), you should try to produce films that appeal to markets outside of the 50 states.
There is solace further down the graph for our California moguls. Other Chinese titles make sporadic appearances, but the top 50 is still largely an American affair. Hollywood might not make the most lucrative movies, but it still supplies poor bloody infantry with their movie rations. These films don’t do what they once did, but studios can invoke “special circumstances”.
It’s the flops rather than the hits that will cause the most frowns in the industry. No one seems sure that Dune Part One actually made any profit, but like all Warner Bros. movies that were released to stream simultaneously in the US, it took about enough to be considered a hit. era “Covid” and justify the final part which is, indeed, underway. King Richard, with Will Smith as the father of the Williams sisters, certainly underperformed, but, another version of Warner, he was available to stream in the US on HBO Max.
Hardly any tipster in the English-speaking mainstream media will be able to accurately guess which top-grossing film of 2022 is. We will need the help of our Chinese colleagues on this matter.
The slow initial performance of West Side Story, which was only available in theaters, is perhaps the most interesting case here. As you read this, Steven Spielberg’s ecstatically-received musical may – as it did with the recent The Greatest Showman – have gradually racked up some sort of loot, but, even if it proves it, there’s no denying it. the softness of its openness. weekend. Variety called its $ 10.5 million domestic debut a “dismal result.”
The trade newspaper then diagnosed a key cause of the crisis. “The biggest obstacle to West Side Story is – and will continue to be – convincing older audiences to go to the movies,” wrote Rebecca Rubin. The good (rather) news is that this audience is more likely to come after opening weekend than younger punters. The bad news is, there is still something standing in their way. “This is the main demographic that has not come back in force since the pandemic,” continued Rubin.
So, another essential lesson of the year in cinema is that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It will eventually disappear. But the industry has no idea when. That could be over next Christmas when, because it should never be underestimated, James Cameron could deliver another smash with Avatar 2. He may have made it up in time for Top Gun: Maverick in the summer.
Something we can say with some certainty. Hardly any tipster in the English-speaking mainstream media will be able to accurately guess which top-grossing film of 2022 is. We will need the help of our Chinese colleagues on this matter.