If you’ve been paying attention these past few years you’ve probably read an article or seen a blurb online talking about how China is becoming a growth market for films. We’ve recently seen their box office eclipse the United States and of course Hollywood is taking notice. Just recently Perfect World struck a deal to spend $500 million to co-finance as many as 50 films with Universal Pictures. Today I’m going to delve into what this means for the future of filmmaking and the potential pros and cons that may lay ahead.
-Globalization of Cinema-
It use to be that films lived and died by their North American weekend debut. If a film didn’t make it’s money in the US and Canada all hopes of a sequel were crushed. Lately it’s becoming more common place for films rack up cash in the foreign markets. Most notably China. I’ll drop a handful of examples. Last year’s Terminator Genisys ended it’s domestic box office run at just under $90 million. In China the film scored over $113 million, around a fourth of it’s total gross. Transformers: Age of Extinction was the first of the series not to make over $300 million domestically, but in China it made $320 million. That’s almost double what Transformers: Dark of the Moon made a few years prior.
-Censorship of Stories-
This is a very worrisome aspect to me. Whenever you receive money there tends to be a couple strings attached. American films have occasionally hit a couple snags when it comes to censorship in China and sometimes even getting banned entirely. This is usually based around plots/dialogue/characters considered offensive to Chinese culture. With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End all scenes featuring Chow Yun-fat’s character Sao Feng were deleted due to the fact that this character, “vilifies and humiliates Chinese”. The recent film Deadpool was flat out banned in China due to the excessive violence and sexual content. If studios take money from China it could mean films would be forced to be approved or edited before production. This in turn would coerce a filmmaker to compromise their vision.
In the past few years there has been a lot of controversy in Hollywood due to whitewashing a number of roles. Recently, there has been two major casting choices that have been talked about due to their homogenization of the source material. The release of the Doctor Strange teaser revealed that the Ancient One a traditionally Tibetan man was being played by Tilda Swinton. While I personally have no problem as Marvel tends to cast an actor based more on their talent than the traditional character’s look (i.e. Idris Elba as Norse god Heimdall), but a lot of people are wondering what’s up. Secondly was the rumor that Paramount tested CGI on Scarlett Johansson to make her look more Asian for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action remake. If China gets behind some of these films it might force studios to actually cast actors of different races in these larger roles.
-Shifting Studio Priorities-
At the end of the day every film is made with the hopes of turning a profit. And so we’re forced to wonder how this influx of Chinese money might change what studios are willing to produce or distribute. We’ve already seen the number of mid-level budget films that get made shrink every year. So with this money is in play it could mean studios will be even less likely to take risks. Indie films are already seeing smaller theatrical distribution. If this continues will more films be forced into heading direct to VOD or not get picked up by studios all together?
Things are definitely going to change in the coming years. But, not all of it will be bad. We’re just on the cusp of another chapter in film. China’s influence will vary from studio to studio, but aside from Universal there are a ton of deals being made. I’m optimistic that we’ll see great films from this, but as usual what are your thoughts? Do you think this is going be good or bad for film? Is it inevitable that U.S. filmmaking will become more global?
PS: If you’re interested in keeping up to date on other random thoughts I have you can check you my Twitter @SDFilmThoughts.