When you talk about China you talk about numbers. With the world’s largest population (though India is a close second) the number of potential movie goers invites mammoth profits for production companies. Yet China has yet to take in half of the gross box office receipts as the United States despite having 4 times as many people. Even worse, 2016 showed sluggish growth in ticket sales, bumping up only 3.7% from 2015 when growth skyrocketed 48%.
2017 saw a return to growth, jumping 13.45 percent. Its highest grossing film was Wolf Warrior 2 taking in $877 million.
Wolf Warrior 2 doubled the box office take of the second place finisher, American made The Fate of The Furious. This fact may reveal a lot about the 2017 increase and the future of Chinese movie making. Nominated by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts for Best Asian Film, it has a patriotic storyline — China’s deadliest special forces agent retires, only to return to protect the citizens of his homeland.
If this sounds familiar, it is because it is a staple of American made movies. Though the Chinese culture is significantly different, the people place a high value on their military and their history is replete with the legends of local heroes. As far back as the 1970’s, the Chinese raved about action hero Bruce Lee who brought the familiar “me against the world” theme to Chinese audiences. Though not patriotic, Enter the Dragon was one of the most successful films of 1973.
Expect Chinese producers to build on this combination of action hero and nationalistic patriotism. Chinese theater owners have good reason to feature these types of films in their theaters, as the Chinese government announced in December it will allow theater owners to be eligible for tax refunds if their annual ticket sale of Chinese films exceeds 55% of their total sales. Currently, owners are charged a 5% tax on all ticket sales.
One important thing to notice is that while the average Chinese moviegoer loves action films, they bristle at the idea of an American action hero who is patriotic. Two American films, Furious 7 and Transformers: Age of Extinction place in the top 7 of the highest grossing movies at Chinese theaters. The closest American patriotic movie to the top of the list is Captain America Civil War in the 23rd spot.
The Chinese government is also helping out ticket sales for domestic movies by restricting the import of foreign films during the peak attendance seasons. China’s movie producers need to continue to create blockbuster hits like Wolf Warrior 2 because despite the government’s assistance, American made movies are accounting for more than 40 percent of China’s gross ticket office sales — and is growing. The question to be asked is whether the increasing acceptance of Western culture and values is being preferred as portrayed in the movies.
Every country in the world seeking to expand its economic and political influence has to make internal decisions about accepting Western values. Iran had made its choice in 1979. Russia experimented with capitalism and returned to its Socialistic economy .Iraq is still divided between religious lines years after Saddam Hussein was executed. Movies are supposed to imitate reality, not create it. In the case of China, it has some hard decisions to make in its production studios in order to compete with America on the silver screen.