How the Chinese box office is about to beat Hollywood

Blockbusters are cracking the Asian market – can Star Wars follow suit?

Audiences take picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Alan Taylor at first screening of Terminator Genisys in China.
I'll be back Even Arnie's terrible Terminator sequel was a smash hit in China. Image Picture Kevin Lee/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures International

Forget the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the real money in the movie industry is being made in China.

With a population soaring past 1.3 billion, it’s the world’s second-biggest movie market and rapidly expanding.

Though the Chinese film industry is still pumping out its own films of note – this year’s Monster Hunt is the region’s most successful movie of all time – it’s the massive-budget Hollywood blockbusters that are making real inroads thanks to big studios like Warner Bros, Paramount and Sony increasingly targeting Asian audiences.

Previously, the Chinese government only allowed 20 non-Chinese films to open in its cinemas every year on a revenue-sharing basis. The import quota has upped to 34 titles in 2012, and in 2017 that figure will likely surge further when China renegotiates their initial five-year deal with the World Trade Organisation. Forecasters are predicting that this will push China ahead of North America as the world’s biggest film market within the next three years.

In 2014, Paramount even made Transformers: Age Of Extinction as a co-production with the China Movie Channel in a bid to play to that market. Much of the film’s explosive action was shot in Hong Kong, and that played a part in powering the sequel to staggering grosses of £194 million.

At the time, Transformers: Age of Extinction was the biggest success in Chinese box office history, only to see itself overtaken by the aforementioned Monster Hunt and gear-shifting behemoth Fast & Furious 7. Factor in the success of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jurassic World and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and it’s no wonder studios are falling over themselves to get their films out in China.

Even Arnie’s critically-lambasted Terminator Genisys, a financial flop in the States, managed to gain traction with impressive earnings of £74 million.

Next on the horizon? Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is due to open in China in January next year. George Lucas’s original trilogy barely registered in China, while the prequels were only modest hits. China might be the only corner of the galaxy Star Wars hasn’t conquered, but expect that to change based on Hollywood’s current strike rate.

Hollywood’s five biggest ever hits in China are…

1

Fast & Furious 7
£248 million

2

Transformers: Age Of Extinction
£194 million

3

Avengers: Age Of Ultron
£149 million

4

Jurassic World
£145 million

5

Avatar
£136 million

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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