The future of Chinese cinema and what it means for Hollywood


  • China overtook the United States as the world’s largest box office in 2021.
  • Experts say fewer Hollywood films may be approved in the region in the future.
  • The China Film Administration has drawn up a five-year plan to help the country maintain the top spot.

Hollywood and theaters in the United States recently gained confidence when “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed over $ 1 billion worldwide, becoming the first coronavirus pandemic film to do so. Over $ 600 million comes from the United States.

But “No Way Home” is an anomaly.

Only two other films, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” have grossed $ 200 million in the United States this year. Data firm Comscore estimated the 2021 box office ended with at least $ 4.5 billion, double last year’s total but down from $ 11.4 billion from 2019.

The real winner for the film industry in 2021 was China, which overtook the United States as the world’s biggest box office, in large part thanks to local films which made big money.

Two films grossed over $ 800 million at the region’s box office alone: ​​the war film “The Battle of Changjin Lake” and the comedy-drama “Hi, Mom”. They were the highest grossing films in the world in 2021 until the arrival of “No Way Home”.

Looking at Hollywood’s other releases last year and the state of America’s theaters, the American theater industry still has a long way to go to recover. But the Chinese market has rebounded much faster, and the country’s government intends to retain its crown at the box office. The China Film Administration recently presented a five-year film plan to do so. This implies greater government oversight over the country’s film affairs.

Insider spoke with experts about the Chinese theater market and the future of Hollywood-China relations. Here are the biggest takeaways:

China’s success could have lasting consequences for Hollywood

China’s dominance was often at Hollywood’s expense in 2021. Disney’s Marvel films have been banned by Chinese authorities (“No Way Home,” a Sony release, has been approved but has no date yet. Release).

“They don’t need Hollywood anymore to take seats,” said Chris Fenton, film producer and author of “Feeding the Dragon”. “‘The Battle of Changjin Lake’ can do it.”

Aynne Kokas, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Hollywood Made in China”, predicted that fewer Hollywood releases would be approved in China in the future, and than those that were submitted. to stricter regulatory approval.

“There are Chinese blockbusters that Chinese filmmakers make people want to watch, and they feel less derived than the ones made in Hollywood,” she said.

Hollywood blockbusters have taken advantage of China in recent years. But John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, said the importance of the Chinese box office for Hollywood tents has been “greatly exaggerated.”

“The studio’s cash intake in China is far less than anywhere else in the world,” Fithian said. “If a movie ticket costs $ 10 in America, a studio will take $ 5 or $ 6. In China, it will cost $ 1 or $ 2.”

Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man "Spider-Man: No Path Home."

Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: No Way Home”.

Matt Kennedy / Sony / Marvel Studios


Still, if a movie like “Avengers: Endgame,” China’s biggest Hollywood release of all time, grosses $ 630 million in the region, that’s a lot of money for Disney.

“Disney should be worried and so are we,” Fithian added, referring to Marvel’s China shutdown. “We want the Marvel product to air in China. That’s what will make cinemas in China successful, is to have an open content market, and Marvel is huge. So yeah, that’s a big one. problem.”

Stanley Rosen, a political science professor at the University of Southern California specializing in Chinese politics and cinema, said there was reason to be hopeful for Marvel in China. But the government’s attitude towards Hollywood films in general will not be the same as it was before the pandemic.

“China wants to be seen as a world power,” Rosen said. “You can’t rule out Hollywood films and think of yourself as a global cinema powerhouse. But they will be more selective in the future.”

How the Chinese government plans to retain the top spot at the box office

Fithian believes China’s success may not be a bad thing for the theater industry as a whole.

“From a film perspective, the growth of a vibrant film industry in China is a very good thing,” Fithian said. “They are building the biggest movie theater market in the world. It’s a good thing for our industry.”

The China Film Administration plans to grow from 70,000 theaters to 100,000 over the next five years. This is only part of his film plan to make China a “strong cultural power” by “joining the entire Party leadership on film work,” the five-year plan says, according to the report. Variety.

The plan also includes:

  • Release 50 films per year that gross at least $ 15.7 million
  • Release at least 10 films per year that are “critically acclaimed and popular”
  • Local films represent over 55% of the total box office per year
  • Improve special effects and promote sci-fi movies

Rosen said the Film Administration recognizes that it needs more blockbusters rather than a handful in any given year, both to boost its own box office and to secure films in others. country.

“They realize that if they want to be an international film powerhouse, foreign countries have to take Chinese films the same way they took Hollywood films,” he said.

Fithian sees it as an opportunity for the theater industry.

“I think in the long run, it’s possible that Chinese films will be entertaining and watchable enough for audiences all over the world,” Fithian said. “If you’re a theater operator, having a second large supply of content can be very helpful. Studios may not necessarily feel that because it’s competition. But for us, the more supply, the better. it is.”


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