On Script

Hollywood's Fate in China

Moviegoers in both countries prize familiarity and simplicity.

"Fate of the Furious" did well in both China and the U.S.; isn't animated; and isn't based on a comic book series.

That appears to make the eighth installment in the "Fast and Furious" action franchise unusual. Not quite.

Only three Hollywood movies that ranked in China's top 10 last year also appeared in the U.S. top 20, according to data from BoxOfficeMojo.com. They fell into two categories: Animated ("Zootopia," "Kung Fu Panda 3") or based on a comic book franchise ("Captain America: Civil War.")

Pass the Popcorn

China's top-grossing films last year include three titles that also did well in the U.S.

Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com

Yet the list of the highest-grossing films in the U.S. is dominated by these same characteristics. What that tells you is that American audiences love Hollywood's animated and comic book productions, and so do those in China.

The most famous example of Hollywood going off-script was "The Great Wall," a China-U.S. co-production starring Matt Damon that did well in one market, bombed in the other, and ended up losing money. 1

Despite industry elites fawning over them at awards season ("The Great Wall" is not an example of that), original, innovative and live-action stories tend to underperform, especially in the U.S.

Then there's "Fate." While it's neither animated nor comic-book-based, it is part of an extremely familiar series with an extremely familiar star. If actors were franchises, Vin Diesel would be the business school case study. It's no coincidence that the other movie doing well in both markets this year -- "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage" -- stars the same dude. And the hottest movie in China so far this year, "Kung Fu Yoga," stars Jackie Chan, himself Asia's top franchise.

Two Dimensional

Most of America's top-grossing films last year feature animated or comic-book stars

Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com

With no disrespect to Messrs Diesel and Chan, these aren't roles that stretch their thespian range. And that's the point. Whether it's Diesel, Chan, Marvel or DC Comics, the thing that unites both Chinese and U.S. audiences is familiarity.

That means all producers need to remember in order to crack both markets is: Stick to the script.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
  1. While gross exceeded budget, marketing and distribution made The Great Wall a financial loser.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net

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