Pacific Rim is Perceived as a Flop in North America, But in China...

The general perception in the US is that Guillermo Del Toro's would-be summer blockbuster, Pacific Rim, was an expensive Hollywood flop during the summer of 2013.

But the view from China is a bit different.

While Pacific Rim only grossed $US 96,779,757 in English-speaking North America, in mainland China the film was a hit - grossing $US 76,450,000 as of August 11th, 2013.

In a year when Hollywood films are under-perfoming in China, Pacific Rim's Chinese box office is a surprisingly robust haul.  For example, Pacific Rim has already earned $US 22 million more than what the Fast and Furious 6 has grossed in China so far ($US 54,840,000).

In fact, Pacific Rim - a non-sequel title that struggled to find a theatrical audience in the US - has outperformed numerous big Hollywood franchise movies in China in 2013: e.g., Man of Steel (earned only $US 63,440,000 in mainland China), Skyfall (only $US 59,234,352) and Star Trek Into Darkness (only $US 56,910,000).


There are several answers.  First, the film has a major battle sequence set in Hong Kog harbor.

Probably more importantly, Pacific Rim has an East Asian protagonist, Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese woman whose goal of becoming a Jaeger pilot (despite the wishes of her protective father figure) develops as a central storyline in Pacific Rim.  The novelty of an East Asian star - facing obstacles that feel authentic to her culture, without being a racial stereotype - mark Pacific Rim as something of a breakthrough for Hollywood.

This effort to expand the role for Asian stars may also explain why the earth-saving characters in Pacific Rim included Crimson Typhoon, a Mark-4 Chinese Jaeger piloted by the Wei triplets.

Hollywood executives, whose careers rise and fall based on their ability to predict which mass market entertainments will connect, are well aware of the rising importance of Chinese audiences.

Should Warner Brothers greenlight a Pacific Rim sequel?

You can bet there is some consternation in Hollywood that numerous franchise movies have not caught-on in China in 2013.

Imagine the dilemma faced by Hollywood executives when a hugely expensive Hollywood movie succeeds in China, without gaining traction in other important territories (like North America).

Now that China is the number 2 territory in the world (surpassing Japan in 2012), the studios will increasingly be making greenlight decisions with an eye toward the East.

China's theatrical market is still growing (revenue increases averaging 30% year-on-year for the last several years). So a Hollywood movie that succeeds only in China (or like Pacific Rim, that outperforms in China) will have the chance to become a franchise - even if perceived as a flop in the West.

Yes, the studios are still struggling to get the same percentage of revenue from theaters in China as they receive in the rest of the world: In the US, the major studios can expect to be paid around 50% of box office gross, while in China the best the Hollywood studios have been able to bargain for is roughly 25% of their films' total box office gross.

Nevertheless, even though they've failed in their efforts to repeat their 2012 dominance of the Chinese theatrical market in 2013, Hollywood studios have made progress (through the WTO and intense negotiating) such that American filmmakers have more opportunities to get their films into China (increasing the quota from 20 to 34 films) and to hold onto more of the revenue once their films play in China (as recently as 2011, the Hollywood studios were getting only around 17.5% of box revenue for their films in China).

What's the future for Hollywood-style franchise films in China?

If you're sitting behind a big desk in Hollywood, the fact that Pacific Rim earned just $US 20 million less in China than it did in the US - and that China represents 60% of Pacific Rim's total worldwide gross - is definitely big news.

In short, don't be surprised if another version of Pacific Rim is greenlit.

The next authorized Pacific Rim movie will likely not feature Cheung, Jin and Hu Wei: As Pacific Rim fans know, the pincer at the end of Otachi's tail crushed Crimson Typhoon's Conn-Pod, killing the triplets.

But, to satisfy Chinese audiences, the next Pacific Rim movie (if there is one) will almost certainly have Chinese content. Perhaps it will even be offered with a Chinese star in an original Mandarin version.

Who knows, WB might even authorize a prequel, or a miraculous (Chinese language?) reboot where the Weis are still alive.

Where will the increasing revenue from China take the movie business?

Will a company like The Asylum start making Chinese language mock-busters?

How long will it be until we see Chinese language versions of Hollywood tentpoles?

Will Chinese stars increasingly become a feature of movies targeted at a world-wide audience?

Will the next cycle of potential franchise films be produced by Hollywood or upstart (Chinese?) competitors?

How long before a Chinese company buys a Hollywood studio?

No comments:

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.