Godzilla - Official Trailer for the Japanese Market - But What About China?

On Thursday April 24th, 2014, Legendary and Warner Brothers released a new trailer, tailored specifically for the Japanese market (above), for their upcoming tentpole reboot, Godzilla.

This new Godzilla is scheduled for a wide release (day-and-date worldwide in 60 foreign markets in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D) beginning May 14, 2014.  

But, as  of April 24th, 2014, no release date for China has been announced yet. 

This seems odd to me - as the the last three Godzilla movies have underperformed in the US. 

Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla topped out at around $136 million in English-speaking North American theaters in 1998 after opening on May 20th to indifferent reviews. Apparently there was some demand built up in 1998 through an expensive and pervasive pre-release marketing campaign (e.g., cars that had been crushed by Godzilla showed up on London streets and TV commercials with the then-popular Taco Bell chihuahua trying to catch Godzilla - "Here, lizard, lizard, lizard" and "Uh-oh. I think I need a bigger box"- aired in the US). Roland Emmerich's version grossed $44 million in 3,300 theaters domestically on its opening weekend.  But ultimately that 1998 film was an expensive disappointment (under $380 million worldwide box office gross). And Godzilla hasn't been a sure thing in the US and Canada for many years. For example, “Godzilla 1985” grossed only $509,000 in its first weekend in 235 domestic theaters, while “Godzilla 2000” opened to a very disappointing $4.4 million in 2,111 US and Canadian theaters just 14 years ago.

For this 2014 reboot of Godzilla, a lot depends on China. 

For comparison purposes, let's look at the last big-budget picture to feature a  giant monster awakened from a deep-sea slumber to crush cities and provide high-stakes conflict...

In 2013, China was Pacific Rim‘s biggest fan, accounting for over one third of that films $309 million foreign box office (almost $112 million in the middle kingdom alone). 

In fact, for Pacific Rim, more money went through the box office windows in China than in the entire US and Canada ($112 million v. $102 million). Yes, the studios currently only get about 25% of the total box office earned in China. (The Chinese have been reluctant to share film rentals. While the studios customarily receive almost 50% of what films earn in theaters in the US, the Chinese theaters have been paying only about 1/2 that percentage to US producers. But as time goes on, and Chinese investors increasingly own shares in US-based movie studios, I expect that split will change and the major studios will convince Chinese exhibitors to fork over a larger share.) 

Here's my point: If between 15 - 30% of all theatrical revenue from big action pictures - like Pacific Rim - currently comes back to the studios from China - wouldn't it make sense for WB and Legendary to have the marketing of Godzilla in China buttoned-up well in advance of the film's release?

Remember, once a film is in theaters anywhere around the world,  "piracy" (山寨) begins in China. And, while the studios have exaggerated their losses in the past, there is no doubt that copycat or imitation DVDs can cut deeply into the potential take from Chinese theaters. So releasing a film outside China first involves a risk that counterfeit copies will flood the market before the theatrical release in China. If everyone who really wants to see Godzilla in China already has a shanzhai DVD by the time the film arrives in theaters there, the theatrical release can be DOA.

And, even if unpermissioned copies can somehow be thwarted, the battle for eyeballs in Chinese theaters may be very tough - unless Godzilla's producers can get choice theaters and weekends. (Remember how, in May of 2013, Iron Man 3 suffered because locally-produced  Chinese fare (So Young) was given preferential treatment by SAPPRFT?)

Will Legendary and WB be able to get enough desirable screens in China for Godzilla?  The theatrical quota system is still in place - so there is a limit to how many non-Chinese films can be given screens in China. And Godzilla may find the Chinese have given preference to the highly anticipated sequels from previously established brands. Two possible rivals? Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” will have premiered two weeks before Godzilla hits in the US, and Fox’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” will be looking to pick up screens around the globe if Godzilla falters - opening one week after the beast from the sea roars back to life.

Even without SAPPRFT's thumb on the scale, local Chinese audiences seem to like films with Chinese faces and stories. Big budget Western fare is still popular - but Hollywood isn't the only option for Chinese movie audiences anymore. 

Before we leave this particular topic (how Godzilla will fare in China) let's look at one more interesting feature of the marketing of Godzilla to see if the Japanese trailer provides any clues about how Western producers are marketing to Asian audiences. Japan's market is small when compared to the US and China - but in the Japanese trailer (above) we might be seeing signs of how Legendary and WB might spin Godzilla in China - if they get the chance. For example, in an apparent attempt to appeal to [pander to?] Japanese audiences, actor Ken Watanabe is featured in the Godzilla trailer for Japan (he doesn't get the same screen time in the Western trailers I've seen). And the Japanese trailer also dwells a bit more on the monster's atomic-testing origins than any previous trailer for Godzilla 2014...

UPDATE June 16th, 2014  Godzilla opened in China on 9,000 screens (of the 20,000+ movie screens in China) on June 13th, 2014 and in three days earned an impressive US$ 36 million. As reported in The Wrap on June 15th, 2014: "IMAX theaters played a big part in [Godzilla's] China haul, generating $4.5 million over the three days — deadlocking it with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” for the biggest IMAX haul [in China] ever." Even though the quadrennial World Cup also started on June 13th, the impact on the Chinese box office (in some territories that major televised sporting event has cut anticipated box office by as much as 50% when the home team was playing) was apparently negligible. Here's a Godzilla trailer that was shown in the mainland, which (like the Japanese trailer) features Ken Watanabe while emphasizing the conflict between man and "nature."

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