Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Hollywood Franchises Are ‘More and More Nonsense’ Say China Theatregoers as Revenue Declines

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: July 20, 2023
China's theatergoers don't watch Hollywood but now watch domestic productions.
A file photo of the 2010 premier of IMAX film Aftershock in Beijing, China. Mainland theatergoers are still leaving the house to watch a lot of movies, but have become increasingly disenfranchised with Hollywood intellectual property, instead flocking to domestic productions. (Image: China Photos/Getty Images)

Whatever love affair Mainland China’s moviegoers may have had with Hollywood’s offerings appears to be coming to an end in favor of domestic productions.

A 60-year-old retiree named Fang Fang interviewed at a Shanghai theater by The Wall Street Journal summed up their feelings, “Hollywood movies are more and more nonsense nowadays.”

“Superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America are so superficial, I won’t even watch them in IMAX 3-D,” Fang added.

WSJ’s on the ground reporting was spurred by a very notable statistic: while China’s box office sales for U.S. films hit $1.9 billion in the first half of 2019, that figure for the first half of 2023 is an astonishing decline at only $592 million.

But hidden in that statistic are key factors beyond a change in the tastes of China’s silver screen aficionados.

The first is the advent of the Wuhan Pneumonia pandemic, which hit by earliest accounts in October of 2019.

And while official statistics from the same Chinese Communist Party that covered up and under reported the 2003 SARS epidemic claim that barely more than 120,000 people have died since the epidemic began (the United States has lost more than 1.13 million people to COVID-19), some put the casualty figure in the hundreds of millions.

The second is the impact of the CCP’s Zero COVID social credit system used by the regime to “struggle” against the impact of a pathogen some 180 times smaller than a human hair by imposing in some locations total house arrest-style lockdowns that lasted for months at a time.

But regardless of the cause, the financial impact on American film producers is the same.

For example, Walt Disney Corporation’s new Indiana Jones movie, released in China on June 30, has grossed a paltry $3.5 million from Mainland takers based on data from industry tracking site The Numbers.

$2.4 million of that came in the opening week. Denmark and its 5.9 million citizens posted $3.3 million in gross sales by comparison.

The film ran with a production budget of $300 million and has grossed slightly more than $306 million worldwide.

And although Paramount Pictures’ new Tom Cruise movie, Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, released July 13, has had its best international numbers posted in China at $25.7 million, the Journal notes that the numbers are 66 percent worse than the last Mission Impossible released in 2018.

WSJ also says two Chinese films scored better numbers over the same period.

The injection of Environmental Social Governance culture into virtually every blue chip American company’s production may also pose a factor.

The new Little Mermaid film, which features Halle Bailey, a black woman, in the role of Ariel has grossed a marginal $3.6 million in China since its May 25 release, similar figures to Poland, Chile, and Colombia.

WSJ stated, “On Chinese social media, and in the Shanghai theater, some moviegoers expressed reluctance to see a movie that had cast a Black actress in the role of Ariel.”

One woman interviewed at a theater named Zhou told the outlet, “‘The Little Mermaid’ is too focused on political correctness.”

“I go to the cinema for entertainment, not to be instilled with certain values,” she added.

The Journal noted the economic data points certainly form a trend:

“‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ made over $300 million in 2014, but the new ‘Transformers’ barely managed a third of that. ‘The Fate of the Furious’ made over $348 million in 2017, but its latest installment petered out at $120 million. The Marvel Studios spectacular ‘Avengers: Endgame’ became the highest-grossing American movie in China’s history two years later with $629.1 million; the studio’s latest release, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ hasn’t broken $100 million.”

But recreational spending by Mainlanders is down across the board. Way down.

At the end of June, Vision Times reported that data from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism showed that domestic travel spending during the June Dragon Boat Festival was 5 percent lower than what was posted in 2019.

A notable component of the Ministry’s data set is the claim that despite the flattened revenue numbers, 12.8 percent more trips were taken at 106 million in total.

Similar results were posted during the May Labor Day holiday.

But the Journal’s research says that the Chinese are still paying to watch movies, just not Hollywood’s offerings.

“Chinese audiences have instead powered local releases to blockbuster returns such as ‘The Wandering Earth II,’ about a team of heroic Chinese astronauts saving the planet, that has grossed more than $500 million. ‘Lost in the Stars,’ a Chinese thriller, has collected more than $400 million,” authors stated.

The revenue shift is especially notable because during Zero COVID, foreign movies were heavily censored.

WSJ says only 25 foreign movies were allowed to screen in China during all of 2022, while more than that figure have already played in 2023.

IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond told the outlet, “It feels like a normal year.”

“They’re letting a lot more Hollywood films in,” he added.

IMAX and its large-format offerings have beaten the pack, the Journal says, posting its best numbers of all time over the recent Lunar New Year.

“For the current quarter as of July 9, the company’s Greater China box office stood at $8.5 million, only about $600,000 shy of its box office in the U.S. and Canada,” WSJ stated.

Since IMAX is a type of theater, the company displays both foreign and domestic films at its locations.