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Hollywood Studios Chase Chinese Audiences

  • Shannon Van Sant

Master Po Ping seen at DreamWorks Animation and Twentieth Century Fox World Premiere of 'Kung Fu Panda 3' at TCL Chinese Theater on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016.

Master Po Ping seen at DreamWorks Animation and Twentieth Century Fox World Premiere of 'Kung Fu Panda 3' at TCL Chinese Theater on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016.

The success of Kung Fu Panda 3 is reaffirming the value of Hollywood’s pursuit of ticket sales in China, where Hollywood films are increasingly using Chinese plot lines and characters to appeal to the Chinese market.

On its opening day, the film brought in more than $16 million, and by the end of its second week, box office sales had climbed to more than $101 million. Chinese audiences flocked to the cinema on New Year’s day, when more than $100 million worth of tickets were sold.

Paul Dergarabedian, a Senior Media Analyst with ComScore, said, “A lot of studios and other entities involved in the entertainment business are trying to align themselves with China, with either Chinese companies, with strategic partnerships or opening studios in China. And so it’s this multi-tiered strategy I think where everyone’s trying to scramble, and trying to figure out how best to partner with China because it’s so important as a movie market.”

China is the second largest movie market in the world, and is expected to over take the U.S. as the biggest movie market within a year. The box office in China last year totaled $6.68 billion, representing a 48.7 percent rise year-on-year in ticket sales.

Familiar plot lines and characters are one reason for the success, according to 18-year-old Yifan Li. “As a Chinese it feels more familiar, I feel I can see a lot of elements that are very close to me,” he said.

Dreamworks produced two versions for the Chinese audience; one with dubbed vocals and another altered animation to more closely match the Chinese language version. In the United States, seven movie theaters are showing the film in both Mandarin and English.

Kung Fu Panda 3’s worldwide release was also timed just before the Chinese new year when movie ticket sales soar in China.

Even without the Chinese elements, high school student Jiaxuan Zhao said he would still be a fan of the film. “For me,” Jiaxuan said, “I still think it would work if it were something else. I still would love the movie without the Chinese elements.”

Kung Fu Panda 3 was Dreamworks Animation’s first co-production with it’s Chinese partner, Shanghai’s Oriental Dreamworks. The co-production meant the film counted as a locally produced movie, and allowed it to get around import restrictions, such as a limited 30-day run time.

Kung Fu Panda 3 was also allowed to show in cinemas during the Chinese New Year holiday, when most foreign films are not allowed to screen in China.

Several other Hollywood studios have partnered up with Chinese production houses, and last year the Chinese conglomerate Wanda group bought a majority stake in Legendary Entertainment, promising further collaborations.

“I think what we may see more of is where we have China titles, that were perhaps massive in China but didn’t do as well in North America, because we’re seeing now how American movies are tailored for the Chinese market, what I think we’re going to start seeing is Chinese movies tailored for the American market, said Dergarabedian.

Later this year, The Great Wall will feature American Matt Damon and Hong Kong’s Andy Lau as the main actors. It will also have a Chinese director overseeing his first English-language film.

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