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June 21, 2013

Editorial – Star Trek Into Darkness Chinese Box Office Analysis

by Master Pillow

Regular readers will remember what I said in an earlier post about Star Trek Into Darkness’ International box office potential and how I mentioned that the big panda in the room would be figuring out how the film would be received in Mainland China.  Although all signs pointed to Into Darkness exceeding the 2009 reboot’s International gross the key going forward would be to see how the Chinese market reacted to the film.  And did they ever as the film made $25.8 million in its opening week basically tripling the entire gross of the 2009 reboot.

Based on that $25 million opening figure I extrapolated using standard Hollywood rules that the film would top up at just around $50-60 million dollars.  Well, I was wrong and it just goes to show you that predicting the nascent Chinese market is totally hit or miss.

Here is how Star Trek Into Darkness has been performing in China over the first three weeks:

Week # Weekend Gross Total Gross % Change
1 25,870,000 25,870,000
2 12,730,000 38,770,000 -50.8%
3 14,070,000 52,890,000 + 10.5

The general rule of thumb for any Hollywood blockbuster is to open to huge numbers but then drop like a rock in following weeks.  If you look at the above numbers you’ll see that Trek dropped the usual 50% in its second week but then something crazy happened in its third week as it actually increased 10.5%.  With numbers like these that would mean Star Trek Into Darkness is now headed for something around $70-80 million final gross from the region.  That’s nuts.

Not only has China come out of nowhere to become Trek’s second most popular region it isn’t even close.  Here are the top five countries where Into Darkness has made the most money.

Rank Country Into Darkness Gross
1 China $52,890,000
2 United Kingdom $38,535,263
3 Germany $19,935,580
4 Australia $15,294,192
5 South Korea $10,682,235

Into Darkness’ Chinese box office gross accounts for roughly 25% of its entire International earnings and the film is still playing strong.  If it ends up at $80 million in China the percentage of its International gross would be around 30%.

So why is this something to talk about?

The first point is the most obvious as it should be cause for celebration at Paramount that Trek has suddenly broken out in a huge fashion in a market that has traditionally shunned the franchise.  Trek has always had a limited global fanbase but as the numbers from China continue to roll in it speaks volumes at how successful J.J. Abrams has been in expanding the audience through his reboot movies.

With huge numbers from China and other International markets it also justifies the high cost of these new films which require huge grosses in order to recoup their investment.  Into Darkness costs upwards of $190 million USD which is a crazy number for a Trek movie yet in the range of other blockbuster franchises.  There was no way in Hell that any Trek movie would ever receive such a budget before the 2009 reboot because the franchise just did not perform well enough to justify the high costs.

However, there is one other point that many moviegoers will not realize about the rise of the International market and specifically the emergence of China as the second biggest box office region in the world and that can be found by looking at Iron Man 3.

Why is Iron Man 3 of particular significance?  Because many will not know that Iron Man 3 is a co-financed production between Disney and Chinese company DMG Entertainment and because of this it has allowed the film many advantages.

Mainland China is obviously not the same type of market as Canada/USA as the government has strict rules governing how many foreign movies are to be released there each year.  If I remember correctly that number is locked at 34 as long as 14 are filmed in 3D.  You can probably guess that the process of getting a Hollywood film admitted onto that coveted 34 film list is fierce and filled with peril.

However, you can make life easier two ways the first of which is to officially apply for co-production status where the foreign company and a local Chinese one share the risks and copyright for the film as long as…you essentially let the government have a look at your script in order to make sure it isn’t insulting to the government or China.  Basically, you are letting the government have a creative say in what you are filming.

The other avenue which Iron Man 3 seems to have followed is to actually craft a story where a portion of it takes place and is filmed in China starring Chinese actors.  Did you know that the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 is different than the one you saw in the cinema in that it adds 4 minutes of footage aimed specifically at the Chinese market?

Although China received added footage the problem in the end was that Chinese citizens reacted with outrage at it because it was basically superfluous junk featuring the Chinese actors in useless cameos which ended up competing with product placement.  In other words Iron Man 3 made it to China but it ended up pissing a lot of people off who understood that Hollywood was doing the utmost minimum to get the film onto Chinese screens.  I doubt the Chinese moviegoing public is going to be happy if Hollywood movies keep pandering to them in such a fashion.

Which brings us to Into Darkness and the massive gross it is making in China and the pertinent question as to whether Paramount is going to use this information to tweak the next Star Trek film.  While Paramount got lucky that Into Darkness made it as one of the 34 foreign films allowed due to its 3D the massive Chinese gross also means that executives have to be aware that the Chinese market is going to be the key to the next film’s box office health.  The higher the Chinese gross gets the tougher it is going to be on Paramount to resist doing something to help the next film ensure it gets back on the 34 film list come 2016.

Does this mean some studio exec will force the next Trek movie to film footage in China or add Chinese actors?  I have no idea but come 2016 the Chinese market is projected to massively close the gap between where it is now and the biggest film market in the world, namely the USA.  If you were an executive and you projected that the next Trek film could potentially hit $130-$150 million in China come 2016 due to increased brand recognition the lure of the big bucks might be enough to at least start a conversation as to whether or not to tweak the next film to ensure it ends up on Chinese screens.

That doesn’t mean that a big red star is going to be stuck onto the side of the Enterprise but the rise of the Chinese market is going to change the way you watch movies.  Much like what is happening now in other industries like automobiles, more and more manufacturers are designing new products that appeal to Chinese consumers first rather than others now that China is the number one market in the world for many industries.  The bigger China gets the closer the gap narrows between it and the American film box office market and it won’t be long before you see more co-operation between Hollywood and Chinese companies.

Surely, no one in the world wants to see awful product placement and useless cameos no matter where the actor/actress comes from but you’ll certainly begin to see companies at least beginning to market research what the Chinese moviegoer wants to watch.  3D is huge in China so you are bound to see more and more movies in that format even if they are poor conversions from 2D.  Yet that is simple technology.  There is going to come a time when things like the narrative, characterizations, music or even the setting of the film will reflect the needs and wants of those not living in Canada and the USA and though we can’t say right now what that will entail we can say that the time for this is fast approaching.

Maybe the next Trek movie will have some new Chinese bridge officer…or maybe a red shirt although, that will probably be sending the WRONG message to Chinese moviegoers.

Then again…perhaps Starfleet’s HQ isn’t in San Francisco but Beijing based on this infamous image which I blogged about back in 2009.


© 2013 The Galactic Pillow

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