In what Chinese reporters are calling an embarrassing defeat for homegrown films, Hollywood imports are dominating China's box office -- and have been for the last six months.
According to preliminary data from local media coverage, the 3D release of James Cameron's Titanic is the country's highest-grossing film this year, taking in 976 million yuan ($153 million) from Chinese theaters. The 1997 re-release is the third highest-grossing film of all time in China, right behind Cameron's Avatar and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
This year, nine out of 10 of the top-grossing movies in China came from overseas. Most of those, including Men in Black 3, Battleship and The Avengers, are Hollywood blockbusters, which are apparently ruling the Chinese box office at the expense of Chinese films.
Two of China's most highly anticipated films, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and The Viral Factor, fell below expectations, while others are being overshadowed by Hollywood tentpoles. According to Variety, one local media report called it rather embarrassing that so many top-grossing movies this year are American made. Domestic movies have suffered a crushing defeat so far this year, the report said.
An official box-office report is due out later this week from China's State Administration of Radio, Film and TV.
News of China's faltering local films comes on the heels of Chinese Conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group's decision to purchase AMC Entertainment, owner of the struggling AMC Theatres cinema chain. Wanda, China's largest theater owner, agreed to pay $2.6 billion for AMC, the largest investment to date by a Chinese company in the U.S. entertainment industry.
Some insiders say the move signals Wanda's desire to be taken seriously as a Hollywood insider. An article posted by Emerging Money on the NASDAQ website theorized that Wanda is using Hollywood as a stepping stone to learn the ropes of the U.S. film industry and better develop China's domestic movie market.
Such a view seems logical given the China's obvious need to boost audience interest in its own films, but not everyone agrees that Wanda is looking to make itself an outpost for Hollywood East. I don't think they're trying to emulate the American movie business, said Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst with MKM Partners. American movies play over there on a constant cycle. This time around, a lot of them happened to do very well.
Handler speculated that Wanda's purchase of AMC is motivated by a less glamorous desire to branch out into other real estate ventures, including hotels and malls. When you look at Wanda, what they're probably doing is dipping their toe in the water for something larger down the road in mall development, he added. They want to be a global company, and frankly, AMC came at a good price. It has a lot of debt.