Johnny Depp’s latest movie, the sci-fi thriller “Transcendence,” has tanked in the United States, despite hopes that it would revitalize Depp’s flagging career.
After producer Alcon Entertainment and Chinese co-financier DMG Entertainment sank $100 million into Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, “Transcendence” opened to a dismal $11.2 million in the U.S. American audiences just weren’t interested. But the film enjoyed a stronger Chinese open, a reminder that a Hollywood movie doesn’t necessarily live or die by its U.S. numbers.
It’s no mystery why “Transcendence” didn’t meet domestic box office expectations. For starters, the film was largely bypassed as an effects-heavy spectacle in favor of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Audiences may be weary of dystopian films warning about the dangers of technology, and the trailer gave away too much of the plot. It also has been a critical failure, with reviewers complaining that it was too dragged out and pseudo-philosophical.
It’s a slightly better story in China, where “Transcendence” enjoyed a strong promotional push that included several appearances by Johnny Depp, reportedly his first visits to China.
Variety reports that “Transcendence” earned $11.4 million in its Chinese opening, ever-so-slightly outpacing its American earnings, even in a significantly smaller market. Where “Transcendence” opened in fourth place in America, it also opened slightly higher in third place in China.
That the same numbers are considered a failure in the United States but a victory in China is due to the relative size of each market. In 2013, the U.S. box office brought in $10.9 billion, whereas the Chinese market hit $3.6 billion. “Transcendence” may have earned the same amount in each country, but it’s a much bigger slice of the pie in China.
China’s box office went up a whopping 27 percent from the previous year’s $2.8 billion, and has proven particularly important for some American films, contributing nearly $100 million to the $585 million worldwide gross of "Capital America," for instance.
The Chinese box office will soften its landing, but “Transcendence” is still a flop. With a total worldwide gross of $28 million against a $100 million budget, the film stands almost no chance at breaking even, let alone turning a profit. But its modest success in China means that “Transcendence” comes out looking a little less embarrassing.