The Deglobalization of Cinema?
Much has been written over the years about how Hollywood has taken increasing interest in the Chinese movie market, making or adapting its movies in the hopes of increasing their appeal to the vast audience in that country in particular — and sometimes achieving significant success in the process, with Marvel’s three big hits in 2019 taking in almost $1 billion in China alone.
However, in the American press at least, Chinese cinematic efforts have tended to get little attention — save when they put their backing behind essentially American films like Iron Man 3, and The Meg (the John Turletaub-directed, Jason Statham-starring adaptation of Steve Alten’s novel by that name). However, as all this was going on China did see its own domestic producers, with their economy and their box office growing, make enough money from Chinese films made for Chinese audiences that they could start thinking of dealing with Hollywood as equals, competing or collaborating in the same kinds of splashy projects internationally. The making and release of the movie The Great Wall (2016, U.S. release 2017) would seem to represent the peak of such aspirations, with Chinese and American production companies (China’s China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures, America’s Legendary Entertainment and Atlas Entertainment) coming together to finance a $150 million film scripted by American writers (Tony Gilroy, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro), helmed by a famed Chinese director (Zhang Yimou), and bringing together representatives of both countries’ “A-lists” (Matt Damon, Andy Lau).
Of course, the film fell well short of what was hoped for it, in large part it would seem because of particularly weak American earnings. (Had the Matt Damon starrer done as well as even a Jason Bourne movie in non-Chinese territories the movie would have at least broken even — and had it done as well as even the poorer-performing examples of Hollywood’s own CGI-filled sci-fi blockbusters it would have been respectably profitable.) And since that time China’s domestic production has not quite attempted anything like it, instead seeming to focus on its domestic market with projects unlikely to travel very well — like Wolf Warrior 2 and The Battle of Lake Changjin. Meanwhile it would seem that Hollywood has followed a similar track — after investing considerably in making its movies appealing to the Chinese market, apparently losing interest, with the tendency evident in how recent Marvel films have been made with little regard for Chinese sensibilities (and as a result got shut out of that critical market again and again), and Top Gun 2 saw its Chinese backer (Tencent) exit, while such alterations to the film as the American backers may have made for the sake of a Chinese release were kicked to the curb.
Simply put, just as Chinese producers for now seem less prone to chase after the global market, doing well in China seems to be becoming less of a priority for Hollywood, with producers in both countries ready to fall back on a plain old nationalistic appeal to their huge domestic markets at the price of exportability. The price is bigger in the case of China, which can less easily export a jingoistic film than the U.S. can, but even for the U.S. there are costs. As those crowing over the success of Top Gun: Maverick should note, the movie is selling a lot of tickets overseas, roughly matching its earnings at home — but many a movie rakes in two or even three times its domestic haul abroad, and Top Gun’s performance only confirms how much less likely such a film is to do that than a work with a broader international appeal like Avatar or the more successful releases of the Disney-Pixar-Marvel complex. A movie as big as Top Gun 2 has become still leaves the producers with little to complain about, but as a strategy for a Hollywood addicted to the blockbuster model, especially in a time in which A merican moviegoing is still depressed well below pre-pandemic levels with future prospects uncertain, this does pose an obstacle to its broader, longer-run profitability (especially with the making and marketing of movies not getting any cheaper).
The result is that we may be seeing a “deglobalization” of cinema, with this less a first-choice on the part of the industry’s decisionmakers than a response to rising barriers entirely in line with the trajectory of the world economy and the international order these past several years as trade wars return to the world— and shooting wars between the world’s major powers become an ever graver prospect.
Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.