I was sweating on a treadmill in my local gym last week, when Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, appeared on the telly. He mentioned how he’d just wrapped up the sequel to Pacific Rim (2013), a film production that rocketed him most of the way around the world. ‘We shot four months in Australia, and then we shot for about a month in China,’ he explained to Lorraine. ‘I’ve never been to China before.’
He might not realise it yet, but Eastwood will go to China again. You don’t even need to read my article in the current issue of the magazine to find out why – although, naturally, you should. You can go to the cinema instead. Two films currently being shown, Ghost in the Shell and Kong: Skull Island, start with the logos of American production companies before moving on to the logos of Chinese production companies such as Shanghai Film Group and Legendary Entertainment. The money behind Hollywood blockbusters isn’t just dollars any more, it’s also yuan.
The story of China’s growing involvement in the movie business is told in my article, but I wanted to supplement that with a chart or two to get the numbers across. The first shows just how quickly the country’s box office revenues are rising:
As recently as 2010, the Chinese cinema industry took just $1.5 billion dollars a year from the punters. Five years later, that number had risen by 353 per cent to $6.8 billion. It helps that there are now more actual cinema screens in China – their numbers increased by 410 per cent over the same time period – but the main reason for the boom is political. The Chinese state used to stuff the picture houses full of propaganda, and block the blockbusters from America. But then they realised that there’s money in showbiz, and started to loosen up.
This loosening-up has been good for Hollywood producers. They can now project their movies to another billion people via China’s quota system – or, what’s more preferable nowadays, as a co-production with Chinese filmmakers. In fact, ticket sales from China now make up a large part of a blockbuster’s total box office. The top five grossing movies of the past five years made, on average, 14 per cent of their money in China. For a film such as Furious 7 (2015) that proportion is as high as 26 per cent:
But the thing with détentes is they go both ways. America is making money from China, but China stands to make money from America. Investing in, and profiting from, co-productions is just the start of it. There’s a general expectation that, despite a slowdown in 2016, China will soon be the largest movie market in the world – and the companies benefiting from it, and spreading their wares elsewhere, are increasingly Chinese ones. Globalisation isn’t just about steel and call centres. It’s also about cinema.
Which returns me to a point I’ve made before: the ever-changing medium of film is changing particularly quickly at the moment. Film directors are becoming showrunners. Projection is becoming streaming. Physical is becoming digital. And now Shanghai is becoming – or at least trying to become – Hollywood. My one fear? That they release a sequel to The Great Wall.