Throughout the year many studios clamor to get their films released into the Chinese market. As the second-largest film market in the world, Chinese box offices can give weaker-performing films a chance to break even, or stronger-performing a shot at breaking records. With only 34 slots set aside for all foreign films, the competition can be fierce.
The stakes are high, but sometimes it is difficult to predict which films will secure one of the vaunted 34 slots. China does not have any film laws on the books to guide this process; however, its film regulatory agency occasionally makes statements to guide the production of film and television towards more state-friendly topics. While helpful, these statements are not always clear bans or approvals on plots or subject matter.
Analysis of American Films in China
Now that the 2015 slate of American films has been set, we have taken a look at the American films that have successfully made it into the Chinese market to see if there are any trends or earmarks for success. Below we have compiled data on the 32 American films that made the cut. The data breaks down the films by genre,1 critical review,2 studio, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating, and whether it is a sequel or part of a lager cinematic universe.
While there is no magic formula for entrance into the Chinese market, the following characteristics suggest that a film may be more successful in its bid:
Genre: Action and adventure/science fiction
Critics’ Ratings: No clear correlations
Studio: 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney
MPAA Ratings: PG-13
Sequel or Part of a Larger Cinematic Universe: Yes
Action and adventure/science fiction films topped the list for the most represented genre. This popularity makes sense because this genre provides escapism, showcases large visual effects and plays into the current superhero trend.
Surprisingly, the number of comedic films increased from 2014. Last year, comedic films accounted for three of 30 American films released in China. This year, they accounted for six of 32. It is unlikely that this trend will continue, and more likely that these films were admitted in spite of their comedic value rather than because of it. Generally, comedies have trouble overseas due to the difficult translation of jokes and/or of the cultural experience.
One trend to note is that the number of films that are sequels or part of a larger cinematic universe is growing. Last year, this category accounted for 13 out of 30 American films released in China. This year, it accounts for 16 out of 32. This is partially the result of a larger trend in Hollywood to build off of successful film franchises and Marvel’s bid to create a pantheon of superheroes. They may be gaining traction in the Chinese market for any number of reasons: the shifting sample size, tendency to fall into the popular action and adventure/science fiction category, or solidified relationships with particular studios.
Until we get more information for the 2016 slate, buy some popcorn and settle in.
1 Please note that some films fall into multiple categories. If a film fell into multiple genres, both genres were taken into account for the purposes of this post.
2 Based on Rotten Tomatoes compilation of critical reviews.