Superhero Movies’ Powers Are Strong—But Not Yet Super—in China


by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

May 9, 2012

China joined the rest of the world last weekend in the Avengers phenomenon, pouring $19 million into the ocean of cash that the film has collected around the world.  That’s a big opening weekend for the movie, third only behind its premier weekends in the U.S. ($200 million) and the U.K. ($25.4 million). In its first two days Avengers’ China run exceeded the entire runs of prior Marvel superhero movies Thor and Captain America, which each earned a total of $14 million in China.

As I pointed out back in December, Thor and Captain America under-indexed in China because the country has no tradition of superhero stories, and apparently not as much interest in these types of films as there is in other markets. “Green Hornet” fared better with $21 million, mainly because it featured a popular Chinese actor, Jay Chou, as the co-star.

So does the Avengers opening signal the start of a new era for superhero movies in China? Should the team at Marvel be popping champagne corks and swinging from the rafters (or whatever superhero movie execs do) to celebrate their ascendance to China’s box office throne?

Not yet. Not hardly.

While a $19 million opening is very good for China, it’s not super-sized; two other Hollywood films—Titanic 3D and Mission Impossible 4—have opened to bigger numbers so far this year.

And compared to its spectacular reception in the rest of the world, Avengers’ start in China can only be termed as “very good,” but not “great.”

In fact, when measured on a relative indexing basis against those other movies, Avengers will likely wind up as an under-performer in China.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Last year, American films overall earned 5 percent of their total global box office revenue in China. Marvel’s superhero movies under-indexed there, with Captain America earning 3.8 percent of its global box office figure in China, and Thor earning 3.2 percent. Green Hornet was the only superhero movie to over-index, with 9.2 percent of its global take coming from Chinese ticket sales.

It appears a safe bet that Avengers will wind up with at least $50 million in box office receipts in China, which would qualify it as a hit movie there. But as we saw in a recent ChinaFilmBiz analysis, this year Hollywood movies have been earning more than 10 percent of their global revenue in China. Assuming Avengers goes over $1.5 billion globally, and that it takes in $50 or $60 million in China, its China share of the worldwide total would barely exceed 3 percent, a rather disappointing performance.

Were Avengers to index at the average level achieved by other films Hollywood in China this year, it would sell $150 million or more in tickets in China. That’s not going to happen.

But Marvel clearly has China on its mind, with its plans to co-produce Iron Man 3 together with Chinese production company DMG. No doubt they’ll cast a  Chinese lead or two, perhaps even Jay Chou. Others looking to capitalize in China on the superhero genre would do well to consider doing the same, or perhaps even creating new Chinese superhero characters with global appeal.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

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3 thoughts on “Superhero Movies’ Powers Are Strong—But Not Yet Super—in China

  1. It will take time to introduce the superhero genre to the Chinese market, but it will happen, especially if there are heroes/heroines from local culture. Kent

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