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China helps ‘Jurassic World’ devour the box office

Adriene Hill Jun 15, 2015
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“Jurassic World” roared to an international box office record this weekend — $524.1 million — propelled by a $100 million-plus opening in China.

“I think it’s not such a surprise,” says Aynne Kokas, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and a scholar at Baker Institute China Studies Program at Rice University.

Kokas expects China will keep box office records for American films. 

“At some point soon we’ll see the Chinese market becoming larger than the U.S. in every successive month,” she says. By some estimates, the Chinese box office will overtake the U.S. box office by the end of the decade.

There’s a huge expansion in the number of theaters in China, Kokas says. There are a growing number of 3-D screens and digital screens. And there are more theaters in second- and third-tier markets in the country.

There’s also a wealthier Chinese population that likes going to the movies.

“It’s the sort of thing that Hollywood studios salivate about,” says Michael Curtin, a professor of film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But Hollywood saliva alone does not land a movie on Chinese screens. The Chinese government allows only 34 movies a year to be imported.

And how exactly a film gets on that list is a little murky, Curtin says. “I don’t think anyone in Hollywood can really tell you.  It has to do with relationships, it has to do with the nature of the film.”

Curtin says these days studios work with Chinese censors in the earliest phases of planning a movie to try to get it on the list.

Hollywood is also working on co-productions with Chinese studios, which aren’t subject to the quota. 

And, more broadly, everyone in the industry is thinking about the global audience.

Janet Yang,  a film producer and head of Janet Yang Productions, helped negotiate the distribution of U.S. films into China in the 1980s. She says in the past, studios tried to appeal to an international audience in a pretty rudimentary way: “Let’s put in a Chinese character or two in a primarily Western production, or conversely, let’s put a Western character or two into a Chinese production,” she says.

Yang says that’s changing. Now it’s about finding truly organic, international stories and bringing writers, directors, crew and actors together — from the West and China.

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