Movies – China Might Be the New Movie Capital of the World
Happy 2021 to all of you. Much as we all want to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, the end of the year brings a raft of fresh data, including this one:
China sold more movie tickets than the U.S. in 2020 for the first time ever. North American box office sales plunged 80% to $2.3 billion, the lowest sum in 40 years (not adjusted for inflation). Box office sales in China reached $2.7 billion, a more modest drop of about 70%.
China also produced the year’s highest-grossing movie, “The Eight Hundred,” and claimed four of the 10 biggest movies of the year.
This could be a blip. Chinese theaters reopened in July and have remained open. U.S. movie theaters have been closed in the biggest markets for months, and studios delayed almost all of their big releases. These were some of the highest-grossing movies in North America during the summer, typically the peak season:
- “The Wretched”
Did you watch any of these? Have you heard of any of these? They are all low-cost horror movies and thrillers. “The Wretched” is about a boy whose neighbor is possessed by a witch, while “Becky” is about a girl whose vacation with her father is interrupted by a bunch of convicts on the run. Uplifting stuff!
It is safe to assume that “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Black Widow” would have held off “Unhinged,” which features Russell Crowe as an unstable stalker. But they both got pushed to 2021.
Industry analysts have been predicting for years that China’s box office would become the world’s largest. Though the gap has narrowed, the North American box office remained about $2 billion larger than China in 2019.
But this could also be the moment China overtakes North America for good. China continues to build new theaters. In 2019 alone, the country added 9,708 screens. Just last month, Imax said it might add another 400 theaters in the country by 2023.
Here in the U.S., the number of theaters is expected to shrink. Theater owners will either go out of business, or reduce their footprint to make up for lost sales. When theaters do reopen, fans will still have more reason to stay home given the ubiquity of new movies on streaming services and the reduced period between a movie’s appearance in theaters and at home.
The continued growth of China was once seen as a good thing for U.S. movie studios. Hollywood studios have curried favor with China for years, often turning a blind eye towards concerns about civil rights and censorship in exchange for soaring ticket sales. Disney got in trouble this year for filming “Mulan” in Xinjiang, and studios have repeatedly been criticized for changing their movies to placate Chinese censors.
And yet, catering to China doesn’t guarantee success in the country. High-profile U.S. releases are getting boxed out by homegrown product. Local movies accounted for 64% of Chinese ticket sales in 2019, up from 53.8% in 2017. In 2020, all five of the country’s top-grossing movies were Chinese. These movies may not be of the same quality as a Disney release, but they do speak to local tastes.
The U.S. expected opening China to the internet would force the country to adapt Western norms of free speech (and embrace Western internet companies). But China just adapted the internet to its own purposes, and gave rise to its own class of technology giants. It looks as though the country might just perform a similar trick on Hollywood.
The biggest U.S. movies will still outperform their Chinese counterparts on the global stage, at least until Chinese movies can appeal to viewers around the world. — Lucas Shaw
The Best of Screentime (and other stuff)
Amazon buys Wondery
Amazon has acquired Wondery, the podcast network that produced “Dirty John” and “Dr. Death.” Hernan Lopez, the founder of Wondery, will leave his role as CEO and take a big check with him.
On the one hand, this deal makes a ton of sense. Amazon Music is trying to catch up with Spotify, which has brought music and podcasts under one roof. Amazon Music just added podcasts to its service, and buying Wondery allows it to quickly ramp up the production of exclusive podcasts for its service.
But Amazon also owns Audible, the audiobook service that already offers podcasts, many of them exclusive. Audible and Amazon Music are now competing with one another for listeners and shows. It’s always funny when a tech company has two division competing with one another to do the same thing. It usually guarantees that another company, in this case Spotify, will win the space.
This being Amazon, it won’t really matter. These music and audio services are minuscule in the grand scheme of the e-commerce giant, and they now seem to exist mostly to buttress its place in the smart speaker market. Amazon Music and Audible don’t need to be the market leaders in podcasts for them to get people to buy more Alexa-enabled devices.
Covid halts production
Several Hollywood studios are delaying production because of a Los Angeles surge in coronavirus cases. Most TV shows are on hiatus for the holidays and were scheduled to resume work in early January. But unions are recommending a later return.
Deals, deals deals
I just found Jeff Weiss’s west coast hip-hop playlist. Jeff is one of the best music and culture writers working today, and knows more about hip-hop then I know about anything.