‘Fast X’ Is Disappointing in China – Once the Saga’s No. 1 Market | Charts
You’d think the box office “Fast X” is pulling in China — $77 million in the first five days — would be encouraging news. It’s the best-performing Hollywood movie in a market that’s been resistant to the American dream factory’s charms as of late, and the haul for the latest installment of Universal’s “Fast Saga” nearly matched the five-day domestic total of $81 million.
But that ignores a critical factor: The “Fast & the Furious” series has been bigger in China than in the U.S. since 2015, routinely earning 25%-30% of its global box office in the country and arguably making it the emblem of Hollywood’s ambitions for one of the world’s largest and increasingly affluent pool of moviegoers.
Some plugged-in observers are holding out hope that China will snap back and become a steady contributor to theatrical revenue once more. “I don’t think it’s back to normal, because it’s not a light switch, it’s a faucet,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said Wednesday at a JPMorgan investor conference. “But I think it’s headed in that direction at a rapid pace.”
That may be optimistic, if the $500,000 opening-day take for “The Little Mermaid” in China is any indication.
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While Hollywood movies have been performing below par since the pandemic shuttered China’s box offices and the country then had a rocky reopening, 2021’s “F9” was an exception to the rule. It earned $134 million in its weekend debut in China and ended with $215 million — an impressive 29% of its $727 million global gross, and more than its $173 million domestic take. If “Fast” is faltering, what hopes do other Hollywood franchises have?
Marvel’s China struggles
Take “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which has taken in $75 million so far in China, about 11% of its $670 million global box office to date. That’s a near return to form for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie: “Guardians Vol. 2” earned $95 million in the country, about 10% of its global total.
But another Marvel release, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” flopped with $39 million at the box office in China. Not only was that two-thirds below the $120 million earned by “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in 2018, but it was also about 8% of the $476 million global total for “Quantumania.” The first two “Ant-Man” films earned about a fifth of their total box office in China.
That’s well above the average for Marvel films, which typically earned 15% of their global box office in China pre-pandemic.
The upside for Marvel may be that China’s near-ban on its films, only recently softened, and the subsequent drifting away of the audience for American superhero movies as a result, may hurt it less, since most of its films made a relatively small percentage of box office there.
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“Fast” money in greater China
Vin Diesel’s “Fast” series didn’t make noise in China until “Fast & Furious 6” earned $67 million out of its $789 million total in China a decade ago. “Furious 7” was supercharged in North America thanks to the tragic death of Paul Walker, the added value of Jason Statham as a baddie and the film acting as a kind of generational franchise coronation. It earned $353 million domestically but also a sky-high $392 million in China, setting a record for any movie, Hollywood or Chinese, in that quickly growing territory. That made up a staggering 26% of its $1.519 billion global total, setting a benchmark for subsequent films.
“Fate of the Furious” earned $226 million domestically in 2017, in line with the inflation-adjusted earnings of the previous films. It earned another $370 million in China, which was 30% of its $1.238 billion global total. By comparison, “Wonder Woman” earned $105 million of its $821 million cume in China, or 13%, that summer and “Despicable Me 3” earned 15% ($153 million) of its $1 billion cume in China.
From “Furious 7” to “F9,” “The Fast Saga” earned a combined $1.2 billion of its combined $4.231 billion in China alone, averaging out to 28%.
There are many factors behind the popularity of the “Fast Saga” in China, from the eagerness of star Vin Diesel to promote the films in China — he recorded a special greeting for Chinese fans for “F9” — to the vagaries of global politics.
Universal, said Chris Fenton, a Hollywood producer and author of “Feeding the Dragon,” has done a better job of managing its relationship with Chinese authorities than Disney. He noted that Chinese firms have a higher ownership stake in Universal’s China theme park than in Disney’s competing property.
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“Fast X” could still earn a global total on par with “F9” even with a lower overall total in China. At the end of its first weekend, its worldwide box office stands at $319 million, with just 24% of that from China. It’s making up some of that in fast-developing markets like Mexico, India and Brazil, but it still has to sting after years of breaking records.
Ultimately, having a franchise that’s less dependent on such a risky market could be a better long-term position. “Consumers consume, but Beijing can tip any scale in any direction they please,” said Fenton.
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