China is currently on track to have its biggest year at the box-office ever, with revenue estimated to pass the $5 billion mark by year’s end, securing the country’s status as the second-biggest film market in the world after the U.S. It’s readily apparent why Hollywood and other markets outside of China would want their films to play there, but the country has a revenue-share quota system in place that only allocates 34 spots per year for foreign releases.
As of today, China has filled the final six spots on its 2014 foreign-release slate, scheduling a bunch of Hollywood releases and one Korean blockbuster: Interstellar, Penguins Of Madagascar, Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and Korea’s Roaring Currents. There’s also something called African Safari, according to The Hollywood Reporter, though it’s unclear what exactly that is: There’s no 2014 movie, Hollywood or otherwise, by that name that I can find. (Based on the rest of the list, perhaps it’s a rebranded Blended, but that’s just a wild guess, and not a particularly good one, given that American comedy usually doesn’t play well in China.)
Also potentially confusing: The inclusion of Ice Age: The Meltdown on the list, considering that film came out in 2006 and already played in China, where the Ice Age movies are huge. It appears this is a 3-D re-release, though, which is an increasingly common strategy for Chinese foreign releases; a 3-D Titanic earned over $150 million when it played in China in 2012.
This announcement got me wondering about the other 28 foreign films deemed suitable for Chinese release this year. The Chinese film industry is not exactly known for being especially transparent, so there’s no readily available list online; but they’re tucked away within Box Office Mojo’s breakdown of the country’s 2013 box-office numbers. Based on that and previously announced films, here are the 34 foreign films adding some of that sweet Chinese yuan to their grosses this year:
Penguins Of Madagascar (upcoming)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (upcoming)
The Maze Runner (upcoming)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (upcoming)
African Safari (???)
Roaring Currents (Korea)
Ice Age: The Meltdown (3-D re-release)
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Transformers: Age Of Extinction
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Expendables 3
Need For Speed
Edge Of Tomorrow
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Into The Storm
The Monuments Men
The Legend Of Hercules
There are also several holdovers from 2013 that added to Chinese box-office grosses this year, including Frozen, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Despicable Me 2, and Snowpiercer.
True to form, Hollywood releases dominate the country’s foreign-film slate. Transformers: Age Of Extinction is currently the country’s top-grossing film of the year, and Guardians Of The Galaxy just debuted at No. 1 this week, despite what’s apparently a problematic translation. Guardians is the only foreign film currently in the Chinese box-office top 10, though Hollywood releases currently make up half of the country’s yearly top 10. The country’s revenue-sharing system allows the U.S. film industry to take 25 percent of the profits for its films.
It’s easy to look at this list, with its heavy emphasis on franchises and big, shiny family releases, and feel cynical about the state of international moviegoing. But aside from the fact that there are quite a few legitimately good films in the mix here (in addition to some legitimately terrible ones), it’s worth taking into account the cultural factors that go into determining what films will play well in China. Science-fiction, superheroes, and cartoons are all much more universally appreciated prospects than something more rooted in specifically American culture, like, say, 22 Jump Street or The Fault In Our Stars. (Though I am a little curious why The Lego Movie isn’t in the mix; perhaps because Lego is just now starting to gain a cultural foothold in China.)
China’s foreign-film quota was raised from 14 in 2012, and THR claims there are rumblings about increasing that number to 44, in order to include more prestige and arthouse movies. Although, the publication has been saying that since February, and China’s Xinhua News reported then that there are no such plans in place.