Transformers: Age of Extinction, Michael Bay’s fourth film in the franchise, broke a box office record in China this past weekend, surpassing $300 million and becoming the first ever film to do so.
The Hollywood Reporter had the news Sunday, noting that it puts Age of Extinction well on its way to breaking the $1 billion mark globally for the year and not far off from the $1.12 billion earned by Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
At first this news may not sound surprising. Bay made a movie set in China, loaded it with Chinese product placement, cast local Chinese actor Bingbing Li and utilized Chinese resources as part of the shoot, and the effort paid off handsomely.
But the bigger side of the story is that Age of Extinction is one of the first films that was released simultaneously with the American release, effectively minimizing some of China’s more rampant bootlegging of Hollywood movies.
Back in 2013, China officially passed Japan as the second biggest film market in the world for Hollywood movies, and analysts are projecting that it could even overtake the U.S. by 2020.
As Variety explained earlier this month, the hold up are China’s strict censorship laws. Currently the country only allows 34 films annually as part of strict quotas, limiting the release of other major tentpole releases. That number has grown over the last few years, and the trend lines are pointing up, but it still means that China is effectively the Wild West (or East rather).
Age of Extinction has done very well stateside, even if China’s $300 million receipt passes the U.S. domestic total by a good margin. But the reality, as we’ve already seen time and again, is that movies that tank domestically can make up their money abroad. Comedies in which the humor can’t travel overseas have never performed as highly (just ask Kim Jong Un what he thinks of The Interview) but take movies like last year’s Pacific Rim or The Lone Ranger. Although far from outright flops, their domestic grosses couldn’t even scratch the surface of their production budgets. In China however, Pacific Rim was the fifth highest grossing movie of the year, earning $111 million and beating the American box office singlehandedly.
Critics are on the verge of declaring the summer tentpole model of superhero movies and franchises a fad on its way out, if not rapidly downhill. American studios however sees gold in other parts of the world. So does it seem like Hollywood isn’t making movies for you, the average American adult, anymore? Maybe it’s because they’re not.