"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

How China's box office dominance changed the game

It should be no surprise, though, that Hollywood studios are now repeatedly and generously catering to different continents. It is just an honest reflection of how the box office has shifted over the past 15 years, as international returns have now long eclipsed domestic numbers from the United States.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. As recently as 2004, the American box office actually accounted for 51.3 per cent of worldwide takings.

Fast forward to 2018 and the United States’s $11.9 billion equated to just 28.5 per cent of global takings.

The main reason for this change has been the emergence of China as a box-office powerhouse. For decades, the country had little to no interest in releasing American movies. It even deployed stringent rules restricting films from the US being shown.

But over the past decade, these regulations have become more lenient and the country’s interest in cinema has grown so rapidly, that not only does China reportedly already have the most movie screens in the world, but it is expected to overtake the US as the largest movie market on the planet by 2022. The huge potential of China’s box office means Hollywood films of recent years have been specifically altered to suit that country’s audiences. Michael Bay’s decision to shoot parts of 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction in China helped it amass $320m in the country, $75m more than it did in the US and 29 per cent of its overall takings of $1.1bn.

Just last year, both Jason Statham’s The Meg and Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper also thrived with the same approach. Thanks to Chinese megastar Li Bingbing and a prominent scene set at Sanya Bay, The Meg, which was stuck in development for more than 20 years before Chinese companies Gravity Pictures and Flagship Entertainment teamed up with Warner Bros to co-produce it, ultimately grossed $153m in China compared to $145m in the US, all of which helped it to a total of $530.2m worldwide.

Meanwhile, the US accounted for about a quarter of Skyscraper’s $304m gross, with $98.4m coming from China as The Towering Inferno and Die Hard hybrid’s international ensemble was rounded off by Singapore’s Chin Han, Hong Kong’s Byron Mann and ­Taiwan’s Hannah Quinlivan.

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