The U.S. movie industry has become reliant on China’s investors and its more than a billion potential moviegoers—a relationship with strings attached
Movie director Zhang Yimou, left, and Matt Damon on the set of “The Great Wall.”Photo: Jasin Boland/Universal Studios
LOS ANGELES—February’s premiere of “The Great Wall” showcased the calculated balance between two superpowers.
Matt Damon walked the red carpet with his Chinese co-star, Jing Tian. Director Zhang Yimou thanked co-producers Universal Pictures and China-owned Dalian Wanda Group Co. The afterparty had sweet-and-sour chicken.
The movie’s poor showing didn’t slow the trans-Pacific collaboration. Hollywood has become so entangled with China that the movie industry can’t run without it.
Chinese investors and more than a billion potential moviegoers have made China indispensable to the film business. The country’s box-office total last year, at $6.6 billion, was the world’s second-largest compared with the first-place U.S., $11.4 billion. In a few years, analysts predict, China will be No. 1.
While the U.S. movie-ticket sales have remained relatively flat, China’s have more than tripled since 2011.
“We never thought of China 10 years ago. Now, we’re at a point where Hollywood can’t exist without China,” said Adam Goodman, a former production chief at Paramount Pictures. He now runs a film-production company backed by Le Eco, a Beijing-based technology company.
Private and state-backed Chinese companies have invested tens of billions of dollars in U.S. film ventures over the past decade. The relationship comes with strings attached. Chinese authorities, censors and consumers influence nearly every aspect of American moviemaking in China, from scripts to casting to greenlighting sequels.
“We’re in a moment of significant disruption,” said Richard Lovett, president of Creative Artists Agency, which represents such clients as Sandra Bullock and J.J. Abrams. The firm announced Monday it was expanding its footprint in the country with a division called CAA China.