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Facing a spate of big-budget film flops and cash-strapped audiences who are increasingly picky when splurging on summer blockbusters, Hollywood is looking for a superhero.|
Who will step in to save the day? Look to Chinese consumers, industry experts say.
The world's fastest-growing movie market is expected to head to the theaters this summer in droves, helping to lift Hollywood movies' ticket sales by as much as $50 million per film, up from $15 million per film a year earlier, says Robert Cain, a Los Angeles- based independent film consultant.
China's box-office revenue climbed to 13.1 billion yuan ($2.08 billion) last year, up 29% from a year earlier, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Meanwhile, box-office revenue in the U.S. and Canada dropped 4% to $10.2 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Films set to suck in audiences this summer in China include DreamWorks' animated 'Madagascar 3,' which opened in China over the weekend and Relativity Media's 'Mirror Mirror,' a remake of fairy tale 'Snow White,' featuring actress Julia Roberts.
Hollywood is looking for brighter days after several big-budget films, such as Warner Brothers' 'Dark Shadows' and Disney's 'John Carter,' have fallen out with U.S. audiences, and China offers it a glimmer of hope.
Chinese movie-goers have already jolted sales for Marvel's 'The Avengers, ' which came out in May and had hauled in more than $84 million out of roughly $800 million internationally, according to Box Office Mojo, an online box office reporting service. Despite having roughly three minutes of footage sliced out by the country's film censors, 'Men in Black 3' from Sony/Columbia was also a hit, garnering nearly $22 million in its opening weekend in China versus $54.5 million in the U.S., says Box Office Mojo.
'Hollywood has shown increasing reliance on Chinese audiences because of the quick expansion of screens and the incredible market, and this will only grow in the summer blockbuster season,' says Michael Berry, a Chinese film expert and professor of Chinese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Just last month, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group Corp. agreed to acquire AMC Entertainment Holdings, the second-largest theater chain in the U.S. and Canada, in a deal valued around $2.6 billion.
But while China's booming movie market may boost the U.S. industry, its success could negatively affect the domestic market, Mr. Cain said.
U.S. studio Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. has received approval to release 'The Hunger Games' in China this June, and the last installment of the Batman franchise will hit theaters in July. Chinese films stand dismal chances against these giants, Mr. Cain said.
China currently lacks the know-how to produce the flashy superhero and sci-fi movies that Hollywood does, Mr. Berry said. He noted, however, that the country does have its own A-list directors, such as Feng Xiaogang, and Chinese audiences highly anticipate their movies--although even they have a tough time competing against something like James Cameron's 'Avatar,' which earned about $200 million in China and ranks among the top grossing films in the country.
Chinese producers have learned to run their own blockbusters during Chinese New Year, around the beginning of the year. China's biggest homegrown film success this year was 'The Great Magician,' which was released in January-- at which time there was no foreign competition in the market. The action movie, starring Tony Leung, grossed $27 million in China.
Lou Dietz-Henderson with WSJ