The New Script for Box Office Success

What do the movies Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia and Warcraft have in common? All three movies show the newest trend in Hollywood: pandering to China. Movies in Hollywood are more focused on the Chinese market than ever before. The growth of the middle class (Movie-goers) and wealthy investors are driving this influence.

In 2015, because of its growing middle class, China was projected to become the largest box office market in the world. While the pace has slowed because of a cutback in steep ticket discounts, China is still a significant market for movie studios.  This increase over recent years has led to some interesting decisions in Hollywood.

In Captain America, one of the largest instances of product placement (and plot holes) was the phone that a co-star used.  The character, Tony Stark, is supposed to be a tech-genius, but used a mid-level consumer phone only found in China.  Marvel geeks were quick to comment how unrealistic it is that Stark would use a phone found only in China, let alone a low-end phone that retails for about $270 USD.

Zootopia, a break-out Disney/Pixar success across the globe, was crafted with Chinese audiences in mind. Pixar, coming off of poor Chinese performances with Inside Out and Toy Story 3, realized that upbeat movies perform much better in China, compared to Pixar’s typical, emotionally complicated tales. Zootopia was designed to be upbeat, and even included animals that are important in Chinese culture: pandas, rabbits, and foxes.  Zootopia was rewarded for its efforts, grossing $235M USD in China alone, more than a third of its foreign revenue, compared to the 2% of Toy Story 3.

Next, Warcraft is perhaps the most obvious example.  A majority of Warcraft’s 6M players are in China, so the movie was planned with this in mind.  No one was surprised when Warcraft did poorly in the US, with revenue of just $47M. Warcraft was a success in China, and brought in over $220M, which was over half of its overall $433M in revenue.

Lastly, Chinese influence is also coming from investors.  Over recent years, Chinese investors like Wang Jianlin, chairman of China’s Dalian Wanda Group Co. have made numerous investments in movie companies.  These include: AMC, Legendary, Carmike Cinemas, and Odeon & UCI Cinemas. These investments clearly show how China is thirsty to expand its role in the movie industry, and that Chinese influence in movies is only going to grow.


Matt Rizner

MBA Candidate, 2017 – Tulane Freeman School of Business