US film studios are left reeling


HERE’S A clever way of boosting domestic industry in the face of stern competition from heavyweight overseas rivals – get the foreigners to fight it out among themselves.

China is doing this with Hollywood blockbusters The Amazing Spider-man, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus by restricting their run in China and by making sure they all open within a week of each other.

The scheduling is part of a broader effort to limit the growing share of box-office revenue being won by Hollywood films as the Chinese government seeks to boost domestic cinema.

Spider-man and Dark Knight will go head-to-head on August 27th, something the studios had hoped to avoid. Warner Bros had pushed for a later date for the Batman film to avoid this superhero face-off.

Prometheus looks likely to open on September 3rd.

China has introduced a blackout period for foreign movies, restricting their viewing times so as to allow locally made movies a better chance of getting audiences.

The local film business is scared because there are more overseas films coming than ever before.

Under pressure from the Hollywood studios and the World Trade Organisation, in February, China agreed to raise the number of imported movies by an additional 14 films, to around 34, including 3D and Imax movies. They have raised the revenue share with studios from somewhere around 16 per cent to 25 per cent.

The biggest beneficiary of the restrictions on foreign films is a local 3D action movie, Painted Skin: The Resurrection, now the highest grossing Chinese film of all time, with a box-office return of €116 million.

This is the second time this month that China Film, the state colossus that controls most of the film business in China, has pitched two big Hollywood films against each other.

The 3D animated films Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Lorax both premiered on the same day. Ice Age took €10.5 million in its first week, while The Lorax took just €727,000.

Hollywood is prepared to put up with a certain amount of grief in China because the market is booming.

The Chinese box-office return in the first six months of the year was €1.03 billion, compared to €722 million in the same period last year. Around two-thirds of this went on foreign movies.

“The State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT) is making a series of transitional protection measures, which we hope can provide for the development and growth of Chinese films by supporting their roots, and increasing their ability to defend themselves against imported films,” said Zhang Hongsen, vice head of the film Bureau.

There remains considerable uncertainty in the entertainment business over the climate for releasing movies ahead of a Communist Party congress at some point in the fall – probably October – which will see the president, Hu Jintao, and the premier, Wen Jiabao, hand over to expected successors Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.