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Hollywood films lose their appeal amid changing Chinese preferences

By RENA LI in Los Angeles | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-03 07:18

Visitors to a cinema in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, line up to buy tickets on New Year's Eve. [Photo by Dai Ximing/For China Daily]

Despite Hollywood films maintaining a notable presence in the Chinese market over the past two decades, their performance has declined significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

While specific blockbuster movies have achieved success, one expert attributes the downturn to what she said is an outdated and hackneyed narrative style that fails to resonate with the current interests and aspirations of Chinese audiences.

"Hollywood's routine narrative style has lost its appeal in China," Zhi Feina, a professor at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, told China Daily.

"There is nothing new in this narrative, and there is too much political correctness," she said. "The gap between the means and value orientation of these narratives and the needs of China's main audience is getting big, so its routinization will not work."

Zhi, a chief expert for the Chinese Film Industry Research Report, found that the decline in Hollywood movies' influence isn't unique to the Chinese market, but has also happened in Japan.

Even in 2023, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions and market recovery, Hollywood films like Oppenheimer and Black Panther 2 failed to achieve significant box office success in China, said Zhi.

Zhi added that the decline in Hollywood's influence in China is also due to "neglect" of the current Chinese mainstream's national confidence and identity, particularly among young people, as audiences express a stronger preference for content that reflects or is relevant to their own culture and experiences.

The saturation of "high concept and high style" movies from Hollywood may not resonate with the current interests and aspirations of Chinese viewers, she added.

Studies found that the average age of Chinese moviegoers is around 30. Improved economic and social development in China has contributed to a more mature sense of national identity and self-identity, leading to a preference for themes which reflect that.

Despite the overall decline in Hollywood's influence, Chinese audiences aren't universally rejecting foreign films.

In 2023, Japanese films such as The Journey of Suzuya and The First Slam Dunk achieved noteworthy success at the Chinese box office.

The Journey of Suzuya emerged as the highest-grossing Japanese film ever in China, surpassing 807 million yuan ($112.7 million) at the box office.

"In fact, China Film Administration is very open to imported films, especially Hollywood films," Zhi said.

In 2023, China's film market showed signs of recovery, with the total box office reaching 55 billion yuan. Domestic films dominated the market, generating 46 billion yuan, or 83.77 percent of the total, while imported films accounted for a little more than 16 percent. All top 10 films at the box office were domestic productions.

Among them, Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms, an epic fusion of history, folklore and mythology, achieved a remarkable box office revenue of $156 million after just 11 days in Chinese theaters, topping the Chinese mainland box office in 2023.

The highest-grossing imported film was Fast and Furious 10, at 984 million yuan, followed by The Meg 2: The Trench (851 million yuan), The Journey of Suzuya (807 million yuan), and Avatar: The Way of Water (743 million yuan). Those movies led the total box office for imported films, which surpassed 8 billion yuan.

Despite those successes, the figures reflect a significant decline compared with the peak of Hollywood movies in previous years, indicating a notable decrease in market share compared with domestic films.

"This kind of market shrinkage is a manifestation of the fact that the Chinese market basically has few policy restrictions on Hollywood movies, which shows that Hollywood movies are no longer particularly favored by Chinese audiences," said Zhi.

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