Mainland moviegoers are starting to embrace foreign films from countries other than the U.S.
Hollywood blockbusters are still leading the way in China’s box office, but audiences living in the world’s second-largest film market have displayed signs of hunger for more diverse movie imports.
Indeed, foreign films from outside Hollywood have proved to be popular in China over the past year. The most recent example is Thai picture “Bad Genius.” The comedy drama about smart students making big bucks out of cheating at exams raked in 221 million yuan ($33.3 million) as of Oct. 23, 11 days after its opening in China, the highest-grossing Thai movie in the country.
But that has yet to beat Bollywood sports film “Dangal,” by Aamir Khan, which took nearly 1.3 billion yuan ($195.8 million) in China this year — the most popular non-Hollywood foreign film in China, currently ranking at 19th of the country’s list of all-time highest-grossing movies.
“Hollywood movies are still top choices for Chinese audiences, but now they want more,” says Gong Geer, a film producer in China.
While Hollywood blockbusters continue their status as mainstream entertainment, a look at box office receipts reveals the growing popularity of non-Hollywood foreign films.
Prior to the success of “Dangal,”the Japanese fantasy animated film “Your Name,” which was released at the end of 2016, earned $84 million at the box office, the highest-grossing non-Hollywood feature at the time.
Spanish thriller “Contratiempo,” which was released in September, made $25.6 million in China, a box office surprise considering a lack of publicity prior to its theatrical release. It surpassed “Spider-Man: Homecoming” five days after its opening. The film has earned high ratings among the audience, with a score of 8.7 out of 10 on Chinese movie website Douban.
Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” a French action sci-fi pic that bombed in the U.S., earned $61.8 million when it was released in China this summer, according to China movie website Mtime.
And according to China movie website Yiyuguancha, as of Sept. 22, 33 import films totaled $723 million in the box office in 2017. The 19 non-Hollywood imports accounted for $519.7 million, 70% of the total box office in 2017 as of the time the report was released.
On the other hand, Hollywood films have not performed as well as expected. “Transformers: The Last Knight” earned $22.5 million, half of what it was predicted. “The Lost City of Z” pulled in just $1 million, an embarrassing flop.
Chinese critic Hong Shui wrote that audiences are growing tired of formulaic Hollywood blockbusters. Such movies are also losing out in public ratings on movie websites such as Douban and MTime.
More non-Hollywood fare will most likely make its way to China. Leomus Pictures CEO Qiu Jie told Chinese media that new films different from Hollywood blockbusters will be what audiences really want.
Gong adds that when audiences see Hollywood films the expected their money to be well-spent. But when it came to other foreign films, they’re more open-minded. “Audience respect quality films,” he says.