'Free Guy' cannot rescue Hollywood from its sluggish performance in China during pandemic: observers
Published: Aug 30, 2021 10:27 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Disney's action comedy Free Guy has stood out from the crowd during China's summer season with its decent box office take and solid word-of-mouth, but it will be unable to turn around the muted performance of Hollywood in the Chinese mainland film market in the post-pandemic era, Chinese film observers said on Monday.

"Compared with true blockbusters such as The Avengers series and Avatar, Free Guy's performance in China is far from 'excellent,' instead it is 'just close to passing,'" Xiao Fuqiu, a film critic based in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Monday.

After bringing in more than 153 million yuan ($23.6 million) in its debut weekend, the film is looking to bring in another 20 million yuan on Monday, keeping in firmly at the No.1 spot at the mainland box office. 

"Hollywood's sluggish performance in the Chinese film market is partly due to the influence of the pandemic in China, which has decreased moviegoers' enthusiasm for movie watching," Shi Wenxue, a film critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

Some employees working at cinemas in Beijing and Shanghai told the Global Times that moviegoer attendance has been low recently due to outbreaks of COVID-19 in China over the past few weeks. 

Xiao pointed that another reason for the poor performance of Hollywood commercial blockbusters, which rely on super stars and special effects, is that they have gradually lost their appeal. 

In recent years, apart from Marvel's superhero movies, Hollywood has lacked when it comes to innovation in terms of film aesthetics, good stories and even technology. At the same time, Chinese filmmakers have been rapidly improving, using the technology they learned from Hollywood to tell Chinese stories that emotionally resonate with audiences, Xiao said. 

While it can't be said that Chinese films have "squeezed" foreign films from the market, it is true that these films' quality has been on the rise, as has the tastes of audiences in the country. This can be seen in how domestic films' share of the box office has gradually surpassed that of imported foreign films over the past five years, Shi added.

Both film observers pointed out that another main factor is that Hollywood film giants, such as Disney and Warner Bros, have changed their release strategy by focusing on their streaming platforms.

"The pandemic crisis has totally changed Hollywood. Even big-budget films such as Black Widow and the upcoming science fiction epic Dune are being released in both theaters and on streaming platforms. This has fully demonstrates their pessimistic attitude toward the theater market," Xiao said.

These streaming platforms are also producing big budget and star-studded blockbuster films of their own, while more well-known directors have begun to cooperate with them on streaming films.

The global pandemic has also stood in the way of Hollywood studios' previous production and release strategies. Hollywood movies are filmed and screened all over the world, if the pandemic continues to rage, then film production and their releases will be further affected and the number of quality films will be reduced. 

However, both critics argue that "movies are an art of dreaming. As long as Hollywood can continue to weave beautiful dreams for audiences all over the world, it will not be abandoned by them."