Hollywood shows confidence in Chinese film market, but will moviegoers buy in?
Published: Jan 19, 2023 10:56 AM
Promotional material of <em>Black Panther: Wakanda Forever</em> Photo: Snapshow of Sina Weibo

Promotional material of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Photo: Snapshow of Sina Weibo

Just as Chinese films are busy warming up for the upcoming Chinese New Year film season, Hollywood is also trying to ride this wave with the announcement of three superheroes films set for release in the Chinese mainland in 2023. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which was released elsewhere in the world in November 2022, will hit mainland theaters on February 7. Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, the other Marvel film, will be released on February 17, the same day the sequel touches down in the US, according to a Tuesday night post from Marvel's official Sina Weibo account.

Following the two Marvel films' announcement, DC was unable to sit still. On Wednesday, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the sequel to one of the best-received movies of the DC Extended Universe, was confirmed for release in the mainland in 2023 although a premiere date was not given.

Just as the Chinese film market has been making a comeback with the optimization of China's COVID-19 response, Hollywood has covetously turned its eyes to China, hoping to earn big from the world's second-largest movie market.

The first two films will be the first Marvel superhero movies to play in China since 2019's Avengers: Endgame, which made a staggering $632 million in the Chinese mainland, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, which brought in $198 million. 

Many Western media outlets announced the good news, applauding Marvel's "return to China." However, three years have passed, and it still remains to be seen if Chinese moviegoers still hold a strong interest in these tedious stories about Hollywood-style individual heroism.

According to an online vote launched on Sina Weibo, most Chinese netizens said that they have lost interest in Marvel films and might not watch the two new films. 

Media reports that Ant-Man and the Wasp earned over $121.2 million in the mainland in 2018 and the first Black Panther grossed $105 million that same year.

The three films will be a test for Hollywood superheroes in the Chinese mainland. If the results are not ideal, Hollywood needs to think things over: The values conveyed by Western superheroes may no longer appeal to Chinese audiences even with the temptation of flashy special effects. Avatar: The Way of Water, a big budget and eye-catching blockbuster, has not been able to pass the first film's performance in the Chinese mainland, and it is hard to imagine that a common superhero film will do better. 

As the survey on Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan shows, only a good story can really appeal to Chinese moviegoers. With the improved quality of domestic films and the competitiveness of films from other countries like India and South Korea that share some similar historical and cultural backgrounds with China, Hollywood needs to create better stories that fit the tastes of Chinese audiences. If Hollywood would have an equal dialogue with Chinese culture, we would welcome this kind of cultural exchange.