Academy Awards: Hollywood’s biggest movies compete for release in China

World Today

A Chinese moviegoer walks into the Wanda Cinema at the Wanda Group building in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Wanda Group announced Tuesday it is buying Hollywood’s Legendary Entertainment, the maker of films such as “Batman,” for $3.5 billion in the first Chinese acquisition of a major U.S. film company. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Hollywood’s biggest stars will hit the red carpet for the 90th Academy Awards this Sunday. The year’s most talked about films will compete to take home Oscars in a variety of categories, but , there’s another big prize these movies fight for.

If swearing offends you, you might want to miss Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The favorite for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars is packed with expletives.

It is also on its way to China.

“Those kinds of movies are getting through for the first time, and it’s really encouraging and amazing,” according to Max Michael of United Talent Agency.

The Chinese movie market is a valuable money maker for Hollywood, and is apparently opening up more and more to foreign films. Film executives have wanted this for a long time; China is set to become the world’s biggest movie market in the next year or so.

But there’s been a bottleneck: loads of people with cash to spend on tickets, but also a strict government quota on how many foreign language films were allowed in.

For several years that number was capped at 34, then expanded to 38 in 2016. It is now apparently expanding again, with what appears to be a more relaxed attitude from officials.

A movie like Three Billboards getting through takes many by surprise.

“China’s built hundreds, if not thousands, of screens in recent years, and they definitely need movies,” Matt Pressberg, a Hollywood-China reporter for The Information said. “They need supplies to fill the theaters, and censors have shown some signs of bending on some of the stricter rules that they’ve had before.”

For example, Disney Pixar’s Coco  – a movie heavily focusing on the supernatural – made it in last year, despite the topic being traditionally taboo.

Most often though, its action movies that tend to make their way into China. Last year’s The Fate of the Furious – the eighth installment in the Fast and the Furious series – broke records by taking in more than $380 million. The franchise has done incredibly well in China overall.

But signs are emerging that the Chinese audience is becoming more discerning.

“It’s a new trend towards adult, mature movies,” Max Michael said. “The indie movie audience never really existed there before, but there’s been a new crop of independently minded theaters in China, and an interest in these types of films for the first time in a while.”

Hollywood, however, isn’t the only entertainment hub with its eye on China. The country’s quota is split across foreign films, meaning Western studios have big competition.

Bollywood has provided the top grossing foreign movie of the year in China so far. Zee Studio’s Secret Superstar has grossed more than $92 million.

Compare this to the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, which earned around $42 million at Chinese box offices, and it’s clear that some movies will need more than a little help from the force to find a place among Chinese eyes.

Some producers and directors are beginning to keep the Chinese market in mind when making their films.

“You’re not going to see a Chinese villain in a lot of Hollywood movies, you’re probably not going to see a lot of sensitive political themes,” Pressberg explained. “You’re going to see something that really appeals to a broad, ideological audience.”

Which may include all manner of profanities. Not to everybody’s taste, for sure, but the makers of Three Billboards are quite literally banking on a Chinese audience not minding.

Teng Jimeng discusses the tastes of moviegoers in China

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