How strong the August box office looks depends on which side of the Pacific Ocean you’re on.
In the U.S., ticket sales are down 35 percent from August 2015, and the May-August summer season is down 14 percent, according to ComScore. But in China, the patriotic “Wolf Warrior 2” is giving the box office a record-breaking boost.
With $772 million, the “Rambo”-like action film about a Chinese soldier has made more money in China than “Avatar” — history’s highest-grossing film — made in the U.S.
In fact, the only movie that has made more in a single market is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which made $936 million in the U.S. in 2015-16.
The appeal of “Wolf Warrior 2” has been its ability to provide something Chinese audiences have never had before: a flag-waving action hero. It is a movie made by China, for China, and is unlikely to play as well in any other country.
Should the U.S. follow suit? Can Trump’s America make box office great again by embracing the proudly pro-America films of the Reagan era once again?
Unfortunately for the U.S. box office, probably not.
“Wolf Warrior 2” hit theaters during a time period in which China bans foreign films to allow local ones to flourish. That practice does not exist in the democratic, capitalist United States.
China also has a hunger for Chinese-produced films that doesn’t exist in the saturated U.S. market, which has had home-grown films for more than a century.
“Hollywood films had actually been performing stronger than most domestic films [in China] this year so I think it was more of a case of pent-up demand for a high-quality local film than anything else,” Jonathan Papish, a box office analyst for China Film Insider, told TheWrap.
Additionally, box office analysts say the U.S. has probably already pushed the pro-America genre as far as it can go. American studios have made patriotic, action-packed flicks for as long as Hollywood has existed: from “Patton” to “Red Dawn” to “American Sniper” — which was the highest-grossing domestic grossing film of 2014 with $350 million.
There just isn’t as much room to grow as there was in China, where pro-China action movies are still a novelty.
Hollywood thinks it has the most room for growth in — wait for it — countries like China. Films like the “Avengers,” “Star Wars” and “Fast and the Furious” franchises aim for crossover appeal to international audiences. The films aim for a universal appeal that will play from St. Louis to Shanghai.
It worked for “The Fate of the Furious,” which pulled in $392 million in China, the most of any Hollywood import. But it can’t work for every film, since the Chinese government restricts the number of American imports to 34 films this year.
It worked out differently for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” a disappointment domestically that nonetheless scored $172 million in China — better than any other “Pirates” film.
Now it’s the United States’ turn to try again to crack the Great Wall. The domestic hit “Spider-Man: Homecoming” premieres ion China Sept. 8 — but whether it will feel like a homecoming remains to be seen.