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Record ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Debut Is Latest Heavy Metal Hit in China

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action saga posts $27.4 million first day at Chinese box office for Paramount

The impressive $27.4 million opening in China by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator: Genisys” on Sunday reminded me of an off-the-record comment by an executive at a film company heavily invested in China a few years ago.

“Chinese moviegoers love big metal things that clank,” he said, “especially if they go fast.” I didn’t give it much thought because, unless we’re talking about the French and Jerry Lewis, broad generalizations about the tastes of an entire populace are rarely valid.

But I recalled it when Guillermo del Toro’s giant robot epic “Pacific Rim” made $100 million in China for Warner Bros. and launched a sequel after a so-so U.S. run.

And I did again last year when Aaron Paul’s “Need for Speed” took off there after tanking in the U.S. for Disney. Then “Transformers: Age of Extinction” became China’s highest-grossing film ever last year, before the hot car epic “Fast and Furious 7” overtook it this year.

That’s a lot of heavy metal doing a lot of heavy box office.

“Big effects-driven movies are, at least to Chinese audiences, what U.S. filmmakers do best,” Elliot Tong, the head of Asian sales and acquisitions for Arclight Films, told TheWrap. “For films that more reflect Chinese culture and life, it’s local films that resonate.”

The huge success in China of homegrown films like “Pancake Man” and the “E.T.”-like “Monster Hunt” this year reflects the growing strength of the Chinese film industry, and both are driven by their stories, rather than effects.

“That may someday change, if the Chinese effects houses and filmmakers catch up with the U.S. on that type of film,” Tong said, “but I don’t think it’s a high priority, since the other types of films are doing so well.”

The success in China of the $155 million “Terminator: Genisys” hits the spot for Paramount, which has two more films in the franchise planned. It was the fourth-best single-day debut by a U.S. film in China, behind “Fast 7,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Transformers 4,” the best in the “Terminator” franchise and the best for a Schwarzenegger film.

That puts the foreign total for “Terminator: Genisys,” which has managed just $111 million after more than a month in the U.S., at a worldwide haul of $335 million.