“Iron Man 3” has made more money in China than any other U.S. production this year, grossing more than $125 million at the box office to-date. That’s almost double what “Man of Steel,” which opened to $117 million in the U.S., is on track to make.
So what was the secret?
Chris Fenton, president of the movie’s co-financier and co-producer DMG Entertainment, credited pressing the right levers with the Chinese film commission.
“‘Iron Man 3’ was as much an act of diplomacy as a movie or a piece of business,” Fenton said Friday during a keynote speech at TheWrap’s TheGrill @ Locations Show, held in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center.
DMG is one of the top companies producing movies in China, partnering with Hollywood studios and production companies to secure releases for its movies in the world’s second-biggest market.
That means consulting with Chinese officials in advance, casting Chinese actors and, in the case of “Iron Man 3,” releasing a different version of the movie in that country.
“As a conglomerate of partners, we decided let's do what’s for the best of the movie around world, but put in extra bonus footage for the Chinese to say, ‘Hey look, this stuff was great but didn’t perfectly fit into what we were trying to get in there — but it was too good not to use,'” Fenton said.
Yet Fenton emphasized there is no universal solution. Every film requires a different approach, which is where DMG’s background in advertising and marketing proved vital.
Selling the Chinese on “Twilight” required looking at the success of movies like “Titanic” and playing up the Romeo and Juliet nature of the love story. With “Resident Evil 4,” DMG pointed to the volume of pirated DVDs sold from earlier movies in the franchise.
When it came to “Looper,” director Rian Johnson‘s time travel thriller, DMG suggested a much bigger alteration, pushing Johnson and his producers to change a major part of the movie. The future was going to take place in France. DMG suggested changing that to China.
While the producers were initially wary, the suggestion paid off when they began to show tests of the movie.
“He says, ‘I’m from the future, you don’t wanna go to France you wanna go to China.’ It was great to see that test well,” Fenton said.
While most in the U.S. view the Chinese as being repressive and restrictive in limiting what movies can play — and what they say — Fenton argued there was nothing unique about China’s behavior.
“If the roles were reversed, the U.S. would be using the leverage they have,” Fenton said. “You see it every day with different trade issues — tires, chicken meat, auto parts — all kinds of little trade imbalances. They do like western movies, but they also give an edge to its own industry so it can get on solid footing."
Yet, as with everything, there are limits.
“We’re not telling Marvel to call [Captain America] Captain China.”