That the People's Republic of China has emerged as a critical market in the global box office, and could eventually overtake the U.S. as the world's No. 1 film market, isn't news to anyone in the film industry. But the spectacular "Age of Extinction" showing brings that reality into a sharper focus than ever before.
"It's a game changer," IMAX Chief Executive Greg Foster told TheWrap. "We live in a global world and this shows beyond a doubt that China is knocking on that door."
The opening for "Age of Extinction" is the biggest ever in China for a foreign film, and more than doubles the first weekend of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," and that one wound up with a $165 million total. That puts "Age of Extinction" on course for an eventual haul in excess of $200 million in China, and it will be interesting to see how that compares with its domestic take.
"The importance of China is going to increase significantly in the eyes of all major distributors," BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap. "They will be eager to mimic Paramount's accomplishment."
With openings throughout Europe and Latin America on the way, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" will be taking a run at $1 billion in worldwide grosses, and international ticket sales are likely to provide roughly 70 percent of that.
China is currently the second-biggest film market in the world and growing. The country's box-office grosses in 2013 hit $3.6 billion, and 2014 should exceed $4.5 billion. The U.S. box office, by comparison, is expanding at a significantly slower pace, hovering at $10.9 billion in 2012 and 2013, a slight increase from 2011's $10.1 billion.
It wasn't just the massive opening, but how Paramount achieved it that will resonate.
From the start, the $200 million "Age of Extinction" was envisioned as a global blockbuster, with a clear intent to score big in the People's Republic.
The studio, Di Bonaventura Productions and Hasbro brought on CCTV's China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises as co-producers. Chinese star Li Bingbing was cast in a key role and the film was shot in Hong Kong and Shanghai and features national landmarks as the Great Wall and well-known skyscrapers as its backdrops. Director Bay and star Mark Wahlberg spent a lot of time in China before and after the film's world premiere there.
"I think it's become clear that studios can't afford to make movies of this scope without planning for them to be successful worldwide, and especially in China," said Paramount's head of distribution Don Harris.
Other films, notably 'Iron Man 3,'" have catered to the Chinese market with local premieres, the casting of Chinese actors and even extra scenes shot specifically for that audience. But "Transformers" was clearly a joint effort from its Chinese and American producers from the start.
"The fact that it was done organically made all the difference in the world," said Foster.
The IMAX numbers were huge, too. The $10 million in grosses generated from a record 150 screens more than doubled the previous three-day record set by "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" last year. And 19 of the top 20 locales featured IMAX screens.
It wasn't just China that powered the massive $200 million foreign haul for "Age of Extinction," the year's biggest. It opened No. 1 in Russia ($21.7 million), Korea ($21.5 million), Australia ($10 million) and Taiwan ($8.3 million) and 33 other foreign markets.
It's worth noting that Chinese box office returns don't bring the same returns for the studios. Their share of the box office from China is typically around 25 percent, rather than the roughly 50 percent domestic split. That's because Chinese film officials know they're in a position of power, which has also resulted in limitations on how many U.S. films are allowed to enter the market, and when. And the Chinese have at times proven difficult to deal with, mainly because of their desire to grow their domestic film industry.
The practical ramifications of seeing the day when the U.S. will lose its status as the top global market will be seen over the next few years, but Foster said he didn't expect to see any attitudinal fallout from American audiences.
"I've never gone to a movie because it was made somewhere. You go because it's a good movie and you want to invest your time in it," he said. "And I think that's true all over the world."