10 Reasons Why ‘Warcraft’ Opened Six Times Bigger in China Than in the U.S.

Courtesy of Universal

Fantasy video game adaptation “Warcraft” tore up several chapters of the record books in China as it debuted with a stellar opening weekend of $156 million in the Middle Kingdom.

The mega-wide release last Wednesday – on 67% of China’s 39,000 screens – was the culmination of an unprecedented combination of marketing, corporate investment and ‘big data.’

In its opening five-day frame in China, the Legendary Entertainment picture earned some six times more than the $24.5 million it grossed in North America, where the film was dogged by poor reviews.

Put in a current Chinese context, the five-day weekend score makes “Warcraft” the sixth biggest film of the year, bigger than the complete run of “Kung Fu Panda 3” ($154 million) or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which earned $124 million in January.

If it were still necessary, “Warcraft” served up another reminder that the movie industry is now a global business and that international theatrical is the driver that ten years ago was the privilege of the North American ‘domestic’ industry. International performances are less shaped by U.S. scores, reviews and world views.

The stellar score also went some way towards justifying Legendary founder Thomas Tull’s ten-year fixation on China. And the company’s $3.5 billion acquisition earlier this year by China’s Dalian Wanda.

1) The film had long ago been tipped to be successful in China where Blizzard Entertainment’s underlying “World of Warcraft” video game had been especially popular. But the massive opening proved that the film connected with audiences far beyond the core gamers, estimated at a million players, and fanboys.

2) Instead it was the culmination of some very long term planning by Legendary and its wholly-owned China subsidiary Legendary East. In late 2014 the company calculated that the movie had huge potential in China, but that could only be fully unlocked with the help of significant local partners.

3) Legendary opened up the equity of the $160 million budget film to four Chinese firms. Logically, these included China Film Group, the state-owned film conglomerate with which Legendary already had a distribution relationship. It also included: social media giant Tencent, making it one of its first real forays into movie investment; distributor Taihe, for its marketing input, and Huayi Brothers Media, as a solid private sector studio.

4) With the production rolling and the equity partners on boards, it assembled an unprecedented roster of 26 brands as sponsors. These included computer maker Lenovo, chip maker Intel, car maker Jeep, insurer Ping An, and brewer Tsingtao. Where Chinese p&a spend is small beer compared with North American TV-heavy marketing budgets, the sponsor team is estimated to have contributed $20 million of support. They needed nerves of steel, as imported films rarely get long advanced notice of their release dates from the film industry regulator.

5) In the end “Warcraft” obtained a release date in the same week as its North American and international rollouts. It was a time that usefully included China’s Dragon Boat public holiday. But the slot was not perfect as, for arcane reasons, Sunday was deemed a normal working day, cutting the ‘weekend’ from five days to four. And several other Hollywood movies are competing for Chinese eyeballs, before the beginning of the summer ‘blackout period.’

6) Legendary’s in-house marketing teams in London and Beijing went to town on localization of promotional material for the Chinese market. With online far higher in the media ranking than for a promotional campaign in the U.S., Chinese film distributors typically use far more trailers than their stateside counterparts. Legendary cut several dozen pieces of China-specific footage.

7) They were supported by the company’s data analysis division, which Tull has on occasion referred to as “his baby.” Significantly, such a unit is right at home in China, where producers and distributors are obsessed with ‘big data’ and where Internet giants are the power houses of the film industry. Such research pays dividends in a country where theatrical cinema is only now reaching smaller towns and where audience tastes are evolving rapidly. Though its core fan-base is understood to be in the biggest metropolises, “Warcraft” opened well in the ‘Tier 3’ and ‘Tier 4’ cities, which are generally younger than in the biggest agglomerations, and more likely to favor Chinese films over Western content.

8) Merchandising was contracted out to Mtime, a popular film information portal whose marketing division can be hired for bespoke promotional services. It is understood to have done volumes of sales akin to its entire Marvel business.

9) At much the same time as Wanda’s courtship of Legendary became serious at the end of 2015, so Wanda committed its market-leading Wanda Cinema Line exhibition circuit to supporting the title. Co-operation ranged from more tailored video content to run in foyers and ticketing platforms, through to seat covers allowing audiences to choose sides and reflect the dichotomy at the heart of the movie’s story.

10) Marketing strategy meetings are understood to have involved up to 40 people at a time, mostly third parties, and including distributors, brands, data analysts, social media partners, and corporate backers. The company is understood to have referred to the array as a ‘studio of the future,’ or ‘studio 2.0’ that is light on fixed assets, fixed on a high concept product and backed by substantial financial firepower.

The track record of most Hollywood films in China this year this year has been to open strongly, then drop equally fast. So it remains to be seen whether the China results for “Warcraft” have built a movie with legs strong enough that they can hold up a multi-title franchise. But the odds of a sequel have certainly been shortened.

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  1. Berke Zane says:

    Maybe because China rules the net with an Iron Fist and squeezes those dollars back to Papa Mao? No. It’s the elaborate strategy, that includes the Iron fist. Headline is a joke. Actor’s need to learn Mandarin I guess.

  2. I. C. Green-FIelds says:

    Wow! If this domestic dude can do $300 million overseas, mostly from the generosity of the Chinese, Imagen what TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES : OUT OF THE SHADOWS will do when it takes over Chinese multiplexes in July.

  3. LaurieTHayes says:

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  4. Rex says:

    11) All involved made sure nothing in the film would run afoul of the communist government and its censorship bureau. After all, they LOVE fantasy movies that placate the masses and are set in realms that don’t really exist. Keep ’em dazzled with western sparkle, China! They won’t ask questions that way.

  5. Christine says:

    I, a forty-something mom, went to see Warcraft this weekend with two twenty something young men and a thirteen-year-old girl. We all LOVED this film. I do not listen to the critics. Most have terrible taste and seem to either be on someone’s payroll or in competition with each other. Do yourself a favor; open yourself to just enjoy films as they are meant to be enjoyed. This film is exciting and colorful. The characters are true to their game origins but are easily followed by non-gamers. Thank you, Legendary Films and everyone involved in this production.

    • Berke Zane says:

      Odd group of theater goers there Christine. Is that the new millennial family covering the wide demographic. Also seems that the studio might be employing commenters to cover their bases. I went to see Zootopia with a black 6-year old, a Hispanic 10-year old, a white teen, my geriatric husband and a group of little people of mixed race. We all loved it.

    • Rex says:

      OH shut UP with this “critics on the payroll” bullshit every time they disagree with your love for big sparkly blockbusters. Does that mean everyone ELSE who dislikes the film is automatically being paid to feel that way? Boy, you conspiracy theorists can so easily Bond-like villains just throwing around billions of dollars telling people how the should feel about every big Hollywood blockbuster that comes down the pike. Get real, dimwit. You liked it. So did others. And yet others didn’t like it or th out it was just ok. Really, MOVE ON.

      • Jedi77 says:

        Thank God someone finally said that! I am so sick and tired of this “haters gonna hate” “critics are idiots” bullsh**.

  6. Jpe says:

    American audiences are more into cgi kiddie stuff.
    This will once again be proven when Finding Dory is released

    • Berke Zane says:

      Yes yes. I love the elaborate costumes and the advanced use of miniatures. The stunts are so amazing I can’t believe people can actual do that stuff. And the acting. Shoo-ins come February.

    • Jedi77 says:

      Right, cuz’ “Warcraft” is a non-cgi film made for adults?
      Keep dreaming Jpe, and maybe some day you can move outta your moms basement.

    • Mark says:

      Yes, into mature, well made films like Finding Dory. Not kiddie cgi junk like warcraft.

      • Jd Bond says:

        “Yes, into mature, Finding Dory”

        “kiddie cgi junk like warcraft.”

        Well we all know people and stupidity go hand in hand..Exhibit A, Mark!

  7. Terry Frost says:

    Maybe it was of the film critics who gave it a bad review and never saw the movie.

  8. dhal says:

    Also doesn’t hurt that our crappiest CGI-laden movies are 10x better than any “big budget” movie put out in asia. What the typical US movie goer would consider a crappy movie that just looks good visually but sucks for story and acting…. the audiences in countries that have film industries incapable of making such films are in amazement of the films… where we’re just like “meh… it was alright”.

    • Jd Bond says:

      Some of the comments are quite funny, to be honest.

      One guy claimed America has refined taste. As in SWFA, Civil war, etc. Movies with mediocre to downright convoluted plots, cheesy lines and heavy dose of “super heroes” in spandex, ready to save the world or universe in one case.

      But best part was this: “quality film in favor of crap like Warcraft aimed to brainless audiences.”

      Notice the use of word brainless? One thing that pissed off everyone was how Warcraft didn’t bother to explain everything to…”brainless audience”. You actually had to pay attention. There was no hand holding and spelling out everything just so that …brainless people might get confused!

      It’s okay. We will get more quality movies like a lost fish or a hero’s quest to save a galaxy far far away..or worse, another Avatar. Maybe a guy or two in spandex in between?

    • EricJ says:

      I remember watching the trailer for “San Andreas”, which was as studio-cliche’ CGI-whoring as you could get (“This is SO 2012, and I mean the movie, not the year”), and thinking “I’ll bet this cleans up overseas.”

      In the same way you watch a gratingly weird/unfunny comic and think “I’ll bet he’s really popular in France.”

      • Jd Bond says:

        Except French actually make good movies. Movies with actual stories. Not some guy in tights saving the world, one movie at a time. Just goes to show how little you know about anything.

  9. Ben says:

    They love stinker movies over there, and that is not a good thing for the rest of us.
    And lets not forget the studio gets only 25% of that take in the market.

  10. They wanted the free account to farm Gold, and bot.

  11. Jason Duane says:

    I am watching the China version…subtitles…but the movie isn’t that good anyway.

  12. EricJ says:

    13) (Assuming the earlier posted “They have less taste” as #12) Foreign countries love big splashy movies that do big shiny expensive CGI things that don’t take place in any real-world nationalistically-identifiable location. (And with less dialogue to require as much English dubbing or subtitles.)
    If they don’t take place in any real-world nationalistically-identifiable WESTERN location, governments like them too, and every country can pretend they made the movie themselves.

  13. lkjflkasjd says:

    Did they make all the gold farmers go?

  14. Joe says:

    11) China FAKES their numbers. It’s a government approved film. I’d be surprised if the real numbers were even half of that.

    • Edward says:

      Normally I would ignore the ignorant comment like yours. But instead I want to reply to you this time. Faking numbers? Based on what prove? Sure the numbers could be inaccurate, but so are all the numbers in the US and other countries. My job is to work with numbers in Hollywood and all I can tell you is that numbers are for manipulation. Also, all my Chinese friends in China told me how booked all the theaters were for Warcraft. All the Warcraft game fans have been waiting for the movie for years. Some even went to see the movie for several times. Now, is the movie that good to deserve this high box office? It’s a different story. But my point is, don’t be a brainless troll when you comment. It only makes you sound bitter.

    • herrumph says:

      You’re an idiot because if they inflate their numbers. they would have to pay more to Hollywood. The fact is this is a case where Americans can’t stand if they’re not number one in everything. That’s why you’re angry.

  15. Kay says:

    So basically China is giving the studios the perfect excuse to ditch quality film in favor of crap like Warcraft aimed to brainless audiences. Perfect, let’s celebrate the beginning of the end. I’m so disappointed Jones is a part of this money centered mess.

    • john says:

      What did you think of the movie? Your highly functional brain must’ve caught stuff I missed and I thought Warcraft did exactly what it was supposed to do, entertain. I’d love to hear your opinion of the movie.

    • EricJ says:

      So, China has their own “March Geek-Week” during the boat festivals too? Well, that’s when we get most of OUR brainless overbudgeted CGI actioners. We should have sent them the Alice movie at that same time, and seen what happened.

  16. therealeverton says:

    Their media may not have been hoping for it to fail for months so they could use the outdated term “BOMB” as much as possible.

  17. Oh yeah that's right China is a communist country with prison work camps LAOGAI says:

    Reason #11 – The film sucks, but the Chinese have less discriminating taste.

  18. John says:

    I would say #5 is the biggest reason, I called my friend in China over the weekend, and he said everyone was out on a four day extended holiday – the Dragon Boat Festival is the equivalent of Memorial Day Weekend in the US. Give credit to Legendary Pictures able to identify and take advantage of this Chinese holiday weekend, where as other major studios not accustomed to Chinese culture may have overlooked and underestimated the Dragon Boat Festival Holiday. In China literally every major shopping center/department stores have multiplex cinema. Unlike the US where there is restrictions on showing the same film in the same block, in China, there could be two different multiplex chains built next to each other showing the same film. So most Hollywood movies are released in oversaturated screens during its initial weekend.

    • Alex says:

      It’s not that studios are unaware of the holidays, it’s that films without such significant financial interest from Chinese backers face a Summer blackout, crowding all foreign entries into fewer, less attractive release dates…

    • bob says:

      what I want to know is. did millions of previous wow suscribers resub their accounts? im sure that’s what blizzard was also hoping for. I used to sub my acct 1month every 6 months but haven’t done it in over 2 years. bored with it I guess

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