To be directed later this year by action adventure maestro Roland Emmerich, the project was one of the hottest properties when first offered to buyers last year during Cannes. But completing the Chinese deal has been a galactic journey.
“Moonfall” centers on a mysterious force knocking the moon from its orbit around Earth, which sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. In response, a ragtag team launches an impossible last-ditch mission into space to land on the lunar surface and save Earth from annihilation. The cast is not yet set.
With a 2012 spec script penned by Emmerich, Harald Kloser and Spencer Cohen, the movie was originally set up at Universal. But the studio later put it into turnaround, prompting the filmmakers to independently piece together funding for the film’s reportedly $150 million budget.
The rights sales and financing are handled by Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios and CAA Media Finance. With Emmerich’s track record in the genre including “Independence Day,” “2012” and “Stargate,” they were quickly able to secure deals in major territories including Latin America and Germany.
In November Lionsgate confirmed that it had bought rights in North America, a renewal of the partnership which saw Emmerich’s World War II epic “Midway” amass a $57.6 million haul in the fall of 2019. At the time, the companies reported that “Moonfall” will shoot this year and be released in 2021. No China release date has been announced, but sources said that it would likely be kept as close as possible to the North American outing.
But, with any large-scale indie film project, the Chinese component is potentially one of the largest and most complicated. That is due to rights issues, potential import and censorship matters, and the problem that Chinese companies have in shifting large amounts of capital outside national borders. Huayi’s distribution rights component only covers mainland China, and leaves aside Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
The deal, however, is an unlikely success for Huayi. Emmerich has significant ties to another Chinese studio and, for the past two years Huayi has been dogged by widely-documented financial difficulties. These relate in part to Huayi’s role in the controversial Fan Bingbing film “Cellphone 2,” and to the government-mandated cancellation of the release of Huayi’s $80 million war film “The Eight Hundred.”
Emmerich’s “Midway” performed only weakly in China, grossing $42 million from a mid-November release. That was a disappointment to the pair of Chinese finance companies that put up a substantial portion of the equity component of its $100 million budget.
But the sci-fi genre is enduringly popular in China, due to both specific imported titles and the success of local films. Chinese-made “The Wandering Earth” was released in February last year and now stands third on the all-comers box office list in China with a $669 million haul.
Several prominent Hollywood space-themed films including “2012,” Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” has included significant Chinese plot lines or characters. It is currently unclear whether “Moonfall” has sufficient Chinese elements to give it that fillip or even to make the film a China co-production.
Huayi’s deal is not tied to the specific inclusion of Chinese story elements or the casting of Chinese stars. Such decisions are likely to depend on Emmerich’s final draft of the screenplay.
Emmerich has significant film-making ties to China. Huayi’s arch rival Bona Film Group was the distributor of “Midway” and co-financier of Emmerich’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” through a deal with TSG and 20th Century Fox. The director was a guest of honor at Bona’s anniversary jamboree in Shanghai in June last year.