China recently set release dates for two summer films – Universal’s Jurassic World Dominion on June 10 and big local-language production Mozart From Space (by the director of the Detective Chinatown series) on July 15. That’s good news for the giant market’s reopening, said Imax CEO Rich Gelfond. But he doesn’t expect heightened scrutiny of Hollywood fare to subside anytime soon despite the Jurassic news. China has declined to date many high-profile U.S. films with recent Marvel omissions perhaps the most glaring.
At a media conference Q&A Wendesday, Gelfond called 2021 “a really funky year” for U.S. films in China. The exec is especially interested on that market given his company’s significant exposure there.
First, “the Chinese had their own backlog of unreleased films so there weren’t going to let in a lot of Marvel films and other films,” he said. Also, there was a “large, failed PVOD experience, where pristine copies went day-and-date globally.”
“China is a high-piracy territory and people were not buying them on PVOD, they were getting them for free from torrent sites. So the Chinese government said, ‘Are we going to let these movies in when they are not going to do any business theatrically?’ ” By now, studios seem generally to have settled for a 45-day theatrical window for blockbusters, he noted.
“This year, they’ve let The Batman in. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Ambulance. Jurassic World, Mozart and a number of others local films have been dated,” he said. That said, there are “broader global issues between the U.S. and China” and that means U.S. films “are subject to broader scrutiny.” Meanwhile, “the studios are under pressure not to be too accommodating, because there has been backlash – [as in] ‘Are they making the film for China, or for the world?’ So there will be less of those kind of movies let in.”
At Imax China, “If there are gaps in the schedule, we fill them very nicely with local language, which suits the market dynamic” — toward local-language films, away from Hollywood.
Stateside, Gelfond was upbeat — of course today he would be. An Imax screening of Top Gun: Maverick at NYC’s AMC Lincoln Square sold out last night with $30 tickets ahead of an expected blowout opening for the Tom Cruise mega-movie.
Imax is also looking banking on what Gelfond called “the Avatar effect” with the James Cameron sequel Avatar: The Way of Water late this year. The success of the first film in large format singlehandedly jump-started a major Imax expansion. “I would be very surprised if there wasn’t an Avatar effect again,” he said.
Gelfond revealed last month the company had set up an internal task force solely dedicated to capitalizing on the Avatar release.