Movies & TV

How China Is Saving the World (in Movies)

The country may be controversial in real life, but it’s gold on the silver screen.
IMAGE 20th Century Fox

It seems that one of the perks of being a superpower is to have Hollywood scrambling to make movies that feature you as the hero. All of a sudden, there’s an abundance of Tinseltown blockbusters portraying China—or, at the very least, a Chinese character or two—as the savior of the world.

Or maybe it's less politics and more economics at play here. "Over the past decade, the number of tickets sold annu­ally in the U.S. and Canada has sunk by 80 million," reports Michal Lev-Ram in his Fortune magazine article "Can China Save Hollywood?"

Lev-Ram went on to assert: "However, there is a silver lining to Hollywood’s dilemma—China. Unlike their American counterparts, Chinese consumers are flocking to the theaters. And China is building them out faster than they can fill them with movies. The result is a rich opportunity for U.S. film­makers who have long been aching to turn China's nearly 1.4 billion people on to its roster of recycled franchises."

China, though, imposes a limit on the number of foreign movies it can show in its theaters. So, in a bid to increase a film’s chances of being selected for a China release, some Hollywood producers have made sure that their movies have a Chinese element. Here are some of those films. We picked those that clearly portrayed China as the world’s savior.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Arguably, China's panda is the most adorable creature in the world. So, what better way to portray China than as a powerful-yet-friendly superpower than to create a quirky panda who saves the world? The movie has the distinction of being the first ever animated film to make more than 100 million Yuan in China. The movie, though, had an unforeseen complication. It reportedly made so many Chinese movie insiders feel sad about the fact that a film that highlighted everything that was good about China was actually created in America. Kung Fu Panda sequels naturally followed.


2012 (2009)

There was a time when people believed the world would end in 2012—all because the ancient Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar supposedly tagged December 21 of that year as the end of the 5,126-year-long cycle. In the movie—which starred John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, and so many others—the Earth faces the prospect of another Great Flood. China ends up building the arks that ensure the survival of a select group of people. That's why it's no surprise that outside North America, the film earned the most—$68.7 million, to be exact—in China.

Gravity (2013)

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) was pretty much resigned to floating around in space until she died. Fortunately, she found a way back to earth when she used the equipment of a Chinese space station. Patrick Brzeski of The Hollywood Reporter revealed that several top members of China's space program gave the film "an enthusiastic thumbs-up." Zhang Bonan, chief designer of China's spaceship program, was quoted as saying, "I am glad a foreign film portrays China's space program. It is a good promotion for us." Of course, the movie got the now-coveted China release and ended up earning $71.2 million there.


Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

It’s ironic how a number of geeks have accused China of being the “main source of the world's Transformers toys knockoffs.” If that’s true, then, perhaps, China has been forgiven?

As Hannah Beech pointed out in her TIME article: "The sci-fi action franchise showed the Chinese Communist Party standing up to invading robots while American authorities floundered. (To be fair, renegade Texans still rescued the human race.)" The movie reportedly broke Chinese box-office records in 2014 with $320 million in revenues, more than what the film made in North America.

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The Martian (2015)

American botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a team of astronauts exploring Mars. He later gets accidentally left behind on the planet. In order to get bring him back to Earth alive, the Americans had to rely on the kindness and technology of the China National Space Administration. The film did very well in China, raking in $50.1 million when it opened. Variety's Brent Lang noted: "[This movie demonstrates] that it pays to have the world's second-largest film market play a key role in a picture's plot."

Arrival (2016)

When extraterrestrial spacecraft appear on Earth, people automatically assume that it's an alien invasion. China takes the lead in defending the world. However, when linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) makes a plea to China's General Shang (Tzi Ma) to rethink attacking the alien spacecraft, China listens and, thus, saves the world from a whole lot of needless destruction.

The Great Wall (2016)

Starring Matt Damon and Andy Lau, the movie sort of rewrites Chinese history. In this case, the Great Wall Of China serves as the barrier between hordes of alien monsters and the rest of the world. The story reveals that a secret society of Chinese warriors have been fighting off the attempted invasion of the otherworldly creatures, who supposedly act up every 60 years.

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