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Hollywood Blockbusters That Bombed In China

The term "blockbuster" first appeared in Time magazine in 1942, referring to Allied bombs so powerful they literally "busted" entire city blocks. By the 1950s "box office blockbuster" referred to hit movies that were massive commercial successes — at least in America. But given the ever-increasing importance of the international box office, succeeding in America only tells a part of the story. In fact, there are many blockbuster Hollywood movies that have bombed overseas. This matters especially when they bomb in the world's second-biggest movie market: China. 

China's total box office was predicted to surpass the United States in 2020, and though that now appears unlikely, make no mistake: It will happen eventually. And when it comes to movies, China and the United States don't always see eye to eye. For example, the biggest hit movie worldwide in 2019 was Avengers: Endgame, which earned $858 million domestically and $2.79 billion worldwide. It was huge in China too, earning $614 million, but was only the third-biggest hit of 2019 there, earning significantly less than Ne Zha's $719 million and The Wandering Earth's $690 million — movies most American filmgoers probably haven't even heard of. Surprised? We were too. But Avengers: Endgame was, at least, still a hit in China — just wait until you see the major Hollywood movies that weren't. Here are the Hollywood blockbusters that bombed in China.

The Dark Knight Rises falls in China

The Dark Knight broke all manner of records in 2008, becoming the first movie to break $500 million at the North American box office in the 11 years since Titanic. However, while its worldwide haul was still impressive — $1 billion on a $185 million budget — it was only 46.7% of its total take. China is why. In 2008, the Chinese box office wasn't what it would become, and Warner Brothers decided not to release The Dark Knight there anyway, due to all of the pre-release conditions it would have had to meet. So when the third and final film in the saga, The Dark Knight Rises, arrived in 2012, it was unknown how well it would be received in China. 

So how did Batman do? Not as well. While The Dark Knight Rises opened to $160 million in North America, earning $450 million domestically and $1.08 billion worldwide, a minor $52 million of that came from China. The Bat's denouement wasn't a total dumpster fire, but given The Dark Knight Rises' massive $250 million budget, it had to be disappointing that it finished number nine for 2012 in China, just a few million dollars more than Battleship's $48 million.

The Hunger Games left Chinese moviegoers unsatisfied

The Hunger Games put small studio Lionsgate on the map, delivering the kind of blockbuster grosses typically seen from major movie studios like Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal. Lionsgate knew they'd lucked out in securing the rights to Suzanne Collins' wildly popular book series, and gave the film an ambitious $78 million budget to match. The investment paid off, as The Hunger Games opened to almost twice its budget, $152 million, closing its domestic run in 2012 with $408 million in the bank — in addition to making a movie star out of Jennifer Lawrence. Overseas the movie made $286 million, raising its global take to $696 million worldwide. 

Given China's strict censorship of violence, this story of teenagers fighting to the death on a televised game show in a post-apocalyptic world seemed like it would be a stretch to get past Chinese censors. Turns out it didn't do well enough to really matter anyway. The Hunger Games made only $27 million in China, its third-best international territory behind the United Kingdom's $37 million and Australia's $32 million, but not anywhere near the top 10 in China for 2012. The highest-grossing western film that year in China was actually a re-release of Titanic, which sailed away to $145 million, showing Chinese audiences preferred old-fashioned romance to post-apocalyptic mayhem.

There was no place like home for Oz The Great and Powerful

The Wizard of Oz is the rare film that has managed to stand the test of time. How many other movies from the 1930s can modern audiences even remember, let alone quote, sing-along to, and continue to be entertained by? So Disney was feeling pretty confident when they cut a check for $215 million to produce a prequel to the then 74-year old film: Oz The Great and Powerful. The fact that Oz The Great and Powerful was directed by Sam Raimi of Spider-Man fame, and was coming out three years after Tim Burton's similarly themed Alice In Wonderland shocked the world by making $1 billion at the worldwide box office certainly provided a confidence boost. 

The story of a failed Kansas magician who is transported to the magical land of Oz managed a boffo $79 million opening and closed just a bit ahead of its budget at $234 million. Disney was hoping international grosses would take Oz over the hump and they did, but not nearly to the extent of Alice In Wonderland. Oz made $258 million overseas, $493 million worldwide, with only $25 million coming from China. Clearly China had no connection to the seven-decade old franchise and Oz The Great and Powerful's reception reflected that apathy. When it comes to the Wizard of Oz franchise, there really is no place like home.

YA is DOA in China

Based on James Dashner's 2009 novel of the same name, The Maze Runner is about a young man named Thomas who is transported to a mysterious land with other young people whose memories have all been erased. The young people soon learn that they have been captured and trapped in a giant maze, and that they must join forces with other "runners" for a chance at escape. Fox hoped they had the next The Hunger Games on their hands, but wanted to be conservative and made The Maze Runner on a modest $34 million budget, which the movie made back in its opening weekend. The Maze Runner had pretty long legs too, running its way to a $102 million domestic gross in the fall of 2014. 

Its international take was also impressive, as it earned $245 million internationally and $348 million worldwide. So the movie made back ten times its budget, which certainly made execs happy — thought they were no doubt disappointed when the box office results came in from China. The Maze Runner only made $23 million in China, more than any other territory sans $24 million from France, but still a far cry from what they were hoping, given the size of the Chinese market. The Maze Runner's modest sum didn't even crack the top 50 in China for 2014, so clearly YA is DOA in China.

China turns Pixar Inside Out

Pixar has a problem in China, which is strange, considering the animation studio is as close to a sure thing at the worldwide box office as you can get. Across 24 films, Pixar has made $6.074 billion at the domestic box office and $14.5 billion worldwide, delivering an average gross of $264 million per film stateside and $630.9 million globally. Put simply, the entire world loves Pixar...except for China. That probably makes the studio emotional, which is appropriate, considering one of its biggest non-sequel hits, Inside Out, is all about emotions. 

Released in 2015 on a $175 million budget (a figure that would surely induce stress in any other studio), Inside Out made $356 million domestically and $857 million worldwide. It was huge in Europe, topped by its $59 million gross in the United Kingdom, as well as Asia, earning $33 million in South Korea and $32 million in Japan — which isn't surprising, as the land of the rising sun has been one of the most reliable foreign territories for Disney animation. But while those were some of its most successful non-North American markets, Inside Out pretty much made money around the world ... except for China, the second biggest movie market. Inside Out only managed $15 million in China, about 1.7% of its total worldwide gross. In fact, it didn't even crack the top 75 for 2015 in China and made even less than mega-bomb Pixels.

The Greatest Showman was the biggest flop under the big top

P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said "there's a sucker born every minute," but that's not the case for Chinese moviegoers. Released in 2017, The Greatest Showman is a fanciful musical hagiography of Barnum & Bailey circus founder P.T. Barnum, starring two of the most bankable draws in the musical genre: Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. Despite that pedigree, critics weren't impressed. When it opened to just $8.8 million on a $84 million budget, it looked like The Greatest Showman was destined to be the biggest flop under the big top. But then something funny happened — thanks to strong word-of-mouth and repeat viewings, The Greatest Showman proved to be even leggier than Titanic, and the musical biography danced its way to $174 million domestic and $434 million worldwide. 

The Greatest Showman was also a massive hit in the United Kingdom ($64 million) and Japan ($48 million), but the rags-to-riches story of an all-American icon failed to resonate with Chinese moviegoers. The Greatest Showman only earned $15.9 million in China when it was released in 2018, landing at number 80 for the year, just behind the global catastrophe that was The Nutcracker & The Four Realms. While it may have been the greatest show on Earth, in the world's second-biggest movie market, The Greatest Showman ended up playing the sad clown.

The Force was weak with The Last Jedi

Star Wars is the OG super-franchise, earning $5 billion domestically and $10.3 billion worldwide across 12 films, delivering an average gross of $423 million domestic and $860 million worldwide. That's nuts, and doesn't even include the number of tickets sold, with the original Star Wars selling the second-highest number of tickets ever, an estimated 178.5 million. While Star Wars is one of the highest-grossing series in the galaxy, however, it was an unknown commodity in China. Disney hoped to change that in 2015 with franchise relaunch Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thanks to an aggressive marketing push, it looked like Disney would succeed when The Force Awakens opened to $53 million in China. Alas, it plummeted 72% in its second weekend, ultimately making a respectable, if mediocre, $124 million of its $2 billion global take in China. Not bad, but modest given the size of the Chinese market. Disney hoped to improve upon those numbers with 2018's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That didn't happen. With its $1.3 billion global haul, The Last Jedi made about 35% less than The Force Awakens, but bombed in China, earning $42.5 million, dropping 66% from The Force Awakens and landing #47 for 2018. Legendary loser Solo: A Star Wars Story soon followed with a terrible $16 million in China, cementing Star Wars' complete and utter failure to connect with Chinese moviegoers.

The Hitman's Bodyguard was not a hit in China

The Hitman's Bodyguard paired two of the world's most bankable action-comedy stars, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson — but its terrible Chinese box office was no laughing matter. In the film, the world's top bodyguard must protect a hitman who is testifying at the International Criminal Court. While critics weren't impressed with The Hitman's Bodyguard, North American moviegoers had a good time, as it opened to $21 million and ultimately took home $75 million domestically on a tight $30 million budget. Impressive numbers for a star vehicle not based on a popular IP. It did pretty well internationally too, earning $105 million overseas for a worldwide total of $180 million. 

But despite being big fans of action, Chinese audiences didn't care for The Hitman's Bodyguard, which only earned $21 million, ranking just 73rd on 2017's highest-grossing films in China. What gives? While he is a huge star in America, Reynolds is less well-known in China. His biggest hit — Deadpoolwasn't even released in China, as its violence and coarse content were not deemed suitable for general audiences. Despite receiving a PG-13 cut, and Reynolds even skipping arm surgery to promote the movie in the Middle Kingdom, Once Upon a Deadpool bombed hard there too. With its big star having a Chinese box office track record like that, The Hitman's Bodyguard didn't stand a chance in China.

Bohemian Rhapsody bites the dust in China

20th Century Fox knew the story of legendary rock band Queen and its famous frontman Freddie Mercury would be big, which is why they spent $52 million on a biopic of the band. They just had no idea how big it would be. Released in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody earned back its budget in just three days, opening to $51 million in North America (after opening first in the UK), and ultimately finishing its domestic run with $216 million. It was an even bigger hit overseas, earning $687 internationally, including $69 million in Queen's native United Kingdom, and an incredible $115 million in Japan. In total, Bohemian Rhapsody made $903 million worldwide, a blockbuster number that landed the film in the top 10 worldwide for 2018.

Bohemian Rhapsody was singing "We Are The Champions" around the world — except for the world's second-biggest movie market, China. Despite bowing to Chinese censors and removing two minutes of LGBT content from the film for Chinese test audiences, including scenes of two men kissing and even the word "gay," the story of Queen failed to connect in China, where it earned a mere $13 million, just 1.4% of its worldwide total. Bohemian Rhapsody only ranked number 88 for 2019 when it was released in China. So while Bohemian Rhapsody rocked audiences around the world, it bit the dust when it came to China.

This hit romantic comedy was not Crazy Rich in Asia

Crazy Rich Asians, based on the best-selling 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan, is the first romantic comedy for its director, Jon M. Chu. The versatile Chinese-American filmmaker had directed everything from G.I. Joe: Retaliation to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never before tackling Crazy Rich Asians — and as it turns out, he's as comfortable telling love stories as he is filming pop stars. Crazy Rich Asians earned spectacular reviews and opened to $26 million, nearly equaling its $30 million budget, and went on to earn an amazing $174 million domestically. 

However, its international take was pretty bad, earning only $64 million overseas for a worldwide take of $238 million. While this is still incredible for a low-budget romantic comedy starring a cast of unknowns, it was really only successful in North America. Crazy Rich Asians' second-biggest market was Australia, where it earned $17 million, but it straight-up bombed throughout Asia, earning $1 million in South Korea and an atrocious $742,000 in Japan. China wasn't enthused either, as the movie only made $1.6 million in the world's second-biggest movie market, and didn't even crack the top 150 for the year. Crazy Rich Asians' failure in China isn't crazy, really. While the film was novel in North America, it was just another day at the movies for Chinese audiences.

Chinese audiences weren't nostalgic for Toy Story 4

Pixar just can't catch a break in China. Though the studio had failed to catch Chinese viewers' attention for years, it looked briefly like Coco would change Pixar's run of bad luck, as the heartfelt film out-earned all previous 12 Pixar releases combined, taking home $189 million. Alas, by the time Incredibles 2 opened in 2018, it was back to business as usual, as Pixar's biggest global hit ever only made $51 million in China.

It was about to get even worse. Toy Story, the legendary franchise that launched Pixar, earned $1.3 billion domestically and $3 billion worldwide across just four films, an average of $263 million domestic and $610 worldwide. Toy Story 4 was the franchise's biggest hit, earning $434 million domestic and $1.073 billion worldwide, just barely beating Toy Story 3's $1.068 billion worldwide. But while the rest of the world, and especially North American audiences, have a decades-long connections to Woody, Buzz and the gang formed in childhood, Chinese audiences don't, as the previous three films weren't even released in China. The box office results made this clear, as Toy Story 4 earned a measly $29 million in the Middle Kingdom, ranking 63rd for the year

The Skywalker Saga failed to Rise in China

Despite Disney's best efforts, the super-franchise from a galaxy far, far away never connected with Chinese moviegoers. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was troubled from the start, only opening to $177 million domestic — huge numbers for any other franchise, but a steep drop from previous The Force Awakens ($247 million) and The Last Jedi ($220 million). The bleeding never stopped, as The Rise of Skywalker finished with $515 domestic and $1.074 billion worldwide, landing seventh on the worldwide charts, making it the only Skywalker Saga Star Wars movie besides Attack of the Clones to not be number one for the year, and the first to not finish in the top five. 

While The Rise of Skywalker failed to live up to its  potential as the "final" film in the most famous franchise ever, it made back its $275 million budget — but not with China's help. The Rise of Skywalker earned a shockingly bad $20 million in China, just 2% of its worldwide total, ranking 74th for the year, just barely ahead of The Angry Birds Movie 2. Thanks to government suppression of the original trilogy, Chinese audiences have no nostalgia for Star Wars, and the new films did nothing to change that.