If you haven’t been paying much attention to cinema in the last decade, the American film industry has become less American in terms of their target audience. Years ago, Hollywood decided to shift their efforts towards the overseas market, more especially…China. China became a huge player for Tinseltown due to its massive population making it the 2nd biggest film market in the world.
Not only has Hollywood invested in China, but China has invested in Hollywood as well. AMC, the largest American theater market was purchased by Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate headquartered in Dalian, in May 2012. That relationship has led to many films from the Chinese market making their way into American theaters. China has become one of the primary reasons why film budgets have ballooned to the sum of $200-300 million dollars for major studios such as Disney, Universal, and Paramount.
According to The LA Times, In 2016, Chinese investment in the U.S. entertainment industry hit $4.78 billion, an all-time high. China investing their money in the industry meant the industry has been forced to shamelessly pander to their market to see a return for their high budget films. It’s bad enough when you see a big-budget, boring bland movie that panders to American audiences, but now we are seeing those same movies pandering to a foreign audience that is even less appealing to Americans. Movies like Transformers, Pacific Rim, and some MCU films are clearly made for the Chinese audience but what is concerning is how this has become the norm due to how much foreign influence is investing in our film industry. If you were planning on waiting out the storm, I’m afraid I have some bad news because Hollywood has now found a new target audience and market to pander to, this time…It’s Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia recently lifted its 35-year ban on movies (#TimesUp?) and Hollywood is pouncing at the idea of taking over the Middle Eastern market. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia recently came to Los Angeles and the most powerful people in the business are rolling out the red carpet including talent agency boss Ari Emanuel and Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger. The power players in Hollywood are desperate for foreign cash. In 2016, Chinese money in Hollywood totaled approximately $5 billion, but by 2017 that dwindled to some $500 million, as the Chinese government cracked down on foreign investments according to Forbes.
Now a move of this magnitude is going to open a Pandora’s box of questions about how Hollywood will adapt to this new market. Saudi Arabia has strict rules against nudity, gender roles, displays of non-Islāmic religions, and many social topics that Hollywood seems to thrive on these days. However, if the Islamic world is willing to give enough money, best believe Hollywood will do anything it has to do to make it work. So with all of this on the table, where does this leave America and the state of their film industry?
From a business standpoint, it does make sense for Hollywood to look elsewhere for moviegoers. In America, the film industry saw their attendance drop to a 23 year low in 2017 as North American theatrical admissions dipped 6%. Theater attendance is sharply declining due to rising costs and increasing political banter from the industry. This has allowed the Chinese box office to overtake the US box office for the first time in Q1 of 2018. The United States, on average only accounts for about 30% of the total box office in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, the only major release film to make 50% of it’s gross in the US this year is Black Panther, every other major release has heavily relied on foreign money to survive.
Many theories exist as to why the American market has slowly become an afterthought to our own film industry. Many cite the rise of online streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, others point to the lack of competition in the foreign market compared to the American markets, there are those who say it’s simply that movies have become too expensive and the quality of films isn’t worth the costs and effort of viewing. All of these answers are valid in one form or another, but none solve the issue of how to win back Americans. Netflix is the biggest dog in the streaming yard now, but even they have a massive amount of debt to afford and produce the content they present. A primary reason they don’t have much competition in their field because the business model hasn’t been perfected yet. So how can we make America great again?…
The answer is…pending. Because when you look at our situation, I don’t believe that the Power Players of Hollywood are looking for an answer. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be film production made and marketed to Americans but the days of the domestic box office being king are likely over. The best chance we have at a true American Renaissance is for Hollywood’s foreign deals to go bust and independent film production companies to invest stateside. However, that could take YEARS to culminate and the decline is in full swing. If our homegrown industry is ever going to be truly Made for America again, the solution won’t come from Tinseltown, it will have to come from the market itself.