Published daily by the Lowy Institute

How Hollywood is adapting to a new multipolar cinematic order

How Hollywood is adapting to a new multipolar cinematic order
Published 17 Jun 2016 

The recent success of Warcraft: The Beginning in China (especially compared to the US, where it flopped) hints at how the US and China can peacefully co-exist in a multipolar world.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been the major cultural, economic and military influence in a unipolar environment. Likewise, since the explosion of the cinematic experience in the 1950s, Hollywood has been the world's most influential and profitable film market. But the US is fast learning that its global influence is slowly waning. The main challenger to the US is China, which is flexing its growing military and economic muscle. China's actions in the South China Sea and its establishment of the AIIB are evidence of China challenging America. 

A street exhibition promoting Warcraft: The Beginning in Beijing, May 2016. Photo: Getty Images/VCG

China's ascendance is not just limited to the geostrategic domain. The Chinese film market is rapidly growing and is set to overtake the US as the most profitable film market in the world. [fold]

As the US struggles to maintain its dominance while responding to a growing China, Hollywood has quickly realised that adapting to this new multipolar environment is the best way forward. Faced with the reality that it is not as strong as it once was, Hollywood has come to recognise that it must compromise with China to ensure its own survival. 

Warcraft: The Beginning met with poor reviews and netted just $24.4 million on its opening weekend in the US. It was almost certain to be a loss-making movie. Facing a huge budget shortfall in in the West, Hollywood quickly turned its sights to China. While the film struggled to make $25 million on its opening weekend in the US, in China it made $156 million in five days, making it the highest grossing foreign film on debut in China. A near budgetary disaster was turned into a runaway success, thanks to the thirst from Chinese audiences for Hollywood films. 

The success of Warcraft: The Beginning shares some similarities with Hugh White's The China Choice. In Hugh White's model, the onus is on the US to make the first move to reach a power-sharing agreement. Hollywood is certainly taking the initiative, ensuring continued global reach. Warcraft: The Beginning is another in a series of films that have been bombed in the US but gone on to success in China. These include the monster movie Pacific Rim and the Terminator sequel, Terminator: Genisys

Terminator: Genisys star Arnold Schwarzenegger promoting the movie in Shanghai, August 2015. Photo: Getty Images/VCG

China, for its part, also appreciates that its film-making nous will never be able to displace Hollywood and dominate Asia. Instead, China is compromising with Hollywood by entering into partnership agreements with American film companies, sending filmmakers to the US to get some Hollywood know-how, and lobbying for Chinese actors to star in Hollywood films or for Hollywood films to be filmed in China

The ever-evolving and increasingly successful relationship between Hollywood and China's film industry is a living example of what Hugh White's China Choice would look like in real life. Instead of 'taking China on as a strategic rival', Hollywood has instead opted to work with it as a partner. While US and Chinese policymakers wade through the quagmire of South China Sea relations, international currency manipulation and cyberattacks, Hollywood has proven that choosing the path of multipolarity and sharing the mantle with other countries can be a positive (and profitable) move. 

As Oscar Wilde wrote in Decay of Lying, 'life imitates art far more than art imitates life'. One can only hope that real US-Sino relations imitate art and reproduce the Hollywood-China model of building a successful, multipolar international order. 


You may also be interested in