As an indication of how important the Chinese market is to the future of cinema, it's hard to beat the case of "Red Dawn."
A few years ago, MGM decided to remake the 1984 Cold War drama about a group of American farm kids fighting off a Soviet invasion. This time, however, the Soviet aggressors were replaced by Chinese. The movie wrapped and was set for release last November, but MGM filed for bankruptcy the month before, leaving the project in doubt.
Returning to the film this year, the studio - worried about offending the Chinese government (which decides what movies are screened) and Chinese audiences (which, in growing numbers, pay to see them) - is digitally altering the film, replacing Chinese soldiers with North Koreans, who do not go to American movies.
China is one of the fastest-growing markets for U.S. films, and studios are eager to get on Beijing's good side. The Chinese government didn't even have to utter a word to convince MGM to alter "Red Dawn." Box-office receipts in China hit a record $1.5-billion (U.S.) last year, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, making China the world's number four movie market.
But as it stands, China allows only about 20 foreign movies to be shown on its screens, meaning the market is relatively contained. Sure, "Avatar" might make over $200-million in China, but some hits, such as "The Dark Knight," don't even play here. Of the 10 Oscar nominated films this year, just two - "Toy Story 3" and "Inception" - were shown in China.
In a much better position to thrive here are cinema makers. Since 2007, the number of screens in China has doubled to more than 6,200, a figure that's expected to double again by 2015. With just one screen for every 220,000 Chinese, there's a ton of room to grow.
Canada's own Imax Corp. knows this. The company has been aggressively expanding in China, and in an interview last month with Xinhua, the state-owned news agency, chief executive officer Richard Gelfond said the company is considering lowering prices to draw more people and opening over 100 new IMAX theaters across China. The company said it had identified 350 locations in China suitable for opening Imax theaters.
"China is now the second largest market for Imax around the world after the United States," Mr. Gelfond told Xinhua, adding: "I've been to China five times in the last six months. I haven't gone to Los Angeles that much."
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