No, “Warcraft” and its $160 million production budget was primarily banking on winning the affections of the Asian markets, where the flick based on the massively multiplayer online role-playing game “World of Warcraft” has succeeded, well, massively.
The film has set multiple box-office records in China — where reportedly at least one of out of every three “World of Warcraft” subscribers resides — and has already grossed more than a quarter-billion dollars overseas.
In other words: More than three decades after David Bowie sang of Western imperialism and domination (right down to the lyric “I’ll give you television”) in the hit “China Girl,” his son — “Warcraft” director Duncan Jones — is profiting from a China-centric entertainment business model that could have longer reverberations in Hollywood.
Which prompts the question: Has a blockbuster film starring Western talent ever had such little reliance on making it in America?
Foreign markets, of course, have especially buoyed and even rescued some Hollywood films in recent years. 2013’s “The Wolverine”‘ grossed nearly 70 percent of its $415 million take overseas; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011) relied on non-domestic audiences for more than 75 percent of its billion-dollar take; and last year’s “Terminator: Genisys” was financially saved by drawing nearly 80 percent of its $441 million total from foreign screens.
Now, “Warcraft” takes it it to the next level.
The Universal Pictures/Legendary Pictures film has grossed $286.1 million so far, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, and a whopping 91.5 percent of that is from overseas audiences. And more than half that — about $156 million — is from its first five days in China.
“Warcraft” — which stars Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster and Dominic Cooper — reached $135 million faster than any international film ever in the Chinese market, reports Variety, topping the record of “Furious 7” (which ultimately pulled in more than three-fourths of its $1.5 billion total gross overseas). The film also opened as the top movie in 45 of 51 foreign markets.
And all along for “Warcraft,” China was the make-or-break market.
Consider that China is fertile ground for such movies, based on the high popularity there of such battle/arena online games as Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft.” (China even has a giant, unauthorized $48 million “World of Warcraft” theme park.)
Add to that the fact that the Chinese movie market is growing so quickly — it might well pass the North American market by the end of next year. In February, China’s monthly gross reportedly cracked $1 billion for the first time — more than 20 percent higher than the domestic market that month.
And then there is the showdown with Disney, which has been such a commercial superpower within China (and which this week is scheduled to open the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disneyland theme park and resort).
Universal is distributing “Warcraft” in much of the world, but the film was also released by Legendary Pictures, which, in a deal announced in January, was acquired by the Chinese conglomerate/real-estate giant the Dalian Wanda Group — one of the world’s largest cinema-chain operators, as well as a Disney rival there.
“Warcraft” reportedly opened on 70 percent of all screens in China, which, according to Deadline Hollywood, is the widest film release ever there.
So although “The Conjuring 2” won the domestic weekend with a $40.4 million debut, according to studio estimates, and “Now You See Me 2” was third with a $23 million opening, most all industry eyes are on “Warcraft” and how it levels up in China.
Because, as that massive box-office game goes, so might the future of potential Hollywood video-game movies that are trying to capture American eyes only secondarily.
Let the next game begin.