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'Terminator Genisys' release in China will be a litmus test for Hollywood

Still of "Terminator Genisys" Photo: Paramount Pictures

This week’s lackluster global debut of Terminator Genisys, the new installment in the 31 year-old Terminator franchise, will have the executives at Paramount looking east and hoping for a China save.

With its massive movie market now routinely generating $100+ million grosses for studio tentpole films, the Middle Kingdom can provide a much-needed revenue boost for Hollywood films that need saving.

Chinese audiences often go against the global tide, and there are numerous examples of China box office recoveries for films that have met disappointing receptions elsewhere. Some international under-performers have enjoyed surprisingly big results in China; Need for Speed, Escape Plan and Cloud Atlas, for example, ginned up China grosses that were much higher than their North American results.

Other films like Battleship and John Carter weren’t exactly salvaged by China, but they at least saved face by scoring reasonably well with audiences there. And a few foreign pictures like Bait 3D and The Expendables 3 were embraced by audiences in China like nowhere else.

But Chinese audiences don’t always come to the rescue. Disney’s recent release of Tomorrowland fared no better in China than it did anywhere else in the world. Then again, there was nothing particularly compelling about Tomorrowland for China, whereas Terminator is a completely different proposition.

Terminator Genisys has several elements that should position it well when it releases in the People’s Republic. First of all, it has Arnold Schwarzenegger, who remains a box office hero there years after his popularity faded in most other territories. His aforementioned Escape Plan, which he top-lined with fellow sexagenarian Sylvester Stallone, earned $41 million in China—more than a third of its overseas total—compared to just $25 million in North America.

China is also a prime territory for movies featuring robots, disasters, and machines, all of which Terminator Genisys offers in spades. Considering that Transformers 4 took in $320 million there versus $245 million in North America; San Andreas just surpassed $100 million; and Furious 7 pulled in a massive $391 million in China (against $351 million domestically), Terminator Genisys should, theoretically, at least, be a blockbuster hit with mainland moviegoers.

It will be a surprise if the film doesn’t succeed there, and if it doesn’t, it will send the message that China may no longer be so ready to play the role of savior for busted Hollywood tent-poles.

Unfortunately for Paramount, they’ll have to wait for at least another month to find out. With the Chinese film administration’s blackout of new foreign film releases to remain in effect until around the end of July, Terminator will remain on deck until then.

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