Donald Trump’s recent escalation of the U.S.-China trade war has torpedoed the sales potential of small and mid-budget American movies just as China’s appetite for such filmmaking appears to be on the rise, according to THR.
Few analysts believe Beijing is willing to retaliate against Trump’s tariffs by blocking Hollywood’s biggest tentpoles from release, given the vital role such titles play in generating revenue for local cinemas. Smaller U.S. films, however, have been left much more exposed.
“Marvel titles are still going to get released — there’s just too much money at stake for both sides,” says Christopher Spicer, an attorney at Akin Gump who has counseled Chinese studios. “But other U.S. films will absolutely be affected by the trade war. All of the Chinese parties making these investments are now very cautious.”
Chinese buyers’ sudden avoidance of U.S. filmmaking was palpably on display at Cannes in May. In recent years past, there tended to be at least one major China sale for a U.S. film on each day of the market; in 2019, there were virtually none.
No major financing pacts from China were unveiled either. In 2017, China’s Bona Film Group shelled out nearly $80 million for Chinese and international distribution rights to Roland Emmerich’s upcoming WWII film Midway. Emmerich was back in Cannes this year shopping his next project, the sci-fi vehicle Moonfall; but this time the results were essentially reversed. Not only did China not anchor the film’s global sales plans; the country was the only major territory where the title failed to secure any deal whatsoever. Stuart Ford’s AGC and CAA were said to be asking $30 million to $40 million for the China rights, but they found no takers during the duration of the market.