Chinese film executives say that Avatar: The Way of Water is not “suitable” for audiences in the country.
By Sean Thiessen | Published
American blockbusters have relied on the Chinese box office for years, but recently, many tentpole films from the United States have not been released in China due to a variety of political factors. Though Avatar: The Way of Water managed to get a mainland china release, the film is underperforming there. Global Times reports that Yu Dong, CEO of the Chinese film heavyweight Bona Film Group, claims to know the reason: American films like Avatar are no longer “suitable for Chinese audiences.”
Yu Dong’s comments came during a forum at the Hainan International Film Festival. Yu Dong said that foreign language films like it Avatar: The Way of Water do not capture the interest of Chinese audiences the way they used to, and a stronger interest in domestic films is taking root in China. He said he expects the upcoming the Wandering Earth 2, a Chinese blockbuster set to release in January, totopple The Way of Water at the Chinese box office.
The comments from Yu Dong have divided people on the issue, with some critics agreeing that interest is waning due to uninteresting stories from American movies like Avatar: The Way Of Water, which leave audiences unsatisfied. The box office numbers seem to support the theory, as The Way of Water has failed to meet projections in the Chinese market. Other critics have dismissed these claims with positive reviews of the film and its world-class effects, and some still project that, while The Way of Water will likely not surpass its predecessor, Avatar will still top the 2022 box office in China.
Part of the problem for the Chinese box office is the outbreak of COVID-19 the country has experienced in the last few weeks. The Chinese government recently lifted heavy public health restrictions, which led to an immediate rise in COVID-19 cases. The spread of the virus this fall has kept many out of movie theaters in China, though some critics argue that the surge in sickness does not fully account for Avatar’s lackluster performance with Chinese audiences.
Even in the United States, Avatar: The Way of Water has not brought audiences to movie theaters in the quantities that were initially projected. After the film’s modesty (by Avatar standards) $134.1 million domestic opening, stock prices for AMC, IMAX, and Disney saw dips. For some, the future of the cinema is largely connected to the performance of The Way of Water.
The Avatar sequel has the advantage of its second weekend containing Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The movie may experience a boost of holiday traffic as families brave the cold to transport to Pandora. The box office accumulation was a slow burn for the original avatar, and with any luck, The Way of Water will follow suit and continue to draw audiences steadily to the theater.
Less than a week into its theatrical run, The Way of Water cannot be accurately judged just yet. All eyes are on the sequel, the success of which will determine the fate of future films planned for the Avatar franchise. Meanwhile, the performance of The Way of Water in China may signal a shift for American studios when it comes to reliance on the international box office, which may alter the course of American films for years to come.