Venom: Tencent Pictures’ Decisive Ride to Hollywood

07/03/2019

Tencent Pictures goes to Hollywood with Venom, the latest Marvel blockbuster co-produced by Pony Ma’s company. In the seek for worldwide recognition, China’s contribution revealed to be a box office game-changer

 

Last October, Spider Man’s number one rival, Venom, landed in movie screens around the world riding high at the global box office. There is nothing surprising about yet another Marvel movie having an all-time box office smash, except for the fact that the higher percentage of the movie’s success came right from China.

The blockbuster, starring Tom Hardy, was distributed by Sony Pictures and produced by Columbia Pictures in association with Marvel and, last but not the least, the Chinese Tencent Pictures, which took an exceptionally high 25% stake in the film.

Since Venom hit Chinese theatres on November 9, 2018, the film has broken record after record. In its first weekend, it made $111 million, whose $34.9 million came on the Friday alone, which was the biggest opening day for a solo Marvel movie. Then, it continued to make more than $1 million per day in the country, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

 

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© Marvel. A Chinese poster of Venom promoting the release of the superhero film with Chinese investment from Tencent Pictures.

 

After a month on the screens, the latest Marvel movie made $265 million in China alone overtaking Venom’s domestic take of $211 million since its US debut. The worldwide total reached about $822 million and a quarter of the foreign profit came right from China.

It was Sony’s biggest opening in the Middle Kingdom, the second largest for a superhero film behind ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, and the fifth largest for any imported film to the country.

The superhero movie about a man and the parasitic alien symbiote that threatens to eat him was such a big hit in the Dragon that it has earned itself another month in theaters, which is rare for imported movies.

Therefore, China’s contribution has been crucial for the film’s worldwide success, without which Venom could not have outperformed its superhero peers. Moreover, this impressive haul represents a huge win for both Tom Rothman – Sony film chairman – and Tencent’s chief Pony Ma.

 

Marvel latest blockbuster Venom has overtaken the Chinese total box office of ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ to become the year’s second-biggest Hollywood import behind ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and the biggest solo superhero movie ever.

 

However, except for a few shots that take place in San Francisco’s Chinatown and little dialogues in Cantonese and Mandarin, there is nothing in the film that could make you think it was targeted for the Chinese audience.

But Sony Pictures and Tencent managed to turn the anti-hero into the object of desire for Chinese millennial taking advantage of many channels like the microblog, Weibo. Especially for what concerns the Chinese tech giant, the internet firm has leveraged its vast online ecosystem, which includes China’s most popular messaging app WeChat, Tencent Video platform, the largest movie ticketing app in the country Maoyan, and so on.

The movie’s main character Eddie Brock is also seen using QQ, an instant message app developed by Tencent, which some fans have called “a successful product placement aimed at Chinese audiences.”

 

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© Xuehua. Sony’s China marketing team has released cartoons with Venom being titled the “Protector of Civilized Behavior” on Columbia Picture’s official Weibo account.

 

Tencent’s involvement in the Marvel release is part of the company’s strategy to diversify its investments with the mission to attract global users to its entertainment ecosystem.

In 2018, the Shenzhen-based giant made 163 investments including live-streaming, online education, and e-commerce. Like the e-commerce peer Alibaba, the investments were diversified and reached also the transportation sector, whose share in Tesla made Tencent enter the self-driving car market race. However, a quarter of these investments were dedicated only to entertainment and culture.

Tencent Pictures is the film and television arm of the internet company and has already co-produced Hollywood successes such as ‘Kong: Skull Island‘ and ‘Wonder Woman‘. Among the next big-budget Hollywood projects, there are ‘Top Gun: Maverick‘ and James Cameron production, ‘Terminator 6‘, of which Tencent Pictures will also handle the movie’s distribution in China.

 

The company’s investment efforts seem to have successfully offset slower growth with a steady stream of profits. In fact, in the third quarter of 2018, Tencent’s profit increased by 30%, mainly thanks to the gains from its investments.

 

Moreover, one of the most valuable brands in the world has built a whole ecosystem of platforms which all dominate their respective categories. But the sector Tencent is investing more is content signing many deals with international companies such as Universal Music and Skydance Media aiming at building a “Neo-Culture Creativity” cultural ecosystem.

The company first announced 7 film projects when it entered the film industry in 2014 but Tencent Pictures was officially announced only in 2015. With its wide resources of games, literature, and comics, Pony Ma’s firm started with projects based on these resources. Then, four years later, it definitely increased its presence in Hollywood, especially thanks to its recent deal with Paramount Pictures, one of Hollywood’s major movie studios.

However, Tencent Pictures is not alone in the race to Hollywood. The relationship between the Dragon and overseas countries in the movie industry is growing steadily. The final goal is to make Hollywood movies attractive for the Chinese audience, one of the world’s largest movie markets.

 

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© Tencent Pictures. In 2015, Tencent set up Tencent Penguin Pictures (Shanghai), a new movie production unit, focusing on online drama and minority investments in feature films.

 

In 2012, Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’ was the first experiment of economic collaboration between East and West in the movie industry. After the agreement that allowed him access to state funds, Johnson agreed to transfer part of the narrative from Paris to Shanghai so that the film got a higher success in China from the first week of projection than in the United States.

Moreover, until 2016, Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Great Wall’ – another co-production between China and Hollywood – was the most expensive movie filmed entirely in China. Although it was supported by a Hollywood-based film studio owned by Chinese, ‘The Great Wall’ was written by US screenwriters and recited by popular Western actors in order to attract audiences outside of China, a choice that gained a lot of criticism from the Eastern world.

The truth is that in recent years, Hollywood has begun to court the Chinese audience. At the same time, the Chinese film industry wants to produce movies that are able to attract the international public.

 

“We can bring more of China to America, and bring some more of America to China,” Spielberg announced after closing a contract with Jack Ma and his Alibaba Pictures.

 

Nevertheless, this race to gain worldwide success in the movie industry is particularly evident during the Oscar celebrations. In the latest years, an increasing number of award-winning Hollywood movies are, in fact, co-produced by Chinese companies.

For example, the Beijing-based Perfect World Pictures’ co-production of ‘Darkest Hour’, ‘Phantom Thread’, and ‘Victoria & Abdul’ made them win several Oscars over the last two years. This year again, Chinese contributions lead the ceremony with movies like ‘Green Book’, a film presented by Participant Media, Dreamworks Pictures and Alibaba Pictures – Alibaba Group’s financing and film production arm – which has won three golden statuettes.

Therefore, Pony Ma’s involvement in high-profile international projects gives the company the chance to demonstrate the Middle Kingdom’s ability to compete in the international movie industry, making Tencent not only the ideal partner to share movies with in order to reach a global audience but also one of the entertainment giants in the world’s second-largest movie market, which is expected to exceed the United States as the world’s largest market by 2022, as reported by Ampere Analysis.

Moreover, Venom’s success not only is a sign that Chinese moviegoers that watch imported movie usually want to see something that is uniquely foreign but it also demonstrates how important it is for American movies to get released in China, a country that is able to turn simple movies into extraordinary box office successes.

It remains evident that the Dragon, in addition to embodying the new public for large productions, is also the new frontier for cultural tastes and hybridizations.

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