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Warcraft's record-breaking opening in China may be the future of Hollywood blockbusters

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Warcraft

This past weekend Duncan Jones’ Warcraft opened in the US, and with The Conjuring 2 beating it out for the top spot, it's fair to say that the film didn't do as well as everyone had hoped. The movie grossed just over $24 million in the United States, and for a film that’s reported to have cost as much as $160 million — without counting marketing costs. Along with the many negative reviews the film has racked up (our own Tasha Robinson was much more tempered in her take on the film), it would seem to indicate a total disaster.

Except Warcraft seems to be anything but, because the film has thus far grossed $304.7 million worldwide, a figure made possible by a tremendous box office performance in China. As reported by Variety, Warcraft pulled in $156 million in its first five days in China, making it the biggest debut of a foreign language film in the country’s history. The number is so big that it has already eclipsed the lifetime gross of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in China ($124.2 million). There doesn't seem to be any indication that Chinese audiences will necessarily stop there, either: Avengers: Age of Ultron had a similar opening in China last year, and ended up grossing over $240 million in the country alone.

Warcraft could get a sequel despite being a flop in the United States

Warcraft may end up being a movie that easily gets the green light for a sequel despite being considered a relative failure in the US — and it wouldn’t be the first movie to do so, either. In fact, Warcraft production company Legendary Pictures has experience with this kind of phenomenon, specifically with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. That film’s robots vs. monsters premise did not work in the US — it grossed $101.8 million with a budget of $190 million — but overseas it sang, for a worldwide total of $411 million. Now, Pacific Rim 2 is moving forward with John Boyega in one of the leading roles.

As Variety details, Warcraft's success was the result of a carefully orchestrated strategy on the part of Legendary, with the company targeting China — where the game is uncommonly popular — from the very beginning, turning to Chinese companies like Tencent and Huayi Brothers Media as financial partners. A large number of brand sponsorship deals, promotional partnerships, and merchandising all built hype for the movie, part of a long-view strategy that Legendary has been pursuing for years. (It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group bought Legendary last year for $3.5 billion in cash.)

But Legendary’s success with Warcraft just underscores how much Hollywood in general sees China as vital to its growth in the years ahead. China is expected to bypass the United States as the world’s biggest film market by 2017, and offers not only lucrative box office but product placement opportunities as well. As such, studios have started thinking about ways to better appeal to the market, either through marketing strategies or specifically tailoring the films themselves. Skyscraper, an action project set in China that will feature The Rock, sold to Legendary just last month.

As for now, there’s no word yet on whether Legendary will be moving forward with a sequel to Warcraft, but when we recently spoke with Duncan Jones he revealed that he had in mind a full trilogy for the series, and would be interested in writing and directing all three. With more tickets to be sold and 14 additional territories left to open, the film could very well keep moving toward that goal — and if it comes to pass, Warcraft fans will very likely have China to thank.