One of the biggest flops at the Hollywood box office this year was the fifth installment in the seemingly tired Terminator franchise, which still hasn’t been able to break a $100 million domestic tally. There was a lot of Hollywood head-shaking until the film debuted in China and blew up the Chinese box office, earning $111.92 million in that market alone. But the reign of Arnold and his band of time-traveling robots came to an early end over the weekend as a state-produced propaganda film called The Hundred Regiments Offensive became a surprise hit. People are understandably suspicious.
Though the Chinese government cited the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat during World War II for the film’s immediate success, the pure numbers have raised some eyebrows. Hundred Regiments grossed $39.4 million this weekend over Terminator’s $26.6 million, but on over 150,000 fewer screens. This means that Hundred Regiments is either a bona fide hit with incredibly patriotic audiences, or, more likely, China’s state-run media rigged the receipts.
The Hollywood Reporter cites an anonymously published and widely circulated essay called “Entertainment Capitalism” that says all major Chinese cinema chains were ordered by the distribution wing of the omnipresent state-run media department of the China Film Group, called China Film Distribution, to meet specific quotas for the box office take on Hundred Regiments. Theater chains that met or exceeded the quotas would be able to share 100 percent of the revenues on the film’s first weekend of release, which gave every theater a bigger financial incentive over the normal 8.3 percent tax reimbursements from movie ticket sales.
The day after CFD’s quotas ended, the Chinese box office totals for Hundred Regiments allegedly dropped to just $670,000, putting it in sixth place. When the quotas were in place, Hundred Regiments posted nearly $8 million in box office revenue where it was number one.
The government pressure to make the movie an unequivocal hit has caused chains to print tickets for Hundred Regiments even if customers bought tickets to Terminator Genisys. The Hollywood Reporter pointed to photos and videos of examples of ticket fraud, which made Terminator lose an estimated $11 million this past weekend alone. Once the quotas were dropped on Hundred Regiments, Genisys quickly returned to the top of the box office.
While the surprise success of Terminator Genisys in China has renewed interest in its previously dead sequels, it makes the blockbuster a target for state-run media agencies like the CFD. China already has measures like a yearly Hollywood film blackout in place to even out and boost revenues for Chinese-produced films. Now it looks like they’ve found a fairly fishy way to keep Chinese movies number one at the Chinese box office.