While Matt Damon may have been able to save the Great Wall from hordes of monsters, he wasn’t able to save it from financial ruin.
The biggest-ever US-China co-production crumbled at the box office, and is expected to lose $75 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter after taking in $171 million in China, but just $34.8 million in North America.
Of course, the movie could make up for at least some of that in ancillary revenue from home entertainment deals, but still it’s a tragic end for a much-hyped epic that was being cast as perhaps the future of cinema. Starring Matt Damon and some Chinese A-listers in a film directed by China’s most-celebrated director Zhang Yimou backed with the highest-ever budget for a Chinese movie, it was believed that the film would be able to attract audiences in both of the largest box offices in the world.
While The Great Wall was the fourth highest-grossing domestic film of 2016 in China, it still failed to live up to lofty expectations. On the day that the film was released, a popular film critic on Weibo with nearly 750,000 followers wrote that “Zhang Yimou has died.” Meanwhile, the film was widely panned in America. It currently holds just a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hollywood Reporter called it the “least interesting and involving blockbuster of the respective careers of both its director and star.”
In case you haven’t seen it yet, the “science fantasy action-adventure monster” movie stars Damon as a foreign mercenary who is imprisoned in the Great Wall, but then joins up with a group of elite warriors to help defend it from mysterious monsters. Because of Damon’s casting as the hero in the film, some critics accused it of “white-washing,” accusations that both Damon and Zhang refuted.
The movie’s failure has bigger implications than just for Universal Pictures’ bank account and Damon’s dignity, it also has the potential to scare off studios from investing in another potential US-China blockbuster.
“This was the first movie of its type,” one executive connected to the project told the Hollywood Reporter. “You’re trying to appeal to everyone, and you’re not compelling enough to appeal to anyone. It feels like Esperanto.”
But it seems more likely that the box office potential of similar co-productions in the future will be too enticing for Hollywood to ignore.
Maybe next time just make a good movie?
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