Warcraft: How Success in China Could Mean a Sequel

Fantasy epic Warcraft hasn’t wowed critics, but it’s predicted to be a major hit in China - which could result in a sequel...

This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.

You may have noticed that reviews for Warcraft, the adaptation of Blizzard’s hit videogame franchise, weren’t exactly kind. While Duncan Jones’ fantasy has found its defenders – Mark Kermode and your humble writer being among them – the film’s welter of characters and CGI battles haven’t gone down well with most. Nor is its US opening projected to be stratospheric; predictions from Hollywood crystal ball gazers suggest that Warcraft will make around $25 million on its opening weekend, which places it well behind the $40 million projection for The Conjuring 2. When you consider that Warcraft is a $160 million+ would-be franchise opener and that the Conjuring sequel cost a fraction of that, the news doesn’t sound good.

There’s far better news outside the US, however. Warcraft has opened in 20 markets across the rest of the world over the past few days, where it’s collected a shade over $30 million overall. That’s not phenomenal business, but it’s not a bad start, particularly when you consider that in such countries as Germany and Russia it’s been among the most successful films of the year so far at the box office. Warcrafts true salvation, meanwhile, could come from an increasingly huge market: China.

According to a report at International Business Times, Warcraft is on track to not just become a hit in China, but the highest-grossing movie in the country’s history. This is based on tickets pre-ordered for the film on the internet, which have so far amounted to almost $3 million. IB Times adds that, if Warcraft continues at the same pace over the next week before its release on the June 8th, then it could beat the $8 million worth of presales set by Fast & Furious 7. This feat takes on even greater significance when you consider that Fast 7 went on to become the biggest film of all time at the Chinese box-office, with a take of $63 million. There’s at least a possibility that Warcraft could overtake it.

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Now, you might think that Warcraft might struggle to take the crown from an established, high-octane franchise like Fast & Furious, but consider this: World Of Warcraft (the videogame) is absolutely massive in China. The online RPG’s global user base may have shrunk from its peak of around 11 million players in the 2000s, but it has retained a strong following in the far east. In fact, it’s said that of the 5 million players who actively log into the game, 50 percent of them are based in China.

That WoW is such a cultural phenomenon in China – where, as the BBC points out, there’s even an unofficial theme park dedicated to the game – the movie could prove to be a huge success if fans get behind it. If this happens, it could mark a major turning point not just for Universal’s Warcraft movie, but for cinema as a whole.

For one thing, success in China will make a Warcraft sequel far more likely; even with a muted response in US cinemas, a strong showing in the far east could still result in a sequel getting the green light. There’s even a precedent for this: Guillermo del Toro’s monsters-and-mechs epic Pacific Rim, which was a box-office disappointment in America but a $114 million hit in China. That a sequel is currently in the works (with debut director Steven S. DeKnight taking over from del Toro) is thanks almost entirely to the audience response in the Asian market. 

If Warcraft is a hit in China, it will certainly affect the kinds of films that Hollywood chooses to make in future. We’ve already seen how a movie that is a guaranteed hit in the west can fail in the east; Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to catch fire with Chinese audiences, simply because the earlier Star Wars films weren’t shown there. The games market in China, meanwhile, is absolutely huge – pegged at about $6bn, it’s the largest in the world. That’s the kind of market Hollywood film executives are probably very keen to tap into.

This certainly explains something like Angry Birds, the smartphone game that recently became a $70 million movie. From an artistic, storytelling perspective, a game about flicking objects at other objects sounds like bizarre fodder for the cinema; yet from a marketing perspective, it’s perfect. Colorful, cuddly characters ripe for a family-friendly comedy, and the kind of global recognition that means it can be exported in just about every market you could care to name – including China.

There’s certainly plenty of indications that videogame-to-movie adaptations are going to be The Next Big Thing from at least a few studios, despite their middling quality in the past. There’s Ubisoft for one, which has Assassin’s Creed coming up this December, Splinter Cell next year, and a host of other adaptations of its games planned – among them Rabbids, Far Cry, and The Division. Game-to-film movies from other studios include The Last Of Us, Metal Gear Solid, and a reboot of Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander.

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How many of those are actually made will, of course, depend on how the current crop of videogame adaptations fare in cinemas – particularly Assassin’s Creed, with its starry cast (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons) and estimated $150-200 million budget. But Warcraft could also prove decisive if it really is a success in China; some of the other big games in that country are Hearthstone, World Of Tanks, and League Of Legends, which could wind up with their own adaptations if Universal’s 2016 fantasy does well with audiences in the far east.

China’s a growing market for films, and Hollywood studios are rapidly cottoning on to how they can best pitch their movies in the hopes of courting success there – just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age Of Extinction. As the cost of making movies continues to rise, studios are thinking increasingly in global terms when it comes to making profits; should Warcraft replace Fast 7 as the biggest film ever in China, it’ll once again highlight how useful it is to create franchises that appeal to tastes and trends in that market.

Warcraft may struggle to conquer America in the coming weeks, but it could still prove to be a game changer elsewhere.