China Leads Overseas Box Office for Fox’s LIFE OF PI

According to the Los Angeles Times, 20th Century Fox’s LIFE OF PI, directed by Ang Lee, has generated $570.9 million in worldwide box office sales, making it far and away the leader of its Oscar competitors – LES MISERABLES with $359.7 million and DJANGO UNCHAINED with $342.6 million.

Surprisingly, China has been the biggest overseas contributor to LIFE OF PI, raising $90.8 million in only one month.  According to Pamela McClintock, editor of The Hollywood Reporter, 2 weeks after being released in China, LIFE OF PI had grossed more than $68 million, exceeding the $60.9 million earned in North America, its domestic market at that time.

So why was LIFE OF PI so successful in China?

3D Movie Fans in China

3D movies have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in China. According to Rob Schmitz, Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai, 7,000 of China’s 11,000 movie screens are 3D-ready. AVATAR grossed $200 million in China, setting off a 3D frenzy in the Chinese movie market. Ever since, movies in 3D format have become more attractive to Chinese audiences. These 3D movies contribute to half of China’s box office sales due to the higher ticket prices. As a result, the 3D format of LIFE OF PI in China boosted the box office sales tremendously.

Social Media Strategy

In October 2012, LIFE OF PI started promoting via Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like Chinese microblogging website. Because of the unique perspective of this movie as well as a number of tweets by celebrities such as Lihong Wang, a Taiwanese singer with more than 30 million followers, and Lang Lang, a famous pianist with more than 3 million followers, LIFE OF PI inspired more than 5 million messages on Sina Weibo, making it one of the hottest topics at that time.

Tailored Trailers and Advertisements

LIFE OF PI tailored its trailers and advertisements in order to conform to different cultures. According to the Los Angeles Times, in Asian countries where animals are seen as symbolic creatures, film posters with the image of the tiger were heavily used. However, printed ads in Japan focused more on the emotional aspects of the movie by featuring Pi and the tiger on the lifeboat surrounded by a frothy sea.

The Ang Lee Effect

Ang Lee, known for his Oscar-winning movies CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005), is one of the most lauded directors in China. After CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON brought him initial recognition, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LUST, CAUTION allowed more and more Chinese audiences to view the controversial aspects of his movies. His unique perspective has successfully differentiated himself from other Chinese directors and has quickly made him one of the most popular directors in China, ultimately making Ang Lee himself one of the biggest selling points of the movie.

Although LIFE OF PI was only limited to a one month run by the Chinese government, its audience influence has never ceased. The twist ending of “PI” has enticed Chinese audiences to continue to watch the movie over and over. 

– Yixin Zhang