The Wandering Earth, China's first big budget Science Fiction blockbuster movie, is a runaway success. AS of this week, it's earned over $600 million at the Chinese box office and $5 million from its limited US release over 22 cities.
The movie, an adaptation of Liu Cixin's novella about a future where humanity works together to move the entire Earth out of the solar system to escape destruction and find a new system to exist in, has hit a rare chord in the Chinese public that has made it the biggest box office hit in the world right now, even if most of that money has come from audiences in China.
For people in China, the movie is a source of national pride. It's a sign that China has "arrived", not only in having launched a successful space program that landed a craft on the dark side of the moon but also in finally cracking the ability to make a big blockbuster Science Fiction movie as efficient as Hollywood's. China has a booming film industry that's largely self-sustaining – most of its movies appeal only to audiences in Mainland China and few other countries. Science Fiction has been thriving in China as well, and to make a popular Science Fiction movie has been a Holy Grail for the Chinese film industry for at least a decade. Now they feel they've planted the first of many titles.
For many countries, to be able to produce popular Science Fiction movies is considered a sign of cultural success and sophistication. Annual market reports for the film industry has surveyed the world's movie markets and audience tastes and found that Science Fiction movies are the most popular genre in the world. In most countries with a moviegoing market, Science Fiction movies are the one genre that is guaranteed to make money. Audiences worldwide are constantly hungry for Science Fiction movies. With the right budget, a Science Fiction movie can expect to make a profit in movie ticket sales and secondary markets like Blu-Ray and DVD sales, streaming sales and broadcast rights.
Good Science Fiction is one of the hardest genres to write for: it requires world-building with plausible Science to sustain its stories and themes. Good Science Fiction movies are the hardest movies to make, not just because they're hard to write, but also the resources and money needed to make them look convincing and exciting with production design and special effects. Hollywood has been the one place that has the resources and infrastructure to make Science Fiction movies all the time. Not even the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany come close. They can make Science Fiction movies, but not as regularly. Now China is about to join the club.
The question for China now is whether they can sustain the momentum that The Wandering Earth has brought. They already have two more Science Fiction blockbusters due for release later this year. There's Shanghai Fortress, a big alien invasion blockbuster opening this summer that's already getting hyped in China. Reports from China indicate that financiers and studios are interested but still slightly gunshy, waiting to see if the next SciFi blockbusters will be big enough hits for them to make Science Fiction blockbusters a regular occurrence in China rather than just a new trend. That the government supports this new movement adds some fuel, but the movies have to be good enough to keep audiences interested to see more. It will be interesting to see where Chinese Science Fiction movies go in the years to come.