Although a legend in the U.S., Steven Spielberg hasn’t been a huge box-office force in China — but ‘Ready Player One’ could change that.
Steven Spielberg’s much anticipated sci-fi action adventure Ready Player One has secured a China release date of March 30, the same day it opens in the U.S.
The film, an 1980s-themed adaptation of Ernest Cline’s cult novel, marks Spielberg’s first return to the sci-fi genre since War of the Worlds in 2005. Ready Player One also is Spielberg’s first project that might have major box-office potential in China. Most of the legendary director’s early-career blockbuster output came long before the Middle Kingdom asserted itself as a huge market for movies, and the historical work that has characterized his filmmaking since 2010 — Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, The Post — isn’t the sort of popcorn fare that lures large numbers of Chinese viewers into the multiplex.
Ready Player One is produced by Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures Group is a strategic investor in Amblin, meaning the Chinese studio will be giving the pic an aggressive marketing push in China.
Amblin’s 2017 release A Dog’s Purpose was hit by a PR crisis days before its release in the U.S., leading to a disappointing $65 million North American box-office total. But thanks in part to Alibaba’s heavy digital marketing on its home turf, the movie was rescued by an $88 million haul in China.
Ready Player One follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenager and gamer on a high-stakes pursuit in a VR-like video game world called the OASIS. The game’s deceased creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) set up a treasure hunt prior to his death, and the winner of the game will become the richest person on Earth and also get control of OASIS. But an evil corporation led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is also on the trail.
Science-fiction films have a mixed track record in China. Sci-fi fantasy franchises with long Hollywood histories — Star Wars and Star Trek — have generally been disappointments, since the recent franchise reboots tend to rely heavily on nostalgia and references to the early films, which many young Chinese filmgoers naturally just don’t get. But less fantastic sci-fi efforts, such as The Martian, Gravity and Interstellar, have been big earners. Occasional action-heavy sci-fi originals, such as Pacific Rim, also have been Chinese favorites.