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Battle of the Box Office

With cinema chains suffering from closure due to the pandemic and Hollywood finding it difficult to get its movies out, DMD's Daniel Sandelson shared this observation in the Financial Times of Friday September 25, 2020: Letter: Hollywood caution risks handing the box office to Asian rivals

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Janan Ganesh (“‘Tenet’ and the twilight of Hollywood’s power”, FT Weekend, Life & Arts, September 19) illuminates the waning soft power of American film because of the need to please other markets. We can also note that successful films from other markets have learnt a different lesson. Rather than adopting the conservative traditions of films like Star Wars, some powerful voices are deploying Hollywood’s other tradition — that of the liberal critique (what Mr Ganesh calls “self-excoriating” films).

From the 70s to the 90s, American liberal critique films regularly made the top 15 in worldwide box office: think Dances with Wolves, Dead Poets Society, JFK, and in 1979 two films, Apocalypse Now and Kramer vs. Kramer.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 masterpiece Shoplifters grossed $15m in China, unprecedented for a Japanese film with deep empathy for people oppressed by powerful systems. It won the Palme d’Or. And then (perhaps connected) came the worldwide phenomenon that is Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (which my company released with our partners in Latin America) — again in part a similarly strong critique.

If Mr Ganesh is right and Hollywood is tempering its message because of Asian market power, it would be ironic if Asian cinema came to dominate Hollywood’s other critical tradition.

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