Pethokoukis, Economics, U.S. Economy

How Captain America conquered China — and why it matters



The Marvel blockbuster “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” made $116 million in China alone as part of its $454 million overseas haul. On one hand, the film’s performance, reflects the changing Chinese movie market. As Edward Gresser notes at Progressive Economy, China’s total box-office take doubled to $3.6 billion in 2013 vs. 2010. And the country’s high concentration of IMAX and 3D screens gives a big edge to high-action flicks such as superhero films. So far this year “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has made $117 million while the overall box-office leader is “Transformers: Age of Extinction” with $301 million.

But maybe there was something else going on. You would think a move about a star-spangled, patriotic American supersoldier might not play well in China. Indeed, “Captain America: The First Avenger” made just $194 million overseas total. But perhaps the anti-government plot of “CA:TWS” struck a chord and, who knows, maybe planted a few subversive seeds. Here is Gresser:

Back now to Winter Soldier. What is the emotional appeal of the American superhero to Chinese youth? “Douban,” a review site for film buffs in China, features some unsurprising comments – handsome lead actor, explosions – but also (via Foreign Policy) an observation on the appeal of the film’s corrupt-enemy-within theme and the complex nature of patriotism: “[The new villain] is the very country he loves and protects….To love one’s country isn’t the same as loving one’s government: This is the main draw of Captain America.”  … A 2008 poll done by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, found 14 percent of Chinese viewing the influence of American popular culture as ‘very positive’ and 57 percent as mainly positive.

Follow James Pethokoukis on Twitter at @JimPethokoukisand AEIdeas at @AEIdeas.

3 thoughts on “How Captain America conquered China — and why it matters

  1. The new transformers was also very popular in China, but the consensus then was that the movie played well by showing American military/intel personnel as weak and corrupt and their Chinese counterparts as benevolent and staid in the face of danger.

    I really like the narrative presented here, but I wonder if the movie was popular not so much because it shows corruption in general but American corruption in particular.

    • Maybe the reason the ChiComs let the movie play was because it showed American corruption, but the reason it’s popular is because it shows government is corrupt.

  2. Wow, your childish view of the world knows no bounds, James. Pacific Rim, a movie based on a Japanese manga with a premise that had poorly made Chinese robots and an American/Japanese team that ended up saving Hong Kong, crossed $100 million easy in China last year, and mostly due to this, a sequel is being made (the movie tanked in the US).

    These are just movies with explosions and are in 3D. There’s nothing more to them. Only a patriotic fool would attempt to make correlations were none exist. Not to mention the % of the Chinese watching these compared to the whole population is very low.

    It appears AEI truly has fallen since the departure of Chris DeMuth.

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