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In a bid to tap the booming Chinese box office, Disney, its Marvel Studios and Beijing-based DMG Entertainment said Monday that they are teaming to co-produce Iron Man 3 in China.
“Our collaboration with Disney and Marvel marks a milestone in the global entertainment landscape, as this signifies the first multibillion-dollar franchise to be produced between Hollywood and China,” said Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG Entertainment, at a packed press conference at the Crowne Plaza Beijing hotel.
As part of the deal, DMG will make an investment in the production of Iron Man 3 and jointly produce the film in China.
By partnering with DMG, which enjoys close working ties with the state-run China Film Group, Disney and Marvel should be able to work around Beijing’s tight film-import quota, which restricts the domestic market to just 20 foreign features, plus an additional 14 foreign 3D or Imax titles, per year. More significantly, input from DMG should also help the Hollywood studio partners ensure that the film’s story resonates strongly with Chinese audiences — an element of the equation that often has proved lacking for previous Hollywood-China co-productions.
“We look forward to working alongside DMG to bring Iron Man to the Chinese marketplace in a significant way,” said Rob Steffens, general manager of Operations and Finance for Marvel Studios at the event. “We are confident that Marvel’s stories will continue to be enjoyed by Chinese audiences, and adding a local flavor and working with our new local partner will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China’s fast-growing film marketplace,” he added.
With the Chinese box office having topped $2.1 billion last year, a strong showing in the country is an increasingly crucial component of winning the all-important foreign take for tentpole productions like the Iron Man franchise. For example, Titanic 3D is currently blitzing its way through the foreign box office, having grossed $88.2 million from 69 markets – with $58 million of it coming from China. Last year’s top performer in China, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, earned north of $145 million in the country.
The first Iron Man, released in 2008, boasted a worldwide gross of $585 million, with $15.3 million from China, and the 2010 sequel earned $624 million internationally — but just $8 million in China. The new partnership with DMG is likely to assure Iron Man 3 a much stronger marketing and distribution commitment in the Chinese marketplace.
The third installment in the popular Marvel franchise series marks the return to the director’s chair of writer-director Shane Black, after an eight-year long hiatus following his debut feature, 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black and Drew Pearce are said to be at work on the film’s screenplay as well. Iron Man 3 will again reunite co-stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle. A typical requirement of winning co-production status from the CFG is the inclusion of Chinese actors in significant roles, but no additional official casting announcements have yet been made.
Rumors have been swirling that Ben Kingsley is in talks to face down Downey’s Tony Stark as the next Iron Man villain – though it is not clear precisely what character from the series he would play. The China co-prod deal also is certain to further enflame speculation that the classic Iron Man enemy, the Chinese character Mandarin, might make an appearance in the third film. If Mandarin is to appear, the delicate task of positioning a Chinese villain within a story targeted explicitly at the Chinese market would likely call upon DMG’s domestic expertise.
Last month DMG topper Mintz was reported to be accompanying China Film Group chairman Han Sanping — whose approval must be won for any major co-production deal — on a series of hush-hush meetings in Los Angeles. At the time a source told The Hollywood Reporter that the Chinese delegation had taken meetings with Disney, Sony and Universal. DMG has declined to comment on whether the trip took place to lay the groundwork for the new Disney deal.
The new co-production is Disney’s latest effort to expand into the Chinese entertainment marketplace, coming fast on the heels of the Burbank behemoth’s announcement last week that it will soon be partnering with China’s Ministry of Culture and Internet company Tencent Holdings to take part in a new initiative to develop the country’s animation industry. Disney will lend its storytelling and marketing expertise to the newly formed entity — the National Animation Creative Research and Development Cooperation — in exchange for a foothold in the nascent industry, while Tencent will provide online support. Meanwhile, the company’s $4.5 billion theme park and resort project, Shanghai Disneyland, has been making progress since breaking ground in April 2011; the announcement was made last week that the project had secured a $2 billion loan for construction.
Stanley Cheung, managing director of The Walt Disney Co. China, said at the Beijing press conference that the new Iron Man project “is testimony to the importance of this audience to Disney and the local [industry‘s] capability to deliver a blockbuster title.”
DMG and Disney China will co-distribute Iron Man 3 in China. Shooting will commence in May in the U.S., and location filming will begin in China in late-summer. The studios are eyeing a U.S. release date of May 3, 2013.
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