20th Century Fox is finalizing a deal to co-produce movies in China with Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate that finalized its $2.6-billion purchase of U.S. theater chain AMC Entertainment this week.
Discussions about a potential partnership began last year when Fox Co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos and International Productions President Sanford Panitch were visiting China.
They continued this week when Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin visited with the leaders of a number of studios during a visit to Los Angeles to mark the closing of the acquisition of AMC. Wang, who has said he intends to invest as much as $10 billion in acquiring American companies and products, met with senior executives at studios including Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. to discuss the future of AMC and potential co-productions.
Although most of the studio visits were simple meet and greets, Wang’s stop at Fox included advanced discussions on the co-production partnership. If the deal closes, the two companies would co-produce several movies in China with the hopes that they could be exported around the world.
“The basic concept we’re discussing is to identify and produce movies in China,” Fox’s Gianopulos said. “They are very interested in growing the Chinese production market and the global appeal of Chinese films.”
Gianopulos declined to comment on how many pictures the two companies might make together. He said they have yet to identify specific projects, but production on the first could start as early as next year.
A spokeswoman for Wanda said she could not immediately comment on the matter. However, this week Wang said he was looking to co-finance movies or set up a production fund in partnership with American studios.
Gianopulos said Fox is in talks with several potential co-production partners in China about similar deals, including Bona Film Group, in which Fox parent company News Corp. owns a 20% stake.
Several studios have co-produced movies in China before. Some, such as Fox’s “Love in Space,” were made primarily for the local market. Others, such as Sony’s “The Karate Kid” and Disney’s upcoming “Iron Man 3,” are made in English for a worldwide audience.
Movies made in Mandarin with stories rooted in Chinese culture have had a difficult time attracting attention in foreign countries. This year “The Flowers of War,” a $94-million historical epic co-starring Christian Bale, proved a flop in the U.S., grossing just $311,000.
Fox’s proposed partnership with Wanda could prove one of the most aggressive efforts to reverse that trend. Legendary Pictures announced plans last year to launch a China joint venture that would make English-language movies in that country. However, its first planned production, “The Great Wall,” has yet to get off the ground.