“The Wandering Earth”: Propaganda, Ratings Wars, and the Future of Chinese Sci-Fi

The Liu Cixin adaptation just became China’s #2 all-time highest grossing film. What does it mean for the genre’s future?

Without a doubt, sci-fi epic The Wandering Earth stands victorious in the fierce 2019 Spring Festival box office competition, having earned 3.9 billion RMB (about 576 million USD) in 14 days. Since premiering on the first day of the Year of the Pig two weeks ago, the film has become the second highest-grossing Chinese film ever, surpassing Operation Red Sea, last year’s Spring Festival box office winner. Now, only 2017 Spring Festival hit Wolf Warrior 2, which took in a total of 5.68 billion RMB (840 million USD) during its extended theatrical run, is ahead of it in the box office charts.

Despite the hype, The Wandering Earth‘s box office performance comes with a caveat. Compared to last year’s Spring Festival break, audience numbers shrank by about 15 million people during the first week of the new lunar year, according to culture and business publication Q Daily (link in Chinese). Analysts expect the main reason is that ticket prices went up this year, a price hike possibly caused by a recent restriction on the ability of ticketing platforms and film distribution companies to sell tickets at a discount.

Regardless, The Wandering Earth‘s success has generated a number of hot topics across the Chinese internet.

On the Road

The first plot element to go viral was an automatic “warm reminder” recited repeatedly by the giant carrier vehicles in the film, becoming somewhat of a catchphrase:


“Routes are countless. Safety is foremost. Unregulated driving, loved ones end up in tears.”

Not long after the film’s opening day, this robotic voice message could be heard both on Alibaba-owned navigation app Amap and Tencent-owned QQ Map, with variations also to be found on ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing.

People who had driven to reunite with family for the Spring Festival could also see these lines on public LED screens lining highways around Chongqing, Suzhou, and Shanghai:

Brands were quick to get in on the action as well, with promotional activities including Wandering Earth-themed KFC branches:

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– This article originally appeared on radiichina.com