‘Warcraft’ Eyes $20B Gaming Market For Film Payoff in China

  • Universal’s movie version of an online game hits China June 8—two days before N.A.
  • Warcraft to compete with June 3 release of X-Men: Apocalypse from Fox
  • Warcraft has investment from state-run China Film Group and Internet giant Tencent.
A Chinese poster for Universal for Warcraft (Legendary / Creative Commons)

A Chinese poster for Universal Pictures’ Warcraft (Legendary)

Two big Hollywood films with Chinese backers will release in China in June: Warcraft, Universal Pictures’ adaptation of a wildly popular online video game on June 8—two days before its North American premiere—and, a week earlier, on June 3, X-Men Apocalypse, one week after its U.S. and Canada release, local media reported on Wednesday.

Starring Chinese-American actor Daniel Wu and directed by Duncan Jones, son of recently deceased rock’n’roll legend David Bowie, Warcraft is a CGI-enhanced live action adaptation of World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer online role playing game from Blizzard that has been a hit on China’s Netease portal since 2009.

Warcraft was produced by Legendary Pictures—bought for for $3.5 billion by real estate giant Dalian Wanda in January—and backed by equity investments from the state-run China Film Group and Internet giant Tencent. Wanda, owner of China’s largest cinema chain, will work to promote and market the film.

Each party to the film co-starring Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton is counting on tapping the interest from rabid gamers in China, where gaming sales could rise to $20.4 billion by 2020, according to research group Niko Partners.

Like the game it’s based on, Warcraft the film follows warriors from different species fighting off invaders to protect their home. It will be released in 2D, 3D, 3D IMAX, and the China Film Giant Screen formats. X-Men Apocalypse (X战警:天启) will be released in 3D and 3D IMAX formats.

In January, Legendary started building hype in China by installing a Warcraft exhibit in a shopping mall in the southwestern city of Chengdu, calling it the “biggest free movie-themed exhibition ever mounted in China.”

Despite World of Warcraft’s popularity in China, the film’s premiere will clash with that of X-Men Apocalypse, which comes out five days earlier, running the risk that each movie will cannibalize the audience of the other.

Starring Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult reprising their roles, X-Men Apocalypse was directed by Bryan Singer, and is the ninth installment in 20th Century Fox’s lucrative superhero franchise, following on to its 2014 release, Days of Future Past.

X-Men is one of six Fox productions that China’s Bona Film Group took a stake in as part of a $235 million investment in The Seelig Group in November 2015. Bona, which also invested in The Martian and Planet of the Apes 3 (due out in 2017) just opened an office in Los Angeles and will begin operations there in May.

Additional reporting Chloe Chow and Skye Tan