Michael Bay publicly blew off the critics who excoriated Transformers: Age of Extinction, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank. Not only did the fourth film in the franchise win the domestic box-office for the second week in a row, but it has already surpassed Avatar to become the biggest box-office hit in Chinese history.
After only 10 days in Chinese theaters, Age of Extinction has grossed more than $221 million—$46 million more than it has made in the U.S.—and it likely passed James Cameron’s 2009 3-D adventure on Monday.
The phenomenal success in China is no accident. Paramount and Bay paid special attention to the second-biggest and rapidly growing movie market after their last film, Dark of the Moon, grossed $165 million there. (In total, Dark of the Moon earned 69 percent of its total $1.1 billion haul abroad.) To gain greater access to Chinese theaters for Extinction, Paramount partnered with a China production company, cast Chinese actors Li Bingbing and Han Geng, shot scenes in China and Hong Kong—where the film premiered—and even sponsored a TV reality-show competition that awarded four small roles. The courtship paid off, with Transformers winning a prime release date in the Chinese marketplace, with few other big American movies opening against it or soon after it.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the red-hot Chinese box office is up another 22 percent this year and is on pace to eclipse the U.S. market by 2018.
In many of the dismal reviews of the film, critics sniffed at the moment where the action shifts to Mark Wahlberg’s struggling inventor and the screen reads, “Texas, USA.” As if there’s another Texas. But Michael Bay didn’t put that detail there for geographically-challenged Americans; it’s there for the foreign audience he really made this movie for.