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Bigness of the Blockbuster

Updated on November 19, 2014

Hero of the Blockbuster

Hero of the Blockbuster

So often in our globalized and technologically savvy culture today, we love to relate to others by means of media. This could be through a recent event in the news, a new album coming out from a top artist, or a new movie that drew particular interest to the public by its never-before-seen elements. This third option, also known as a blockbuster film, is something that almost every person has seen and can relate to. They are the topic of conversation, especially when they are so new to our culture. Being born in Hollywood, and now growing to be produced in many different countries throughout the world, the blockbuster has become a medium with a framework. In Julian Stringer’s article, “Introduction to Movie Blockbusters,” we see this framework defined for us to help us better realize what qualities make these certain films blockbusters. We will use the movie Hero directed by Zhang Yimou as an example of an Asian blockbuster to help show the qualities being used.

In Stringer’s article, we see just a few facts of what makes a blockbuster a blockbuster. These essentials to a blockbuster are explained in great detail throughout the article, the largest one being “size.” While there are many attributes to a blockbuster that sets it apart from other movies, Stringer says that, “Size is the central notion through which the blockbuster’s generic identity comes to be identified.” Size can be measured in many different ways when referring to a blockbuster; most prominently production cost, casting, revenue, scale on screen, awards won, and distribution. A true blockbuster film will cost a ridiculous amount with the expectation to make an immense amount in revenue. The cost is spent to create a spectacle that will get the largest amount of people to spend the money to see the movie rather than used to develop a deep story that is less likely to draw people in at first glance. In the movie Hero, we see every example stated here used to create an Asian blockbuster in a global scale.


One of the ways to get the audience to attend a showing is to have well-known celebrities starring in the film. Hero casted Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Jet Li, who had a global following before this film. Having Jet Li as the main, nameless, character in the film brought attention from not just the Asian viewers, but the American viewers as well. Jet Li had developed a following in both of these cultures previous to this film, and it was definitely a benefit to this film to include him when attempting to become the greatest Asian blockbuster.

While one person can bring in an audience and raise recognition for a film, sometimes it is more beneficial to have as many people as you can get into the film. This is one attribute to the mis-en-scene of a film that makes it a blockbuster. In Hero, hundreds and even at one point over one thousand people were on screen. They didn’t use computer-generated imagery to create the illusion of many people, but instead actually included many people. This helps the film in two ways; it adds to the amount of people that are then talking about the film, and it helps the viewer of the film see the shear scale of the film when watching it. In this particular film, the people were a part of the army provided by the government. The government’s involvement in funding this film and providing needed resources was definitely a benefit in helping it become a blockbuster. Other things on screen added to the scale of the film. For example, the scene where an army is shooting barrages of arrows into the city, we see such a large scale shot with lots of action that it draws us in as viewers. A scene like this is something that makes an audience continue to talk about a film because they haven’t seen something like it before. This scene can be defined by Stringer’s statement that, “They [blockbuster films] offer the possibility there really might be something new under the sun – something rare, something special.” People want to believe that there is something new to be seen, and that is one reason large scale shots and scenes bring in such a large audience; however, it is important for people to get a glimpse of this scale before the film is showing.


That is why advertising is such a big part of the success of a blockbuster. While advertising is an expensive part of the process of creating a film, it is vital to the success of a blockbuster, and having the right kind of advertising for each culture is also an important part of the process. For example, in Je-kyu Kang’s movie Shiri, the cover of the film shown to the Asian culture emphasizes the well-known celebrities in the film while the cover of the film shown to the American culture was emphasizing sexuality through a picture of a woman.

Distribution is also an important part of the blockbuster film as stated in Stringer’s article. Getting the film into multiple theaters in multiple countries is definitely an attribute of a blockbuster. Having the biggest possible distribution of a film ensures that the largest audience will see it. Hero was a major success in China and was then distributed and shown in over 2,000 theaters in the United States. This was a sign of success as a blockbuster film and is why this film is truly considered Asia’s first global blockbuster because of its multiple content (global) success.

All of the previous attributes talked about and used in Hero show the amount of cost needed to create a blockbuster film. As stated by Stringer in his article, a high production cost is a sign of a blockbuster film; but, revenue is not always something that is a for sure things after this payment. “Blockbuster spectators oscillate as a matter of course between moments of pure delight and moments of rank disappointment.” While having a great success is something many blockbusters do indeed obtain, it is also possible for them to not make enough money to pay of the film. So, they are a risk taken by the production crew every time, but more times than not, the awards, the recognition, and the revenue show that a blockbuster is definitely a large-scale production with a high reward.

So, there are many elements to make a blockbuster big. Scale of the mis-en-scene, production cost, distribution, casting, revenue, and awards won are important aspects of a blockbuster. In the movie Hero, we see how an Asian blockbuster was developed from the ground up with all of these qualities to become one of the most successful, global-scale productions from China. This film is without doubt a blockbuster that was created outside of the western powerhouse known as Hollywood, and could be a sign that there are many more to come in the future.


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