Today in Variety, ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ No Match for China’s ‘Wandering Earth’ Overseas:
The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a massive $96.6 million from three territories, bringing its international tally to $606.8 million. Another movie from the Mainland, “Crazy Alien,” earned $28 million for an overseas total of $318 million, while fellow local title “Pegasus” brought in $25.7 million, taking its bounty to $238 million.
Fox’s “Alita: Battle Angel” led films on the Hollywood front, generated $56 million when it launched in 86 overseas markets this weekend. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron, the sci-fi adventure has now grossed $94 million internationally. The movie saw the best opening in Russia, where it earned $6.5 million. “Alita” also had sizable debuts in Mexico ($4.2 million), Australia ($2.9 million), and Thailand ($2.5 million).
The graph at the top of this post is based on data taken from Angus Maddison’s magisterial Contours of the World Economy. No matter how you calculate it, it does look like the United States of America became the world’s largest economy at some point in the last quarter of the 19th century. The USA has maintained that position for more than one hundred years. This has undergirded the power of the United States of America in the second half of the 20th century in all dimensions. Cultural, geopolitical, and yes, moral.
Of course, the size of the economy is not the only thing that matters in relation to influence and power. The Chinese economy was very large in the 19th century, but it was not mobilized and deployed in a manner which allowed China to maintain military parity with Western nations, and later Japan. In the years between 1900 and World War I, the powers of Europe remained culturally and geopolitically at the center of the world, despite the fact that the United States of America had surpassed any specific European power economically. That is, there was a certain “cultural overhang” which was a lagging indicator in relation to economics.
The United States during this period was a debtor nation which maintained very small armed forces as it was rising to economic prominence. Culturally it looked to Europe, with homegrown American movements such as Transcendentalism of national, but not international, interest. The British retained their self-conception as the world’s hegemon after 1900 due to their colonial Empire, despite the factual reality that the USA and Germany had matched or surpassed them economically.
After World War II, the USSR achieved some level of military parity (at least roughly) through mobilization of a disproportionate fraction of its economic resources toward the armed forces. But the USSR never matched the USA in terms of overall economic output or cultural influence. The dissolution of the Communist Bloc after 1990 resulted in the unipolar moment, when the United States of America was unchallenged militarily, geopolitically, and culturally. With the recession of the Japanese economy, the Asian flu of 1998, and American vigor in the second half of the 1990s, the USA was also economically a model for the world again.
As someone who grew into manhood in the 1990s, it was an interesting and charmed time. The future was American. Liberal democratic. Market-oriented. The popular culture of the future would be the American popular culture. The specter of Chinese economic might was still something a generation down the road. Fodder for think pieces. But mostly blue-sky. Abstract.
Twenty years on from 1999 we are now facing the world we had dim glimmers of then. There is a mix of the expected and unexpected. The expected is the demographic-economic juggernaut of China is now within spitting distance of the United States in terms of nominal GDP. Parts of China are already basically a developed economy. Barring a major catastrophe, which some have predicted every few years since the 1990s, China will become the world’s largest economy by 2030, as it was in 1880. One hundred and thirty years of the USA being the largest economy in the world will end.
The period after 2030 is murky. China faces serious demographic headwinds due to the one-child policy. Much of its population will be poor, while coastal areas will be tightly integrated with the rest of the world. The USA will likely remain the wealthiest large nation on a per capita basis for the foreseeable future. China’s preeminence as the largest nation economically will be in the context of much greater parity between it and other big economies, as well as structural factors pointing to its eventual decline. We are not looking to another unipolar, even bipolar (e.g., USA vs. Chinese), world, in the second quarter of the 21st century. Probably the best analogy is the period around 1900 when a mix of cultural, economic, and military proto-superpowers jostled for their time in the sun. The first modern age of globalization of trade and travel.