China’s invasion of Hollywood drove deeper this week as AMC Entertainment, controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin, agreed to buy Carmike Cinemas for $1.2 billion.
The merger with Carmike will give AMC and its parent company, Wang’s Dalian Wanda Group, control over 8,830 movie screens in the U.S., according to The Hollywood Reporter – and presumably a big say over what movies are shown on them.
The deal will push the AMC-Carmike combination, which still must be approved by the Justice Department, ahead of Regal Entertainment as the biggest theater chain in the world. And AMC is poised to become even more powerful if it completes a $1.2 billion deal to buy Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group, with 2,236 screens in the UK and Europe.
Earlier this month, Wang agreed to buy Dick Clark Productions, whose holding include a decades-old New Year’s Eve TV special. In September, Wang, described by Bloomberg Businessweek as the second-richest person in Asia, bought film company Legendary Entertainment, which produced The Dark Knight, and Wanda agreed to start working with Sony Pictures.
Wang also made a run at buying 49 percent of Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, but that deal never came together, in part because of an internal battle for control of Viacom was going on, according to Forbes.
Wang told CNN Money in September that his goal is to control one of the big six movie studios in Hollywood – Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Universal, Warner Bros. or Disney—saying, “It could come in a year or two, but we have patience.”
He is already challenging Disney in China, where the Mouse House opened a Disneyland last summer, with plans to build as many as 15 theme parks.
Meantime, Wanda is building its own massive studio on a site 450 miles north of Shanghai, according to The New York Times, and offering heavy incentives to Hollywood to film there.
Wang’s father was a foot soldier on Mao’s Long March, and he himself is a former military officer. His company has deep and complex ties to China’s leadership, a 2015 report in the Times says, and past investors include the eldest sister of President Xi Jinping and the daughter of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
In an interview with the Times in October, Wang waved off worries that Wanda’s Hollywood juggernaut is driven by the Communist Party’s efforts to control China’s image.
But in an interview in August on a Chinese talk show, Wang said Wanda’s goal is to “change the world where rules are set by foreigners.”