If you don’t have children between the ages of five and 10, you probably have not noticed A Dog’s Purpose. The film follows a dog’s multiple reincarnations, each one voiced by Josh Gad, on a quest for meaning through its numerous lifetimes.
The hackneyed dog movie pieces together predictable canine tropes while avoiding relative controversies such as pain or neutering, despite the dog’s first death occurring within three minutes of the opening credits and allegations of animal abuse during filming.
Yet what most people took for a flop movie is proving to be a success in every definition. The film earned $64 million domestically, already 291 percent of its budget, and scored $88 million in Chinese theaters alone, beating out its contender Lego Batman, which opened the same weekend.
While the overseas success seems odd given the film’s heavy helping of Americana (who’s up for some football?), it comes more so by way of the film’s marketing strategy.
Amblin Studios—which produced the film and, as CEO Michael Wright told the WSJ, is now working on a sequel—enlisted Chinese heavyweights to invest in the film, thus giving them more incentive to ensure A Dog’s Purpose made it through the country’s strict censors to appear in smartphone ads and movie previews.
The strategy has helped other films such as Now You See Me release sequels, and has garnered massive success for other films in China including Kong: Skull Island and Wonder Woman.