The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China in the wake of the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edged out another new release title “Gemini Man” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend.
While Disney’s “Maleficent” arrived in China day-and-date with the U.S., the Ang Lee-directed “Gemini Man” hit theaters stateside a week beforehand on October 11. It grossed $21 million in its mainland opening, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway.
Chinese user reviews for both films were lukewarm, with “Maleficent” garnering a 9.1 and 8.8 out of 10 on the Maoyan and Taopiaopiao ticketing platforms, respectively, but just 6.2 on the more discerning Douban site. Opinion for “Gemini Man” was less polarized, with users according it an 8.0, an 8.1 and a 7.1 out of 10 on the three platforms.
On Maoyan, most “Maleficent” commenters expressed admiration for Angelina Jolie’s looks and performance, and saying they’d come to see the film just for her. China was the top foreign territory for the title, which made a lackluster $36 million in its North American debut. The film, directed by Joachim Ronning and also starring Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer, is the sequel to 2014’s “Maleficent,” which brought in $47.8 million in the mainland at the time.
China typically imposes an informal blackout period on foreign titles during the popular movie-going period at the beginning of October, as an effort to bolster the box office of local films. Other than the German action title — “Steig. Nicht. Aus!”, which has made less than $600,000— this weekend marks the first imported titles in action since late September.
This year, the blackout sought to privilege Chinese juggernauts like Bona Film Group’s aviation thriller “The Captain” and patriotic retrospective “My People, My Country” — films that were specifically made to laud the Communist Party on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of its founding of the People’s Republic. The two films came in fourth and fifth at the weekend, bringing in $16.4 million and $8.1 million, respectively. They’ve both now grossed enough to break the list of China’s top 10 earning films of all time, with “My People, My Country” coming in ninth just behind last summer’s “Dying to Survive” with a cume of $387 million and “The Captain” tenth with $378 million.
To put this in perspective, formulaic “The Captain” has so far still outstripped the combined earnings of Disney’s “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Aladdin” and “Dumbo” by more than $150 million.
Sandwiched between the new Hollywood titles and the old Chinese patriotic ones was Toei Animation’s “One Piece: Stampede,” the latest in a series of Japanese feature films adapted from a popular manga of the same name, this time celebrating the franchise’s 20th anniversary.
Meanwhile, the Wu Jing and Jackie Chan-starring Everest rescue film “The Climbers” has proven to have less stamina than its other two National Day brethren, falling behind by Monday afternoon to seventh place.
Nevertheless, even without Hollywood at play, the National Day screenings have injected new life into China’s theatrical market after a very sluggish summer, with the year-to-date box office now up 5% from what it was at this point last year.